An Iowa Schoolma’am
Letters of Elizabeth “Bess” Corey, 1904–1908
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: University of Iowa Press
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This collection of letters written by farm-girl turned schoolma’am Elizabeth “Bess” Corey extends from October 1904 to August 1908. The letters, written mostly to her mother and siblings back on the farm in Marne, Iowa, collectively tell a story about rural life and living in Iowa at the very start of the twentieth century. More specifically,...
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The eighty-four letters in this collection likely include every note that Elizabeth “Bess” Corey wrote to her family back at Corey Farm, in Marne, Cass County, Iowa, between 1904 and 1908, while she was away from home either attending classes or teaching school. Like the letters she would write to her mother and siblings from South Dakota once she became a homesteader...
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After Phil Gerber’s untimely death in 2005, Holly Carver, then director of the University of Iowa Press, asked if I would work toward completing his project of publishing the Iowa letters of Elizabeth “Bess” Corey, the woman Gerber had introduced us to in his book Bachelor Bess: The Homesteading Letters of Elizabeth Corey,...
Letters from COREY FARM, October 1904
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Corey Farm’s neighbors came close to being a microcosm of recent immigration into the state, and the names of all of them appear in Bess’s letters. All were farmers belonging either to the first or, more commonly, to the second wave of pioneering settlers, the same generation as Edwin Corey and Margaret Brown, both of whom sprang from English stock. Lands to the north were worked by...
Letters from WALNUT, November 1904 to February 1905
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Around November, 1904, Bess entered the Walnut School, about seven or eight miles west of Corey Farm. Built in 1875, this two-story building housed a “graded school,” in which Bess could qualify to teach if she could pass both her coursework and then the teaching certification examinations. She boarded at the William Copley home, working for at least part of her keep. According...
Letters from HARLAN, June 1905 to August 1905
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After the sudden death of her father in late February, Bess had to leave school to help her family get through the hard times that followed. In June she was able to go to Harlan, the county seat of Shelby County, to attend six weeks of summer school in hopes of gaining at least a temporary teaching certificate so she could make enough money to help her family financially. The Shelby County Republican...
Letters from TENNANT, September 1905 to June 1906
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Still only seventeen, Bess obtained her three-month temporary teaching permit—to last until she turned eighteen in November— and began her teaching career in a rural school near a tiny settlement on the railroad line called Tennant (now a ghost town), about five miles west of Harlan and perhaps twenty miles from Corey Farm. There is conflicting information concerning whether Bess...
Letters from HARLAN, June 1906 to July 1906
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After her school dismissed for the year, Bess came home to the farm for a week before leaving again for Harlan, where she had arranged to board at the home of her aunt, Jennie Corey Dunlavy (also a teacher), while attending the 1906 Summer School. Jennie and her husband, James D. Dunlavy, “J. D.,” who had a few years before been a superintendent of schools...
Letters from IRWIN , January 1908 to June 1908
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Bess appears to have lived at home and taught in her own township during the 1906–1907 school year and maybe even up until Christmas of the following year, since the next set of letters doesn’t begin until January 1908. She may have taught at School #9, just a stone’s throw from Corey Farm, a supposition supported...
Letters from COREY FARM and HARLAN, July 1908 to August 1908
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As Bess had wished, she was permitted to come home and oversee the summer activities on Corey Farm while Margaret Corey went to Clarkson Memorial Hospital in Omaha, Nebraska, for surgery. Bess corresponded with her mother at that address during most of the summer, allowing us a rare glimpse into...
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Page Count: 191
Publication Year: 2011