I’ve been a lifelong lover of books. For as far back as I can remember, reading has brought me great joy and solace.
Perhaps that’s why a recent donation to the archives of the Danbury Museum & Historical Society spoke to me so loudly. I was drawn to this delicate sheet of paper, issued by the Connecticut Public Library Committee. A ‘Certificate of Accomplishment in Reading’ issued in 1930 to twelve-year-old, seventh grader Elizabeth Faulkner who attended New Street School. On the back side, her beautifully scripted, cursive handwriting listed 17 books, by Author & Title, that she’d read during the school year.
I imagined young Elizabeth, lying on her bed, escaping into these tales, just as I’d done at her age. But while I was devouring the entire Nancy Drew series with relish at her age, Elizabeth was pouring through volumes like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin, Louisa May Alcott’s Old Fashioned Girl, Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson and Mark Twain’s Prince & The Pauper. She even tackled Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem, Evangeline. In comparing my twelve-year-old self to Elizabeth, I felt inadequate. We quickly reconnected.
As a huge history buff, I was curious and pleased about several of Elizabeth’s selections. Katrinka: The Story of a Russian Child by Helen Eggleston Haskell and F.C. Hooker’s Cricket: A Little Girl of The Old West. I had to know more. Forrestine “Birdie” Cooper Hooker grew up on the frontier West. She was the daughter of an officer of the Tenth U.S. Cavalry, comprised of black troops known as Buffalo Soldiers, and she witnessed first hand the settling of the West. Shortly before her death, a 1931 columnist noted, “Many a historical novelist of the future will study Mrs. Hooker’s books to get true pictures of the West that was.”
Further down the sheet, Elizabeth listed Irving, Washington - The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. She must have been so disappointed by the Library Committee’s note next to it, “Too Short.”
Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Faulkner Hayes of Danbury passed away at the age of 92 in 2010. Her obituary includes the line, “One of her favorite daily interests was reading The Danbury Newstimes.” I’m grateful to Elizabeth’s daughter, Kathryn, for thinking of the Danbury Museum & Historical Society as a home for this precious document. Along with the reading list, our collection also now includes a 1913 Baisley photo of New Street School children and a class picture of her mother. In my eyes, these treasures offer the sweetest glimpse into the life of a young, Danbury school girl of yesteryear.