They're the hopeful voices of East Tennessee Children, written in a time when the nation was struggling during the Great Depression.

A new exhibit at the Blount County Public Library highlights letters written to Santa Claus from children in the 1930s.

"This came about because of a collection of letters to Santa that were organized and put together in a book by my great aunt, Josephine Dunlap," according to Michael Jeffries of Maryville.

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Josephine Dunlap was a librarian at Maryville College. For reasons known only to her, she began a scrapbook dating back to the early 1900's full of letters to Santa that were published in the newspaper.

"We don't know whether she collected them from the time period back in the 20s or had access at the college to stacks of old newspapers that she gathered these out of," Michael said. "We don't know."

Former Maryville College Librarian Josephine Jeffries
Michael Jeffries

Jeffries and his sister Kathryn Abbot have only recently learned about their great-aunt's scrapbook but both say they weren't surprised to learn it existed.

"She was a very unique person. Very deep but very reserved so it was hard sometimes to understand who she was," Kathryn said. "Very no-nonsense. She didn't like a lot of frills.She didn't want to be made over that was against everything she believed in."

Josephine became teacher to help her struggling family make ends meet but found her true calling later as a librarian. 

"She saved everything. Collected information, took notes on anything and everything," Michael said.

The collection features requests that a child of the Great Depression would request: simple things like fruit, nuts and even toothpaste.

They include precious requests from kids wanting to make sure Santa doesn't forget their family, friends, teachers and in some cases, doctors and nurses.

Letter to Santa written in the 1930's
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Letter to Santa written in the 1930's
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The letters are featured throughout the geneology section of the Blount County Public Library.  Kathleen Christy says they researched the time period to make sure it would feature decorations that would match the 1930s.

This is just the latest Christmas exhibit the library has done based on the Dunlap scrapbook. In 2017, the featured letters written to Santa in the 1920s. The library says they have a wealth of letters that go all the way up to the 1960s all thanks to Josephine Dunlap.

"She had to have had a mind of a librarian," Kathleen Christy said. "She organized, she cut them out. She thought to do it is the first thing and then she saved them, she archived them. It's a pretty far reaching thing."

Josephine's family say they'll never know why their great-aunt collected these letters for so long, but they're thrilled to know she's now receiving an appreciation for her commitment to the children of East Tennessee.

"She was a special person in her own right and the fact that she wanted to collect children's letters that she probably didn't know, was just a very special act for her to do," said Kathryn. "I hope the community is able to see that."