It’s rare to get an overdue library book back after several years. Teacher-librarian Kate Burton had never seen one returned after more than five or six years. So she was recently surprised to receive one that was checked out from the former Vancouver High School more than seven decades ago.
“While downsizing my mother’s library, I came across this book. … Her [maiden] name was Francis Elaine Bailey and I believe she was in the class of 1943,” read a letter from the late Bailey’s daughter that was mailed with the book to what is now the Fort Vancouver High School Center for International Studies. “It was a rough time for the world.”
With World War II raging overseas, perhaps it’s not a surprise that the book was “Mrs. Miniver,” a collection of newspaper columns about a fictional British homemaker and her family in England during the war. Published in 1940, the book was adapted for film two years later. The film went on to win six Academy Awards including Outstanding Motion Picture, likely renewing interest in the columns.
War also was impacting local schools. Production opportunities inflated Vancouver’s population, and Vancouver’s schools struggled to educate the influx of new students. Enrollment was approximately 4,400 students during the 1941–1942 school year. More than 8,300 students were enrolled just one year later.
One of the new faces around town was Bailey’s future husband. “My father, who was in the military at Fort Vancouver, met her at the Kiggins Theatre,” the letter continued. “He attended her graduation and left for overseas. They were married for 64 years.”
During that time, Fort Vancouver High School opened in 1970 and the old Vancouver High School closed. Much later, in 2016, the school officially became the Fort Vancouver High School Center for International Studies.
And now the long-lost copy of “Mrs. Miniver” is finally home, though it won’t be returned to the shelf due to its frail condition. But the book—and Bailey’s story—are now part of history.