Saturday, October 11, 2008



The Journal of Elizabeth (Bess) Stanhope
September 15, 1925

I can’t believe it’s been more than a year since I came to North Dakota to teach in a one-room school. When I look back over the year, I sometimes wonder how I survived.

A few days into my arrival, I speculated that I had lost my mind. What was I thinking, to have turned my back on my parents’ lavish lifestyle and my carefree days of parties and revelry. I went from a mansion on Summit Avenue in St. Paul, Minnesota, to a room in a clapboard house smack in the middle of the prairie.

Ever since I earned my art history degree at Macalester College in St. Paul, followed by a grand tour of Europe, I have been at loose ends. After much serious thinking, I decided to earn my teaching certificate and do something worthwhile with my life.

When I left home last fall, I took the train. I fore swore my allowance and my slavish dependence on the latest fads and fashions. I told myself I didn’t need my parents’ money. I managed, somehow, to survive on my meager teacher’s salary.

Now that I have proved myself, I have relented somewhat. I have reluctantly given in to one big concession. When I returend to North Dakota a few weeks ago after a visit home, Mother and Father accompanied me, Father driving us out in the automobile he finally persuaded me to accept. (He grumbled all the way about the 20 cents a gallon gas prices.)

Yes, I admit to caving in a bit. But having an auto is so much nicer. I don’t have to depend on the Swensons to bring me to school or in to town. I will also be able to take my students on field trips, with the help of a volunteer driver or two.

As the magazine ad illustrates, there is freedom in owning a Ford. I believe, as does Father, that it will be safe, dependable transportation for me.

I wore my jodhpurs on the trip out. It has been a long time since I put on a pair. They were my frequent costume in the past, whether for motoring or horseback riding. Since moving to the wilds of North Dakota, I have never seen a woman wearing a pair.


My parents were astounded at how small the school house is. I know they secretly think it is shabby, though they would never say that. If only they could have seen it last year, with bats, mice, cobwebs and dirt everywhere. I swept and dusted and scrubbed like I never had at home. Back then, I relied on maids to do that sort of thing.

I think of the days when I and Charlie Swenson, the son of the family I boarded with, arrived early to a freezing cold school. Fortunately, he was not afraid of shoveling snow while I got the stove lit and the school warmed up.

I truly have grown up over the past year. I have faced loneliness, culture clashes with the Norwegians and Germans who farm this area, the overwhelming solitude of the prairie, backbreaking work and unruly students and difficult parents.

Now, I love my students and can’t imagine teaching anywhere else.

The little girls idolize me and I think some of the little boys have crushes on me. Even the older boys have at last accepted me – thank goodness, as some are bigger than I am – and help with chopping wood and the heavier chores.

The younger students are eager and willing to dust the erasers, wash the chalkboards and pass the wastebasket at the end of the day.

I have some really promising students here, and I will do my best to help them continue their education after they leave my school.


I have accepted another gift from my parents - the typewriter I am using to type this. It is so much easier than longhand when doing a lot of writing. I am pasting these pages, as well as clippings and photos, into a scrapbook as I go. It is my Autumn Sketch Book.
Hi, it's me (properly, it is I) Julie.
Lest you think I have lost my mind, or that a ghost takes over my keyboard as I sleep, have no fear, it's just my newest project, an Autumn Sketchbook, inspired by Lena at "A Happy Miscellany". She is the creator of the Autumn Sketchbook, in which we imagine a persona and experience autumn through her eyes. Each Wednesday for six weeks, Mary has been giving us ideas for collage pages and journal entries. She will continue doing this through November.
Since I am from North Dakota and actually went to a one-room school (though in the 1950s), it was natural for me to take on the persona of a rural school teacher. So far, I have written a number of "journal entries". Like Bess, I will be transferring the entries into a sketch book with embellishments, photos and ephemera.
I have ordered a sketch book but it is long in arriving. Also, my printer is giving me problems. Hopefully, last night I solved the problem of the clogged ink jets. Eventually, I will show you my actual Autumn Sketch Book, but until then, I will occasionally print Bess' journal entries.


smilnsigh said...

Very cute idea.

Go you!

Miss Mari-Nanci

Lynn Cohen said...

Boy, did I get caught up in your story. I was sure you were writing of your life until I got to the 20 cents a gallon for gas part, and then I had to rethink what I was reading. LOL So well done. Loved it all even finding out it was a made up story (based on a few facts from your "other" life.)

Kim Campbell said...

OK< I want in on this. I need some inspiration!

I love your story.

Rowan said...

I really enjoyed reading this and I love the picture that inspired it too. I shall look forward to seeing your finished Autumn Sketchbook.

Shopgirl said...

Julie, I think this is wonderful, it will be such fun to fallow. I am sure this will be of great interest to us all. I like her already. Hugs, Mary

Kim Campbell said...

I'm finished with my piece and have added it to my blog.

JoAnn ( Scene Through My Eyes) said...

Wow - this is really amazing. I felt as if I was reading an actual journal from those times past. You've done a great job of capturing her spirit.

I am fortunate enough to have purchased an actual journal of a young woman who was traveling by ship across the ocean to spend time in France. It is black leather, with a lock (that no longer works) and she has included her ticket stubs to plays and other interesting items, along with her writings about her trip. She was knitting a dress during this time and she keeps updating the progress of it.

Thanks for this blog entry - I will be following it with great interest.

marthaberry said...

What a great idea! I have trouble putting myself out there, perhaps a persona would make it easier. Good job, Julie!

Lena said...

Oh Julie, how wonderful! I've enjoyed reading Bess's journal entry, and already, can't wait to read more. I'm very glad that you've decided to participate. I've always thought that you are a very fine writer.

My "Fireside" project is about half way done today, but I'll finish it, and post it sometime on Monday...probably closer to the deadline, as I have a doctor's appt. tommorow, and a couple of other important things that have to get done. It's more of an assemblage, and only the 2nd time I've attempted something like that. I'm having fun, but it's a challenge for me too. That's a good thing...right?

Happy Sunday to you!

Sheila said...

Julie this is excellent..!
I honestly thought it was excerpted from a vintage book you had found. It really captured my imagination. I do hope there will be more.

couragetocreatewriteandlove said...

I adore it!!!

gma said...

Julie, After seeing what you did in your altered book...I know this will be another treasure.

LW said...


I came back today just to read your story….
Each time I stopped by before I only had a minute or two and didn’t
have the time to read your autumn scrapbook.
I wanted to wait until I knew I had the time to read it the way
I like to read a story…
It raining out today so with coffee in hand I can enjoy my time with Bess…