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The Demise of Cursive Handwriting January 16th, 2012

Growing up overseas, I fondly remember getting hand-written letters from my family back in England. Later when I moved to Canada at 11 years old, I would still get letters from friends in Bahrain. The fact that they didn’t come as often as a Twitter message or an email made them that much more special. There’s something so much more personal about a hand written note rather than an email, similar to looking at an artist’s sketch rather than a finished piece of art. You can see how they hold their hand, what kind of mood they are in from the pressure of the pen on paper, and usually their personality comes though more, maybe partially due to the fact that one can’t backtrack and correct things. I guess composing on a computer is more subtractive and hand written is more additive and therefore more ‘of the moment’.

Letters from my Grandma are written exactly how she speaks. Since she’s from Lancashire, England, her notes are filled with her local dialect Such as t’other day instead of the other day, or aye instead of yes. So, getting these letters always feel like I’m actually having a conversation with her. Also, they were always written in a lovely cursive which sadly I hardly see anymore.

Maybe I also lament the death of handwriting since I never really properly learned how to type. Yes, I’m one of those pitiful folks who type with two fingers (although fairly quickly) and when I glance up from the keyboard my screen is filled with misspelled words. I blame taking drafting in high-school instead of typing class. That year of AutoCad has never really furthered my life ambitions. But who am I kidding, I was just as lazy at writing letters back in the day as I am at emailing today.

Here’s a piece I did on the demise of cursive handwriting in school in Hour Detroit magazine, written by Ilene Wolff and art-directed by the lovely Jen Hamilton & Jessica Decker. You can read the article here: Writing off Cursive, because the widespread use of computers, learning the fine art of handwriting in school is gradually being erased.

Cursive handwriting was evolved from the days when people used to dip pens and ink. It allowed people to cut down on those messy blotches by having a continuous line. Even though dip pens had been long unused in schools, I do actually remember having to do these exercises in pencil when I was a little kid. I even remember practicing how to sign my signature. Jacqueline is awfully long for a little kid. Supposedly now with the decline of kids knowing how to write cursive there’s also a decline in knowing how to have a proper signature too and even the chance the children won’t be able to read cursive.

Here are signatures from Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, Nostradamus, John Hancock, Marilyn Monroe, Martin Luther King Jr. Leonardo daVinci, Walt Disney, Rembrandt, Renoir, & Miro. (some found here & here)

From the Detroit Hour article:

Computers may wipe out cursive writing, leaving behind yellowed manuscripts that only anthropologists can decode…..The handwriting is on the wall for cursive’s demise, or at least for teaching it in school. Don’t expect educators to cry at the funeral, though. “I want my child to at least be able to read it,” Avery says. “That’s an illiteracy of sorts.”


Marijean Levering, Ph.D., a native Detroiter who now is associate professor of theater at Utica College, in Utica, N.Y., reads primary-source documents for her work. For example, she combed through records written in cursive for her book, Detroit on Stage, about Detroit’s Players Club. What if she had never learned cursive in school, she wonders. “I wouldn’t have access to well over half the documents, or I would have to pay somebody else to transcribe them,” she says. “The thought that something written in my language wouldn’t be understandable to me is mind boggling.”
In addition, she says, handwriting offers a glimpse into someone’s personality.

There was a great article on this subject in the New York Times, The Case for Cursive by Katie Zezima

Richard S. Christen, a professor of education at the University of Portland in Oregon, said, practically, cursive can easily be replaced with printed handwriting or word processing. But he worries that students will lose an artistic skill. “These kids are losing time where they create beauty every day,” Professor Christen said. “But it’s hard for me to make a practical argument for it. I’m not one who’s mourning it because of that; I’m mourning the beauty, the aesthetics.”

Here’s some beautiful samples of older letter writing that I find truly inspiring. This piece is from Michael Twyman’s 26 November 2007 presentation on French Notarial Handwriting found on Dan Reynolds Flickr

Below is a 1850 Austrian letter (found here)

Some beautiful and touching letters can be found on the site, Letters of Note. Maybe not as gorgeous as the 1800′s letters, quick notes written on torn-off notebook paper, seem so personal that I almost feel embarrassed to read them. Here is a letter from the late Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker – a veritable musical genius and one of the world’s greatest, most innovative saxophonists. Here’s an apologetic but undeniably poetic handwritten love letter, penned to long-term lover Chan Woods. Parker’s adult life was a turbulent one, his musical brilliance often affected by his addiction to both heroin and alcohol, and he split with Woods in 1954 following the death of their two-year-old daughter. Tragically Parker passed away the next year, aged just thirty-four.


To you;

The way I thought was wrong, having not known, it was right. Here is the proof of my feelings, Don’t hate me, love me forever: — — — —

Beautiful is the world, slow is one to take advantage. Wind up the world the other way. And at the start of the turning of the earth, lie my feelings for thou.

To you
Shame on me.
I love you.


Another touching note from Letters of Note is a parting note written by Frida Kahlo on the back of a depository envelope – used by Kahlo to hold jewellery during a stay at hospital – prior to a trip to New York. Her husband (for the second time), Diego Rivera, was painting a mural in San Francisco which now resides at City College. He was assisted at the time by fellow artist and mutual friend ‘Emmy Lou’ Packard.

Diego, my love,

Remember that once you finish the fresco we will be together forever once and for all, without arguments or anything, only to love one another.

Behave yourself and do everything that Emmy Lou tells you.

I adore you more than ever. Your girl, Frida

(Write me)


Some truly touching moments can be found in postcards. Since they have such a minimal amount of space you can read between the lines and guess at the more complex feelings that could be there between the sender and the receiver. This can be especially found in postcards from wars such as this one below (found here).

Hope you enjoyed this post. Now to try and find more time to work on my atrocious handwriting!

15 Responses to The Demise of Cursive Handwriting

  1. I’m a terrible typist too! My wife pities my unnoticed typos. The only cursive I can remember is my own name. Any other letters and I have to look them up. I always preferred printed lettering, even as a kid.

  2. Jude says:

    I used to be hyper-concerned with how smooth my cursive was — mine always seemed so broken, staccato. I used to write words many, many times over, just to get the flow right! Now I’m lucky if every letter doesn’t look like a figure 8 — can hardly read my own handwriting.

  3. Pingback: The Demise of Cursive Handwriting « FerriMagnet

  4. I adore your blog (just happened upon it) and your illustrations blow my mind! One tiny request: could you make your text slightly bigger? The tiny letters (in gray) make it difficult to read, even for my relatively young eyes! Thanks!

  5. Pingback: Your Questions About Learning To Write In Cursive | Pre School Learning to Write

  6. Ben Bates says:

    I never learnt cursive hand at school as it was considered ‘old hat’ in 1980′s Britain. I’ve always admired the handwriting that my Grandparents wrote even the most simple notes in. I later taught myself, badly. My six year old son is now being taught it in school, which he loves. Hopefully it’s going to make a come-back with the younger generation.

    • admin says:

      Thanks so much for your comment and your personal insight Ben. I did learn cursive in school but I’m afraid it has fell to the wayside. I am determined to make my everyday handwriting closer to my grandparents though. I hope your son enjoys it! Glad to know that it’s making a come-back.

  7. Pingback: Your Questions About Learning To Write | Pre School Learning to Write

  8. Kevin Broussard says:

    I can remember when I was just 8 years old (I am now 55), and we started to learn cursive. It was so exciting to me! I felt that I was definitely headed to adulthood. We practiced and were graded in penmandship (I went to a Catholic school where the nuns where very strict). To this day I still write in cursive and only print when necessary. My signature is still in cursive. Also, I send thank you notes, sympathy cards, birthday cards, Christmas cards, etc., written in cursive. No thank you emails from me! Also, I did learn to type and, on the computer, still use the double space at the end of a sentence and the final serial comma. Call me old fashioned, but I find the traditional methods much more friendly and polite.

    • admin says:

      Hi Kevin. Thanks so much for your lovely comment. It’s so nice to hear about your upbringing and your take on handwriting. I’m glad there’s still people out there writing letters. Even though it may be lost subject in some schools, there are a lot of designers and illustrators doing beautiful hand-lettering work such as Dana Tanamachi http://www.danatanamachi.com/ There’s definitely been a resurgence, at least in that form in the last few years. Hopefully children will be inspired by this.

  9. Toufik says:

    Thank you for this blog. Although my handwriting isnt good, I still write in cursive, we were taught so and it’s still the case in my country. I’m a teacher in the primary school now and we teach the kids how to write in cursive. I liked the samples you put here and I wish you could put more!

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