Cedar Falls celebrating literary roots this weekend

This month the Cedar Falls Authors festival is honoring the settlers and bringing awareness to Bess Streeter Aldrich’s work by holding several events, including a “Song of Years” site tour on Oct. 14.

Cedar Falls is renewing the legacy of this talented writer by naming the new elementary school that is being built, Aldrich Elementary. The school will be built near Erik Road west of Hudson Road in the southwestern area of Cedar Falls. Last year the School Board voted unanimously on Aldrich to be the name of the school. Although much of Aldrich’s work was completed in Nebraska, the board agreed it would be a shame not to give homage to her legacy.

Aldrich’s life begins in the town of Cedar Falls. On Feb. 17, 1881, Aldrich was born in a plain white house on Franklin Street. She grew up there with her family of seven and attended Cedar Falls schools.

Aldrich participated in many clubs and activities throughout her time at Cedar Falls High School, including the Shakespeare Club, cooking contests and writing for the school’s yearbook, The Tattler.

Aldrich’s writing fame started in high school, and so did her writing career. At age 14, Aldrich entered a child’s short story contest and won a camera from the contest. When she was 17, a former classmate sent her an article from the Baltimore News which announced a short story contest with five prizes. Aldrich entered and received third place and won $5.

Aldrich graduated from  Cedar Falls High School in 1898, and she published a poem in The Tattler for her graduating class called, “The Choosing of the (Class) Motto.” Her poem talks about the struggles her classmates faced when choosing their class motto, “Keep Close to the Ground.”

After her graduation, Aldrich enrolled in the three-year Teachers Program at Iowa State Normal School (UNI). She graduated in 1901 and taught for four years following her graduation.

In 1909, Aldrich, along with some of her family, moved to Elmwood, Neb., because of an American Exchange program one of her family members sought out.

After a few years of living in Nebraska, Aldrich started writing short stories. One of her short stories was published in the Ladies Home Journal, and Aldrich’s writing career took off.

She wrote 200 short stories and 13 novels, two of them based on her experiences in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

One of Aldrich’s books that was set in Cedar Falls is “Song of Years.” The characters in “Song of Years” portray pioneer settlers that settled in Cedar Falls. In fact, one of the characters in the book, Jeremiah Martin, is based off of Aldrich’s grandfather, Zimri, who was a pioneer. Zimri, alongside his wife, are buried at the Hillside Cemetery in Cedar Falls.

Also, on Oct. 15, a cemetery walk is taking place at Hillside Cemetery on E. Lone Tree Road.

The other book set in Cedar Falls is entitled “Miss Bishop,” and it tells the story of a Midwestern woman’s struggles of becoming a college teacher. Her book was made into a movie called “Cheers for Miss Bishop,” and it played at the Regent Theatre in Cedar Falls in 1941. It is making its way back to Cedar Falls and playing again at the Oster Regent Theater on Oct. 22 from 2-2:30 p.m. To learn more about the Cedar Falls Authors Festival’s events, visit http://www.cfauthorsfestival.org/

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