After discovering documents recording the lives of Alice Brown and Emma Ainsworth, two 19th century American women who lived together for five decades and were buried next to one another in death, historians are pretty sure the pair were just close friends who just really cared about each other a lot.
“It’s so sweet to discover the remnants of such a beautiful friendship,” says historian Dr. Richard Hoff. “While neither of these women ever married, they still both seemed fulfilled by their existence living together in a one-bedroom home from around age 30 until they died of old age. Like a super sleepover!”
The sources include Brown and Ainsworth’s journals, letters the two wrote to one another during brief periods of separation, and one photograph taken by a close friend with access to the technology of Ainsworth sitting in Brown’s lap.
“From a modern perspective, their correspondence almost resembles what we might call love letters,” says Dr. Hoff. “But people just spoke in a more formal way back then, so all this stuff Brown wrote about feeling Ainsworth’s absence in her bosom and physically aching for their reunion can best be understood as a friend saying, ‘Miss ya!’”
Another historian, Dr. Brent Woolsey, has also taken part in translating the raw source material of the friends’ lives.
“Their personal diaries paint a particularly lovely image of female friendship,” Dr. Woolsey states. “They’re full of the appreciation for the banalities of domestic life: preparing food together, long descriptions of how Ainsworth looked while rolling up her sleeves and making a repair to their barn door, including the sweet sticky scent of her neck after the day’s labor: standard stuff.”
“And here Ainsworth wrote something about Brown’s love of ‘eating pussy’,” Dr. Woolsey adds. “Huh, I’ve never encountered this before, but pussy must have been the name of some sort of regional dish at the time. I’ll have to cross-check this with other records from the area.”
Dr. Hoff, however, is open to the idea that their relationship was more complex than one would assume at first glance.
“They clearly meant a lot to one another, and there’s no indication that either ever wished to marry,” he says. “So it’s possible that they were, well, what’s the phrase I’m looking for — sweet old asexual gal-pal spinsters.”