It’s no surprise that from early modern history, it was overwhelmingly women who were writing these kinds of informal, quotidian, quietly revealing letters, whose feminine duty it was to keep up social bonds through correspondence with family and an extended network of friends and patrons. Women wrote letters in between the business of keeping a house, as a way of exploring their own spiritual lives and perhaps as an escape from an otherwise restricted and unvarying society.
Though we often think of language as simply a communication vehicle for sharing content, it’s also about negotiating social status and power dynamics through our language choices. So it’s also interesting to see how language has changed in ways we aren’t even aware of, informing us about the shifting status of women in society. That, in fact, it’s often been unexpectedly regressive. Nowhere better to see this effect than in the muddled up ways polite language, the terms of address, or honorifics, are used to refer to a woman’s social status: Mrs., Miss, and Ms.