Click the links below to read Rose Terry Cooke’s fairy story and an explanatory essay by historian Jamie H. Eves.
The Flight of the Cotton Fairies:
An 1890s Victorian Fairy Tale of Old Willimantic
by Rose Terry Cooke
With an explanatory essay by Jamie H. Eves
Carefully preserved in the archives of the Windham Textile and History Museum in Willimantic, Connecticut, are two treasures from 1893. One is a rare children’s book, A Fairy at School, written by Rose Terry Cooke, a popular author of stories for both children and adults who is generally considered one of the earliest New England local colorists and a pioneer feminist writer. Fun and charming, Cooke’s Victorian fairy tale of how a lazy fairy was transformed into useful cotton thread at the Willimantic Linen Company’s factory so that she would become “industrious,” has long been out of print and unavailable to the general public. Cooke herself, although celebrated in her own time as one of Connecticut’s best and most prolific authors, has been largely forgotten, her work familiar only to a small group of dedicated literary scholars.
The other treasure reveals the story behind Cooke’s fairy tale. It is a scrapbook, now yellowed with age, kept by Eugene S. Boss, a Willimantic native and a manager for the Willimantic Linen Company, as a souvenir of his trip to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. Boss’s firm was Willimantic’s major employer and one of the largest factories in Connecticut, and it had a large booth at the Exposition. Boss himself was one of two vice presidents of Connecticut’s Board of World’s Fair Managers, which planned and organized the state’s role in the fair. Although some of the items in Boss’s scrapbook come from newspapers, others are documents that exist nowhere else, and which provide hitherto unknown information about one of his era’s most important events.
The explanatory essay by Jamie H. Eves, “The Flight of the Cotton Fairies,” uses the material from Boss’s scrapbook, and from other sources, to tell the story behind Cooke’s wonderful fairy tale.