I find this particular character particularly inspiring too - please enjoy the first of the Honorable Mention Essays! - Barb
The Woman in the Betsy-Tacy Series That I Most Admire
There are many appropriate role models for girls in the Betsy-Tacy series. Certainly Betsy and Julia are models of women of the arts. They follow their passions, in Julia’s case to the exclusion of everything else at times. Emily is an exemplary woman with a cause. It’s always uplifting to see someone set out to change the world - or at least her small corner of it. However, I have selected a woman who did not choose her life’s path but rather had it thrust upon her. It is her response to the unforeseen that makes this woman truly great. The woman I have chosen is Miss Cobb.
“Miss Cobb, a large, mild, blonde woman . . . was a Deep Valley institution, and one of its most widely admired heroines.” It seems strange to choose a character who is sadly lacking a Christian name (She is called Jessie Cobb in Emily of Deep Valley, but as Emily is not widely read she remains Miss to the majority of us.). What little we know about her comes to us through Betsy Was a Junior and Betsy and Joe, even though Julia had taken lessons from her in years past. Miss Cobb was engaged to marry, but broke off her own engagement to raise her sister’s four children following her sister’s death from tuberculosis. Two of the children died of the disease some time thereafter and the third child, Leonard, is suffering from terminal tuberculosis. At the turn of the century the loss of a loved one was not the rare exception and Miss Cobb met it in the way many women of the day did. The now-orphaned niece and nephews needed a home and she gave them one. We never find out what happened to the fiancé and no one visibly misses him, least of all Miss Cobb.
Miss Cobb was not alone in having illness impact her life. The early part of the twentieth century was a time before the wonder drugs and the tenuousness of life was part of the time. Maud spares us much of this uncertainty, so dread diseases were a larger part of Maud’s life than of Betsy’s. Baby Bee dies both in Betsy-Tacy and in real life, Tacy had diphtheria in Betsy, Tacy and Tib, but for the most part illness is not prevalent in the series. The typhoid epidemic of the summer of 1908 is not mentioned, for example, although the death of Cab’s father (who in reality lived into his eighties, a pleasant surprise for many of us) may have been inspired by the real-life events. The real-life Leonard did die of tuberculosis and this is a very real representation of the handling of sickness and the reality of young people facing death.
As a person Miss Cobb is calm and cheerful. In fact, those are the two words Maud uses most. She is described as “calm and courageous”, “calm and cheerful”, “ so cheerful all winter” and finally “calmly cheerful”! She does not fuss over Leonard. In fact, she teases him when he’s leaving for the sanitarium that he ought not write his usual “having-a-fine-time-hope-you-are-too kind of letters”. “Miss Cobb . . . was as calm and cheerful as though he were going to St. John to play football instead of the Colorado mountains to die.” When Leonard does die she goes to get his body and had a funeral. “Then lessons began again. Miss Cobb looked pale, but she was as calmly cheerful as ever. She didn’t mention the recital, though. There was no recital that year.”
Miss Cobb is a daughter of Deep Valley and the adults would feel guilty having their children start piano with any other teacher. The Ray family discusses her:
“She’s a better musician than she is a teacher, Julia had remarked one time.
And a finer human being than either, Mr. Ray had added.”
She does not live on charity, but the citizens feel it incumbent upon them to provide her with a living. Yet it is this self-sufficiency that gives Miss Cobb her strength. One gets the feeling that she chose to teach piano because it’s what she knows and is good at, but if she had not studied piano she would have found an equally effective career path. Miss Cobb is a survivor and self-sufficient. She becomes the prototypical career woman of the twentieth century not by desire but by circumstance. “Dear, brave Miss Cobb!”