The Wyoming Heir - Page 3

And they called themselves ladies. Elizabeth slammed the letter onto her desk. Two other organizations had also asked that money previously donated—and spent—be returned. Then there were the six other letters explaining why future funding would cease but not asking for a return of monies.

This request galled more than most. If even women cared nothing about educating the younger generation of ladies, then who would? She’d spoken personally to the Albany Ladies’ Society three times. Her mother was a member, and still, at the slightest bit of public opposition to the school, the society had pulled their funding.

She stuffed the letter back into the envelope, yanked out her bottom desk drawer, and tossed it inside with the other letters—and the articles that had started the firestorm.

She shouldn’t even be receiving letters from donors and disgruntled citizens. Her brother, Jackson, was the head accountant for Hayes Academy for Girls, not her.

But then Jackson wasn’t responsible for the mess the academy was in.

She was.

She’d only been trying to help. With the recession that had hit the area following the economic panic in March, the school had lost students. A lot of students. Many parents couldn’t afford to send their daughters to an institution such as Hayes any longer. And without those tuition dollars, the school risked being seriously underfunded. So she’d written an editorial delineating the advantages of female education and girls’ academies and had sent it to the paper.

She’d hoped to convince a couple families to enroll their daughters or perhaps encourage donations to the school. Instead, she’d convinced Mr. Reginald Higsley, one of the reporters at the Albany Morning Times, to answer her.

On the front page.

She pulled out the newspaper, the headline staring back at her with thick, black letters.

Excessive Amount of Charity Money Wasted on Hayes Academy for Girls

Since the economic panic in March and the ensuing depression, countless workers remain unemployed, food lines span city blocks, four railroad companies have declared bankruptcy, three Albany banks have failed and myriad farmers have been forced to let their mortgaged lands revert back to lending institutions. But not six miles away, in the neighboring town of Valley Falls, community and charity money is being wasted on keeping open an unneeded school, Hayes Academy for Girls.

It has long been recognized that the overeducating of females creates a breed of women quick to throw off their societal obligations to marry and raise children. It is also well-known that educated women are more concerned with employment opportunities and their own selfish wishes rather than fulfilling their roles as women....

Elizabeth’s stomach twisted. No matter how many times her eyes darted over the words, the opening made her nearly retch. The article went on to compare the lower marriage rate of women with college educations to those with only grammar schooling. It examined the divorce rate, also higher among women with college educations. And then the reporter turned back to the topic of Hayes Academy’s funding, questioning why anyone would waste money teaching women to throw off their societal responsibilities while the poor of Albany were starving.

Elizabeth shoved back from her desk and stood. Charity money “wasted” on keeping an “unneeded” institution open? How could the reporter say such a thing, when the academy prepared young women to attend college and qualify for jobs that enabled them to support both themselves and their families? An educated woman could certainly make a fuller contribution to society than an uneducated one.

Yet since the article had appeared, the academy had lost half of its financial backers.

A burst of giggles wafted from outside, and Elizabeth rose and headed to the window. In the yard, groups of girls clustered about the pristine lawn and giant maple trees with their reddening leaves. They laughed and smiled and talked, flitting over the grass alone or in packs, their eyes bright, their spirits free, their futures optimistic.

She sank her head against the dark trim surrounding the window. “Jonah, why did you go and die on me?” The words swirled and dissipated in the empty room. As though she’d never spoken them. As though no one heard or cared what a mess Hayes Academy had become when its founder unexpectedly died three months earlier.

If Jonah Hayes were still alive, he would know how to get more donors. He would write an editorial on women’s education, and people would listen, enrolling their daughters at the academy. And in the interim, while the school struggled through the recession, he would likely donate the money Hayes Academy needed to continue operating.

But Jonah Hayes was gone, and his estate had been tied up for three months, waiting for the arrival of his grandson heir from out West. In her dreams, the grandson came to Valley Falls, filled Jonah’s position on the school board, convinced the other board members to keep Hayes Academy open, obliterated all opposition to the academy.