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The Adventures of an Exchange Teacher (1954)

This is an account of the experiences of Mae Kelly, a teacher at Huron High School in South Dakota, who exchanged her position in 1938 with J.L. Carr and taught for a school year in 13 schools in Birmingham.

Mary (Mae) Elizabeth Kelly was born in Claremont, a small town in South Dakota about 100 miles north of Huron on 15th February 1906, and had eight brothers and sisters. Her father was a farmer who had emigrated from Ireland and had married Hannah Elizabeth Creighton, also from Ireland, in 1898. Mae Kelly grduated from Dakota Wesleyan College in Mitchell in 1928 and was awarded a Masters degree by the University of South Dakota in Vermilion. She taught at schools in Virgil, Lennox and Beresford in South Dakota before joining the High School in Huron. After her experiences in Birmingham in 1938-39 described in this book, she left the High School in Huron in 1941 to teach for the next 33 years at Roger Ludlowe High School in Fairfield, Connecticut. After she retired in 1974 she returned to live in Claremont. She was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the Dakota Welseyan University in 1978. She died in Claremont on 14th May 1994, aged 88 and was buried in Groton.

While living in Birmingham Mae Kelly was as poorly paid as Carr living in Huron, but she had a very different experience: she visited London where she saw Parliament in session; she went to a reception in Birmingham attended by the King and Queen and saw the Queen again at a reception at the Royal Albert Hall; she went to see Shakespeare performed at Stratford-upon-Avon; she went to a concert given by Jan Paderewski, the pianist; she heard J.B Priestley talk and Paul Robeson sing in Birmingham; she visited many towns and cities in England as well as visiting relatives in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Like Carr, she also travelled after she had finished teaching, to Scotland, Wales, Jersey, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. During her stay she added to her extensive collection of miniature owls which she bequeathed to the Dakota Wesleyan University. An owl is printed on the spine of this book.

The book was written in 1943 but was not published until 1954 because of shortages of paper after the war. The preface is dated July 1954, Calgary, Alberta, Canada and J.L. Carr's Introduction is dated Kettering, June 1954.

By: Mary Elizabeth Kelly

Publisher: Vantage Press, Inc., 120 W. 31st St., New York, USA.

ISBN: none

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 54-11888

Printed by: not stated

Designed by: not stated

Pages: xiv, pp 205, 3 pp blank

Binding: Plain cream cloth with title author, and an owl between the words Kelby and Vantage in green on the spine

Size: 220 x 143 mm

Price: $3.00

Photo of cover

Dust jacket of book (click to enlarge)

Contents: This book contains an introduction by J.L. Carr dated June 1954 on pages xiii-xiv explaining his gratitude for the opportunity to visit South Dakota; a letter sent to her by JLC in December 1940 (p 181); and a letter sent by JLC from West Africa when he was in the RAF, probably in 1942, in which he wrote an eight-line verse about the B.B.C. (p 126). It is clear that Mae Kelly kept in touch with JLC during her stay in England and afterwards. She returned to England in 1953 for a reunion with many of the people mentioned in her book.

Mae Kelly took the same room in lodgings in Birmingham that JLC had, with a Miss Breedon (p 9). She describes how JLC's accent was misunderstood in Huron when he ordered porridge for breakfast and was given a pork sandwich (p 25); she explained how JLC wanted to live on an Indian reservation as a part of his exchange (p 61); she told how JLC had warned her about lice (p 73); she describes how she had planted in her landady's garden some sunflower seeds that JLC had sent her; she tells how people thought that JLC's production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' with junior high school pupils in Huron was simply marvelous (p 127); she describes saying goodbye in London to JLC's best friend, Neil (Pollock) (p 155) and reprints a letter from him as he was training to be an officer in February 1941 (p 182-3).

Mae Kelly describes the complaints of a Birmingham school inspector at loosing teachers on exchange visits and wrote:

How I wish he knew that people in the Dakotas today are interested in England and her welfare simply because Jim Carr, the plucky little Englishman with dark-rimmed glasses and one tweed suit, lived among them for a year and often hitch-hiked to the country towns, filling lecture engagements at Parent-Teacher's associations and Teacher's Institutes - a not-yet-forgotten breeze from the other side. (p 125)