Fannie Elizabeth Beach
- Written by Katie Murphy
reading, writing, 'rithmatic," and nature walks
Fannie Elizabeth Beach impacted Woodmont in a special way because she taught school there for fifty years, retiring in 1934. At first, all eight grades were in a one-room schoolhouse, later six grades, and later still the upper grades in a two-room brick school (built in 1917) of which she was also the principal. The family always said, "Aunt Fannie taught for fifty years." In fact, it as important to her to each that last year to make it 50. But the town records do not list her as teacher until 1891, which would make it 43 years. It is possible that Fannie, who graduated from Milford High School in 1883, began teaching that same fall. That was not uncommon back then, especially in country schools. It may have then taken her seven years to earn her certification explaining the delay in having her name appearing on the teachers' list for the town.
She did not go away to college, but did take teaching courses, always read widely, and, of course, would have accepted advice from more experienced teachers. She not only taught "reading, writing, an 'rithmatic," but on some Saturdays took the school children on nature walks through woods and fields, and taught the names of trees, wild flowers and birds. Her niece, Ruth Beach (Sykes), always very good at identifying wildlife, said she had learned most of that from "Aunt Fannie."
Fannie was always interested in the way the lives of her former pupils developed. Some of them came back to see her, and kept in touch over the years. One of them, Granville P. Lindley, was a member of the Byrd Antarctic Expedition II. He wrote two letters to her while on the expedition (in 1933 and 1934), that she kept all her life.
When Fannie was born, a couple of years after the conclusion of the Civil War, Woodmont was a sparsely populated rural farmland and woods. In the early 1870s a few people began to build summer cottages on the shore of Long Island Sound, about a mile from the Beach farm. In 1898 a trolley line going right through was built between New Haven and Milford Center and on to Bridgeport. By 1906 with this "easy access," the summer population of Woodmont 'exploded' to about 2000. Many cottages and hotels were built near the water to accommodate the seasonal influx. After Labor Day, the "summer people" went back to their homes elsewhere, and Woodmont was returned to its relatively few permanent inhabitants who lived mostly farmed and operated a few small businesses.
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