The Accusation

Isabella Alden often drew on her own life experiences when she crafted her short-stories and novels. The incidents she wrote about weren’t necessarily historic or even life-changing, but she had a talent for sharing her own memories in a way her readers could identify with.

Girl writingOne of Isabella’s school experiences ended up as a short story titled “When I Was a Girl.” It happened when Isabella was a young student at Oneida Seminary in New York.

Gathered in the school assembly hall one day were all the teachers and pupils, as well as friends and parents of many of the students. Isabella was one of six young students chosen to read their own compositions at the assembly, and the audience was to vote by ballot for the best essay.

Being a talented writer from a young age, Isabella won the prize; but soon after she received her award, a rumor began to spread through school that the composition she read was not her own—that she had copied the words from a printed book!

Soon Isabella was in the office of Dr. Branner, the school principal. He confronted Isabella with the allegation, which she hotly denied.

Moments later, another student named Ophelia entered the office. Ophelia had been one of the five other students who read before the assembly, and she had been bitterly disappointed at not winning the prize awarded to Isabella—and it was Ophelia who was the source of that horrible rumor.

In her memoirs, Isabella described what happened next:

Dr. Branner’s manner was coldly dignified as he asked Ophelia:

“Am I to understand that you still insist that there is a book in your father’s library which has in it every word of the essay that took the prize in our school last week?”

Ophelia’s face as she answered the question was almost smiling, and she answered briskly:

“Of course, word for word. I didn’t suppose you were accusing me of telling lies!”

“Very well,” said the principal quietly. “Then you may go home at once and bring that book to me. We will wait here till you come.”

A high school in Hoosick Falls, New York, 1907
A high school in Hoosick Falls, New York, 1907

Isabella spent many anxious minutes waiting for Ophelia to come back with the book. In her story, “When I Was a Girl,” she described the moment when Ophelia returned. She made a few minor changes to some of the details in the story. For example, she changed the names of the school principal and the other student involved; she also added additional description she didn’t mention in her memoirs; but the finale—the truth of what happened when Ophelia returned to the principal’s office that day—is straight from Isabella’s childhood memory.

Click on the covCover_When I Was a Girl resizeder to the read Isabella’s short story, “When I Was a Girl” and find out how the story ended.

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