There’s something about the contrast of a cultured young woman displaced in a rough frontier setting and successfully forging a new life for herself that stirs my imagination. Think Ma Ingalls making a home for her girls in the Little House books; Abbie setting a joyful example for her family with a Lantern in Her Hand; or Katherine Mary following her Canadian mounty through the pages of Mrs. Mike.
Then add Elsie Hayes, from Barbara Anne Waite’s Adventures of an Arizona Schoolteacher, 1913-1916. This charming book shares a portion of the life story of Barbara’s grandmother through her grandmother’s letters and diary entries, plus additional narrative from interviews, recollections by Elsie’s former students, and newspaper accounts.
Elsie hailed from a privileged family in Long Beach, California, (where she was friends with a young Thornton Wilder) and graduated from Pamona College. But after graduation, while other girls her age were looking for husbands at plays and weekend house parties, Elsie was off in wild and wooly Arizona teaching school in a one-room schoolhouse. The experiences and descriptions she shares are guaranteed to take you on a delightful trip back in time. For example, here are the 1913 rules for schoolteachers such as Elsie:
- Teachers are not to keep company with men.
- Women may not dye their hair.
- Two petticoats must be worn.
- Teachers may not loiter downtown in ice cream stores.
- Dresses must be no more than two inches above the ankle.
- Teachers are not to dress in bright colors.
And this is how Elsie described the frontier mining town of Jerome, which struck such fear in her heart upon her arrival: “I never imagined such a town. It looks like New York slums turned loose on a hillside and like Spain and Italy and almost like Chinatown combined. The mountainside is bare and bleak and the houses are . . . mysterious looking. One goes into a house from a dirty sidewalk and muddy street . . . The dirty saloons are surrounded by groups of foreigners who stare.”
Fortunately, Jerome was not her final destination. Elsie’s Oak Creek Schoolhouse—though itself a bit of an eyesore—was in the lovely Verde Valley, surrounded by thick groves of trees at the foot of the breathtaking Black Hills. Once settled there, Elsie thrilled to the beauty of her surroundings and the challenges of teaching her young pupils. Her words, though penned a hundred years ago, shine with a youthful enthusiasm and spirit of innocence.
I enjoyed experiencing Elsie’s adventures with her—her train rides, first days in the classroom, life among the country folks, and poignant experiences with love and romance. Her story touched my heart and kept me turning pages.
Gift Idea Alert: This would be a great gift for teachers, history lovers, or historical fiction lovers. The cover is eye-catching, and other authentic photos are scattered throughout its pages. You can order a copy from Amazon at this link and have it by Christmas! (It’s also eligible for free super saver shipping.)
About the author: Originally from California, Barbara Anne Waite and her husband Curt have been in Antigua at Radio Lighthouse since 1974.
***Many thanks to Barbara for sending me a copy of her book to review!
Giveaway Time: This is my first December Giveaway Post! I’m sharing a $10 Amazon Gift Card with one blog reader at the end of the month. (It’s an email card so I can send it anywhere you are!) All you have to do to enter is leave a comment below. Bonus Entries: Sign up for my newsletter at this link, let me know in your comment, and I’ll add your name two more times. (Or, if you should happen to buy Barbara’s book after reading this, let me know, and I’ll add your name to the drawing five more times!)