Anne Goes to College

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On Today’s Menu:
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
** Share some ruby jelly layer cake
for the birthday of a beloved Canadian novelist.
** Linger to consider
two young women who dreamed of going to college.
** Savor a last ½ cup
on a trip to Prince Edward Island, circa 2015.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


First Sip:

“They thought I was
trying to take a B.A.,
and ever since I’ve been wondering if I am.”

“You are the first Avonlea girl who
has ever gone to college;
and you know that all pioneers are considered to
be afflicted with moonstruck madness.”

L. M. Montgomery


Slice of Cake:

When I was… I don’t know for sure,
but let’s say 11 years old,
my mother said: Let me read you some of this book, I think you’ll like it.

It was a book my mother had read as a child in her one-room schoolhouse
in Northern Michigan in the 1930s.
It was written by a Canadian novelist in 1908.

The chapter she read to me was set in a one-room schoolhouse
where an 11-year-old girl was teased by a boy and fought back.

The chapter is called ‘A Tempest in the School Teapot.’
The book is Anne of Green Gables.

Gilbert reached across the aisle,
picked up the end of Anne’s long red braid…and said
in a piercing whisper: “Carrots! Carrots!”
Then Anne looked at him with a vengence!
She did more than look. She sprang to her feet… and
thwack! Anne had brought her slate down
on Gilbert’s head and cracked it—slate, not head—clear across.
Avonlea school always enjoyed a scene.
This was an especially enjoyable one.
Everybody said “Oh” in horrified delight.

– from Anne of Green Gables
L. M. Montgomery

My mom was right. I liked it.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 5-Green-Gables-buggy-edit-1024x755.jpg

Me at Green Gables, June 2015
waiting for Matthew
to hitch up the sorrel mare
(photo by Prof B)

It’s interesting that—like Louisa May Alcott writing Little Women
L M Montgomery based her story on her own childhood,
yet she didn’t set the story in the years of her childhood (the 1880s).
Instead, it’s set in her present day, the early 1900s.

Something I love about the Anne books is how they embrace
the full range of women’s occupations.

Women’s work, education, and homemaking are all shown in depth and detail;
all shown to be equally important, attainable, and familiar.

Anne and her friends learn how to sew, to cook, to clean, to entertain—how to properly run a household.

Anne also went to school, graduated from a two-year college, became a teacher, then completed four years at university, and became the principal at a women’s college.

And she can “cut potato sets.” (Whatever that means.) 2

In the Anne books, all three aspects of women’s work are celebrated:
Education, careers, and the domestic arts.
And all in the nineteen aughts.


Happy 145th Birthday
** L. M. Montgomery

– born November 30, 1874
on Prince Edward Island, Canada


Linger Awhile:

I’ve been thinking this week about Anne and me and our longing to go to college.

At the Vacaville library, I found a long shelf of “Anne books,” and I read them all.
But my favorite by far was the one about Anne’s four years away at college.

I re-read Anne of the Island many, many times.

When I applied to college, this novel was my only real, concrete idea
of what college would be like.

Okay, yes, it’s fiction.

And written in 1915, while I started college in 1980.
And, yes, Anne’s college was on the East Coast of Canada, while
my university was on the Central Coast of California.

Yet, I think the novel did help prepare me—in some ways.

Anne’s four years at college were full of challenging classes, fun housemates, romantic complications, sky-high ambitions, deep disappointments, and hard-won successes.

Not so very different from my experience at college.

Of course in other ways, I was pretty unprepared.

I was the first in my family to start at a 4-year college soon after high school.
My parents were proud of me—but had no practical knowledge to offer me about how college really worked.

A lot of people helped me, though, and thanks to them,
I—like Anne—found my way, had some fun, and eventually was successful.

This is B, me, and my proud brother Michael
(photo by Carlyn Crystal)

In 2015, I started reading L M Montgomery’s published diaries.
It turns out that Montgomery herself only got to attend university for a year.

When she was 18, she started at a 2-year college in Charlottetown. She was an excellent student and finished the teaching program in just one year.
Montgomery described this as “the happiest year of my life.” 1

She started teaching, and she saved her money. Then, with some financial help from her grandmother, she started a four-year program studying literature at Dalhousie College in Halifax. She was 20 years old.

After only a year, she ran out of money.

She briefly returned to teaching, but when her grandfather died, her grandmother was left all alone.

These were the grandparents who had raised her and they ran the Cavendish post office out of the family kitchen. Montgomery moved back to live with her grandmother and took over running the post office.

(Later L M Montgomery would set her Anne books in the village of Avonlea, a fictionalized version of Cavendish.)

By running the post office from the kitchen,
she had continuous access to the local pulse and gossip—
from which she created the substance of her books
—and she could send out materials to publishers
without anyone knowing about it.

– Mary Henley Rubio 1

Only once did Montgomery try again to live on her own. She moved back to Halifax and worked for the local newspaper—a job she loved. This was 1901 and she was 26 years old.
After just nine months, her grandmother needed her again, and she returned to Cavendish.

So, when L M Montgomery wrote Anne of the Island, it wasn’t really about her experience of college.
It was more about her dream of college.


“Half Cup More”

On a beautiful spring day in 2015,
I visited Prince Edward Island.

I wanted to see where L. M. Montgomery grew up.

L. M. Montgomery’s Cavendish Home,
a Canadian National Historic Site

It was lovely.

Montgomery modeled Avonlea
after her hometown of Cavendish.

‘You look tired, Anne,’ he said.

‘I am tired, and, worse than that, I’m disgruntled. I’m tired because I’ve been packing my trunk and sewing all day. But I’m disgruntled because six women have been here to say good-bye to me, and every one of the six managed to say something that seemed to take the colour right out of life…

‘Spiteful old cats!’ was Gilbert’s elegant comment.

‘Oh, no, they weren’t,’ said Anne seriously. ‘That is just the trouble. If they had been spiteful cats I wouldn’t have minded them. But they are all nice, kind, motherly souls, who like me and whom I like, and that is why what they said, or hinted, had such undue weight with me. They let me see they thought I was crazy going to Redmond and trying to take a B.A., and ever since I’ve been wondering if I am. Mrs. Peter Sloane sighed and said she hoped my strength would hold out till I got through; and at once I saw myself a hopeless victim of nervous prostration at the end of my third year; Mrs. Eben Wright said it must cost an awful lot to put in four years at Redmond; and I felt all over me that it was unpardonable in me to squander Marilla’s money and my own on such a folly; Mrs. Jasper Bell said she hoped I wouldn’t let college spoil me, as it did some people; and I felt in my bones that the end of my four Redmond years would see me a most insufferable creature, thinking I knew it all, and looking down on everything and everybody in Avonlea; Mrs. Elisha Wright said she understood that Redmond girls, especially those who belonged to Kingsport, were “dreadfully dressy and stuck up,” and she guessed I wouldn’t feel much at home among them; and I saw myself, a snubbed, dowdy, humiliated country girl, shuffling through Redmond’s classic halls in copper-toed boots.’

Anne ended with a laugh and a sigh commingled. With her sensitive nature all disapproval had weight, even the disapproval of those for whose opinions she had scant respect. For the time being life was savourless, and ambition had gone out like a snuffed candle.

‘You surely don’t care for what they said,’ protested Gilbert. ‘You know exactly how narrow their outlook on life is, excellent creatures though they are… You are the first Avonlea girl who has ever gone to college; and you know that all pioneers are considered to be afflicted with moonstruck madness.’

– from Anne of the Island
L. M. Montgomery
chapter 2


Take-Away Box

“Judging from what you all say,” remarked Aunt Jamesina,
“the sum and substance is that
you can learn
if you’ve got natural gumption enough—
in four years at college
what it would take about twenty years of living to teach you.
Well, that justifies higher education in my opinion.
It’s a matter I was always dubious about before.”

– from Anne of the Island
L. M. Montgomery
chapter 37


Thank you for reading!
Kelly J Hardesty

Thoughts? Questions?
Scroll down to the endand you can leave me note!
Always so lovely to hear from you.

You Can Read More…

notes & footnotes:

Mary Henley Rubio,
“Montgomery, Lucy Maud” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography,
vol. 17, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003.

A kind reader provided this definition of ‘cut potato sets’:
Cut potato sets’ apparently has to do with
growing seed potatoes and cutting them in half,
leaving them to dry out, and then planting
in soil or ash to increase the yield.
It doesn’t sound the sort of thing that
Diana would have done, mind!
May 19, 2020


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© Kelly J Hardesty 2024

2 thoughts on “Anne Goes to College”

  1. I came across your post when searching for “cut potato sets” to find out what it meant!
    Always good to find a kindred spirit. I’ve been trying to introduce my daughters to Anne of Green Gables… They don’t quite get the kindred spirit thing yet, but I’m sure they will, in time.
    Nice to ‘meet’ you.

    1. Hello Lucy – Nice to meet you, too!

      You mentioned your daughters are not quite getting the Anne books yet. As my kids were growing up, they absolutely loved the books that their father introduced to them—ones he’d read & loved as a boy (Where the Red Fern Grows, Watership Down)—but they pretty much completely ignored all the books I’d loved as a child (Jo March, Anne Shirley, and Francie Nolan).

      However! Perhaps it’s a game of patience…

      Earlier this year, after reading my post about Louisa May Alcott, my daughter wrote this: “I need to read Little Women now that I’m an adult… I’m ready to fully appreciate it now.” (Hurray! At age 26!)

      Thank you so much for reading—and commenting!

      All the best
      from your kindred spirit –

      PS What does ‘cut potato sets’ mean?

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