Zilpha Louise Sibley Atkinson (1833-1868)

Emily Sibley Watson's family

Emily Sibley Watson's older sister, known as Louise, was the first child born to Hiram and Elizabeth Sibley. She attended Ontario Female Seminary in Canandaigua in the 1850s, boarding with her cousins Mark and Maria Sibley. She married Hobart Ford Atkinson October 24, 1854, and had two daughters, Elisabeth Storer Atkinson Smith and Marie Atkinson Perkins Willard. Louise was ill for most of her adult life, seeking medical treatment in New York City as well as at the Clifton Springs Water Cure. She is listed in the Mount Hope Cemetery records as having died of tuberculosis.

Her letters from the 1840s,1850s, and1860s document typical activities, interests, and challenges of young women of her time—pursuing studies, becoming a wife and mother. Less typical is the documentation, in her letters and her husband Hobart’s, of chronic illness and the limitations of nineteenth century medical care. Several letters give valuable first-hand insights into the impact of the Civil War, such as this one from April 5, 1865 in the collection of the Department of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation at the University of Rochester. Louise writes from New York City to her mother, Elizabeth Tinker Sibley, in Europe:

The best most thoroughly heart-cheering news I can write you is the fall of Richmond and Petersburg which you will probably have heard ere this reaches you. This time it is no hoax but a bona fide capture of those cities and some 25,000 of Lee's troops are prisoners—only think of it. I can imagine when the authentic news reaches you—you will have a general rejoicing—illumination etc. etc. etc. New York is in a perfect blaze over it—cannons booming—flags—flags from every house and building almost in the city and everybody jubilant (except it be a small company at the New York Hotel who go about they say with serious looks). Gens Grant Sherman & Sheridan have finally given ample testimony to their abilities as Generals and own lasting laurels—honors which will outlive them many centuries. General A. P. Hill of the southern army has died—recently—we are all waiting anxiously to see what Lee will do next. His army has been badly cut up and with the stragglers may be wholly demolished if so where have they another to take its place. President Lincoln was on the spot at the time of the occupation of Richmond and has now gone to Petersburg. Will our next glorious news be peace? Think you? and does it not seems that at least we can see it is not far distant.