Sergio Vergara Quiroz has selected some 200 letters written by women, the majority from the nineteenth century, for publication in this gem of a volume. Only 2 letters are included from the seventeenth century, but 23 survive from the eighteenth century. These provide a rare glimpse into the lives of the Chilean elite in the late colonial period. The nineteenth-century letters, like those of Fanny Calderón de la Barca, are fascinating for their political commentary (or absence thereof) during the independence and early national period.

Descriptions of religious festivals, homemade remedies and cures, earthquakes, the weather, outings to the theater, and news of children fill the correspondence. The women write primarily to their kin about family affairs; they chronicle childbirth, illnesses, weddings, deaths, and the journeys of their loved ones. Their letters reflect their emotions—happiness, grief, fear, loneliness, anger, and love. Yet they also reflect how active women were in the business side of family life. Women write about family business dealings, financial concerns, and political interests. It is not surprising that women did and felt these things, but it is surprising, even wonderful, to hear them speak in their own words.

These letters add a vivid, emotional dimension to the past. Too often Latin American social historians have had to rely on formal sources such as census returns, wills, trial records, and official correspondence to reconstruct the social history of the past. Collections of letters, diaries, and other personal sources have been difficult to find and use. I hope that this book will inspire others to search archives and family papers for letters. They will enrich our teaching and our understanding of Latin American history.