History, Memoir, Nonfiction

Elsie: Adventures of An Arizona Schoolteacher 1913-1916

There are few things more satisfying than finding a book completely by accident and then plunging yourself into it completely.  I found this delightful book while browsing through the Amazon lending library.  The sample I read was so endearing that I abandoned what I was reading at the time and took this book up instead.  Over the last few days, I have affectionately called this my “Elsie book,” verbally recommending it to several people.

Through detailed letters and diary entries compiled by her granddaughter, we learn that Elsie Hayes was an idealistic young woman who lived in Southern California at the turn of the 20th century.  She went to college for a while, but needed funds to continue her education, so she embarked on the adventure of a lifetime–leaving the comfort of her family and moving to Oak Creek, Arizona to teach school.  This decision changed her life forever.

There are charming aspects to the story that simply reflect a simpler time, such as Elsie’s social life–dinners at people’s houses, and the way people visited with each other (in person!) instead of texting, emailing, or simply giving a “thumbs-up” on Facebook.  It was the kind of socializing that required effort, manners, conversation, and skill.

The more I got to know Elsie, the more I felt I knew her.  She and I have many things in common–we are both from Southern California.  We both taught school before we were married.  We both saw our younger siblings get married before us and, though we guarded our independence, longed to have a wonderful man love us and take care of us.  We both saw our plans uprooted in one relationship when Fate took a tragic turn, yet found relief in the arms of the person we were truly supposed to be with.

Aside from these remarkable parallels, reading about Elsie brings pure joy.  She was optimistic, resilient, and knew what she wanted in life.  She loved her students, but still faced the challenges a teacher is bound to face.  (I did laugh at one of her diary entries when she remarked that she told a naughty student to go home.  If only!)

The one thing I would make future readers aware of is that, because of the time period, Elsie’s references to other races may offend some people.  She speaks once of “learning Mexican” from one of her students, and the “n” word appears once as the title of a play she is reading.  None of these words or phrases are used maliciously; they were simply acceptable at the time and her granddaughter did not alter them for authenticity.

I would very much recommend this memoir.  Rarely have I enjoyed a glimpse into the past as much as seeing it through the eyes of Elsie.

9.5/10 Stars

Elsie’s granddaughter, Barbara Anne Waite, does have a website where you can learn more about Elsie in her later years.  You can find it at http://barbaraannewaite.com/.  I would recommend visiting it after reading the book.


A FUN TIDBIT  October 13, 2012

This morning I sent a quick email to Elsie’s granddaughter to tell her how much I enjoyed the book.  A few hours later I heard back from her!  This is what she wrote:

Dear Kristie-

Thanks so much for your sweet note. It is such an encouragement to hear from readers that enjoyed “Elsie.” The response  has gone way beyond my expectations and prayers. I do hope you go to my website : www.BarbaraAnneWaite.com.  Under “Tidbits” there are photos not included in the book and some extra historical notes. I am willing to make a special price for book clubs who want to order the print copies. If they are ordered together, (so I can mail as one mailing) I can do for $10.00 each if mailed within USA. The print copy has a lovely hand written font that can’t be done as an e-book.  Would you consider adding your review to Amazon’s Elsie site? I think that really helps my sales. I love it that I have had reviews from New Zealand, Ecuador, Crete, Korea and Canada. My favorite review was from a lady 103 that read it on Kindle and Skyped her review to her daughter.  I live in San Diego.   I am speaking to a book club there soon and I’m very excited about that.  I am going to look right now at your book review site and thanks for including “Elsie!”

Barbara Anne Waite

3 thoughts on “Elsie: Adventures of An Arizona Schoolteacher 1913-1916”

  1. Kristie, I am anxious to read about Elsie. Since you liked it, I would recommend a book about a similar time period if you haven’t read it. These is My Words by Nancy Turner is a novel based on the diary of her grandmother Sarah Agnes Prine. This is a beautifully written, empowering book about the resilience of a good woman. I recommend it to everyone. Talking about it makes me want to read it again even though it’s only been 6 months. It’s definitely in my top 10.

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