In this fast-paced world, emails make up the bulk of our correspondence. Statements are delivered in a crisp and punchy manner as many people stop reading after the headline of an article. As many may think that handwritten letters have become an obsolete form of communication, they were known for changing the course of history through thousands of years. According to the ancient historian Hellanicus, the first ever handwritten letter was sent by the Persian Queen Atossa in 500 BC. Their popularity as a way of sending messages grew as more people became literate. While some contain world-altering ideas, others were believed to have caused a scandal, alter the course of wars and inspire social movements. Here’s a look at five fascinating letters that brought about a change in the world.
1.A letter by Albert Einstein that started the atomic age
This was THE letter which resulted in bringing about an end to World War II. The letter signed on August 2, 1939 by Albert Einstein addressed to American President Franklin D Roosevelt warned the United States that the Nazis might be developing atomic bombs and nuclear weapons. Einstein urged the United States to stockpile uranium ore and begin work on atomic weapons of its own. After Roosevelt read the letter, he took action and this resulted in becoming the first step towards the establishment of the Manhattan Project.
2. Letter from a mother who saved suffrage
The fate of women’s voting rights laid in the hands of Tennessee House Representative Harry Thomas Burn, who publicly opposed the American suffrage movement. He still ended up voting for the 19th Amendment to grant women the right to vote. This made Tennessee the 36th state to do so, cementing the three-fourths of states needed to grant women the right to vote. He voted to pass the motion because of one simple reason: a letter from his mother. Febb Ensminger Burn, his mother, urged him to side with the cause of women’s suffrage. “Don’t forget to be a good boy,” she admonished. Burn later said that “a mother’s advice is always safest for a boy to follow.”
3. Martin Luther King’s letter from jail
Birmingham in 1963 was witnessing marches, sit-ins and protests opposing racial segregation. Martin Luther King and other social activists were arrested for these protests on April 12. A local newspaper then published an article against him, denouncing his methods of fighting against racial discrimination. Despite being imprisoned in harsh conditions, King was compelled to write an 11-page letter. In the letter, King argued passionately against the idea of waiting patiently for social change to be enacted. Popularly known as a precursor for the Civil Rights movement, King wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
4.Scandalous letter by King Henry VIII’s wife
Another letter which caused shockwaves was from Catherine Howard, the fifth wife of English King Henry VIII. She wrote a scandalous love letter to her secret lover Thomas Culpeper roughly 8 months after her marriage to the King. When this letter fell into the hands of King Henry VIII, it ultimately led to her execution. The letter is preserved at the National Archives in the UK, having survived the last 480 years.
5. Letter by Charles Darwin on evolution & natural selection
As unbelievable as it sounds, the idea of evolution and the theory of natural selection indeed came about from a letter written by Charles Darwin addressed to his friend and botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker in January 1844. In this 1400-page letter, Darwin wrote to Hooker that he was convinced that species were not “immutable”. He then said that the idea that animals can change over time was almost like “confessing a murder”.