Barefoot pupils, cantankerous school board members, picnics and buggy rides were all in a day’s work for a young teacher in a rural Iowa school in the early 1900s. Elizabeth “Bess” Corey’s descriptions of her life as a teacher barely older than her students are collected in Iowa Schoolma’am: Letters of Elizabeth “Bess” Corey, 1904-1908 (University of Iowa Press), co-edited by Charlotte Wright (’94 Ph.D.), former associate director and editorial director of the UNT Press, and Philip Gerber, who was a professor at the State University of New York College at Brockport.
In these 83 letters, Corey tells humorous stories of telephone party lines, local politics and assorted eccentric characters. One of seven children, she quit high school at 17 upon the death of her father, attended a summer session at a normal school and began her teaching career. Later, the self-styled “Bachelor Bess” wrote letters home to Iowa describing her adventures as a South Dakota homesteader and teacher, furnishing what her family called “our own continuing adventure story.”
Wright is the managing editor of the University of Iowa Press and the author of Plain and Ugly Janes: The Rise of the Ugly Woman in Contemporary American Fiction.