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Katie & David Tonkins

Kate Tonkins was nineteen when she wrote the history of her life. She was born in New York City on June 17, 1873. Her mother died when she was just six years old. Her father remarried a year later, and she lived at home until his death in 1886. It was then a man came to see her and asked if she would not like to live in "a place where there were a great many girls and boys." It was at the great age of thirteen that Kate Tonkins made the momentous decision that would take her to Illinois. Katie doesn't mention him, but she had a brother who came to the asylum and went from there to Illinois as well.

She stayed in the Asylum for nine months and describes those months as "many happy days." She came to Illinois in September of 1887 to live with her guardians, Mr. and Mrs. Wood. She never names the place where she lives, but said that life was pleasant there.

Kate had family in New York. She had aunts with whom she corresponded, and after one of them died, Katie was left $500. This money, to Katie's understanding, was put aside in the bank to earn interest and wait for her to reach the age of 21. She had also received her $50 and that was sitting in the bank as well.

Although Katie had other relatives in New York, who sent her many nice gifts, she hoped to stay with her guardians until the age of 21. When she was 21 Katie planned to go to a music conservatory and study music. In the meantime, she would write letters to her friends, Lottie Norman and Hattie Baker, and have the occasional visit from them, or go to their homes.

Katie Tonkins couldn't be found in the census, marriage records or a death record, but she did write one other letter to the asylum when she was seventeen. Although she tried not to think about clothes, she did report that she had purchased a blue velvet hat the week before and that she was dressed as well as other girls her age. She enjoyed school and was always trying to "improve (her) time." Like many of the orphans, she reported her weight, and was proud to weigh 137 pounds! It was in this letter that Katie mentioned her brother. She was remorseful that he had left his guardian's home and thought that he would be better off under their protection. She had no way of knowing where he was living until he chose to write a letter to her.

Kate did not discuss her plans for the future, or how she planned to make a living. Either she was not very practical, or she was too reticent to discuss any marital prospects she had. She did not mention whether she had completed high school or not, so her ability in one of the careers open to her -- teaching -- may not have been an option.

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