The collection consists mostly of love letters between Ella-May Abbott of New Orleans, Louisiana and Walter James Rathbun who is based in ship ports in the United States, Europe, Nicaragua and the Panama Canal Zone. Letters from Walter Rathbun’s Mother, Mrs. J. Baird of Floral Park, New Jersey and other family members are included.
Ella-May and Walter begin a correspondence courtship in 1916, then breakup in 1919 for reasons not given. They begin writing to each other again in 1926 and finally marry in 1930. These years are hard for them, particularly since Walter is trying to obtain a divorce from his Brazilian wife.
In their almost daily letters, Ella writes about her day's activities and Walter writes about his ship duties and his experiences while in port. They both write about their love and longing for each other. His World War II letters from the Panama Canal Zone are marked by a censor and have few details about his work but contain many comments about the culture among the Navy families, particularly the wives. A running thread through the years is the inability of Charles Rathbun, Walter's brother, to hold a job.
Walter has many titles while working on ships including 2nd Officer and Captain. In World War II he is a Lt. Commander in the United States Naval Reserves stationed in the Canal Zone. Ella-May is a window designer for a large department store in New Orleans, but doesn’t work after they marry and move to New Jersey. They later move to Pasadena, California where Ella-May's mother and sisters live.