Gerber, Philip L.
- Existence: 1923-
Philip Gerber, author of books on Theodore Dreiser, Robert Frost, and Willa Cather, is professor of English at the State University of New York College at Brockport, New York. Gerber, a native South Dakotan, discovered the homesteading letters of Elizabeth Corey in the South Dakota Historical Society in Pierre, South Dakota. He edited them in a volume published in 1990 by the University of Iowa Press entitled Bachelor Bess: The Homesteading Letters of Elizabeth Corey, 1909-1919. The letters, written to Corey's widowed mother and six siblings in Iowa, reflect Corey's single-handed staking of a claim and simultaneous school teaching experiences from 1909 to 1919. Corey, born in 1887, grew up on a farm near Marne, Iowa, the second oldest in a family of seven children. Upon the sudden death of her father in 1905, seventeen-year-old Bess Corey quit high school, attended a summer session of normal school, and began teaching school in rural western Iowa. In 1909 she boarded a Northwestern Railway train bound west, arriving in Midland, South Dakota, a town of 400 residents. Taking advantage of the 1862 Homestead Act, Corey took out papers on a 160-acre claim, vowing to prove herself and her land in the requisite time. To support herself and pay for the shack she had constructed, she taught school. She maintained this routine for ten years, writing a total of 180 letters to her family. Corey died in 1954 and is buried at Monroe Church Cemetery in Marne, Iowa.