School Tales

Young, naive, and irrepressible, a turn-of-the-20th-century Iowa teacher documented her coming of age in letters home

In these letters, we encounter 18-year-old Elizabeth “Bess” Corey, a plucky schoolteacher in rural Tennant, Iowa, at the turn of the 20th century. Her homespun epistles, redolent with frontier eloquence and rife with misspellings, speak of homesickness and the joys and challenges of teaching in a one-room schoolhouse. “Yes I’d give a ‘lick’ at my piece of candy to be home long enough to can 60 qts of pieplant,” she ends one note to her mother.
Read more »

The Great American Grid

Living in, and with, the universal Midwestern latticework

Likely as not, when René Descartes invented his grid system of coordinates in the seventeenth century, he did not have Carroll, Iowa, in mind. No matter. Carroll, like the rest of the state and a good deal of the nation, is laid out in a Cartesian grid. For this geometric landscape we have the Ordinance of 1785 to thank.Read more »

Fair Comment

Americans don’t hesitate to say anything they please about a public performance. But the right to do so wasn’t established until the Cherry Sisters sued a critic who didn’t like their appalling vaudeville act.

The year 1896 found Oscar Hammerstein in trouble. He was in debt, and the acts he had brought to Broadway weren’t doing well. He was desperate. “I’ve tried the best,” he is reported to have said. “Now I’ll try the worst.” So he sent for the Cherry Sisters. Effie, Addie, Jessie, Lizzie, and Ella Cherry clearly were the worst act of the day. They couldn’t dance, and they couldn’t sing. In fact, they couldn’t do anything at all. Except draw crowds. Read more »

PRAIRIE WOODS AND WILD FLOWERS

To most people, prairie country is farm country—big fields of corn and oats, rolling pastures with lone trees standing on the slopes. But when the virgin timber that originally covered the river valleys was slaughtered to make room for corn and cattle, homesteads and town sites, good bits of it were left, down along the creeks and river bottoms, under the crests of low hills. These are the prairie woods, where farmers turned loose their cattle and where country communities held Sunday-school picnics and Fourth of July celebrations.Read more »