Dawn hurried back down the stairs and waited for Eric to finish checking books out to a student, then approached him. “Hey, do you have the keys to the microfilm cabinets?”
“Yeah, of course. You need them?” He leaned forward and, though Dawn couldn’t see what he was doing, she knew he was pulling the ring of keys off their hook on the desk.
“Yes, please. Thank you.” She smiled when he put them in her hand, then went off to the cabinets.
She’d never actually opened the cabinet holding old West Ashburn Gazettes before, but she knew which it was, and when she found the right key, she started opening drawers to find the right year. Of course, the most recent were at the top, and she had to go down several drawers before finding 1910.
Once she got down there, she realized that the newspaper must have been published more frequently than monthly that long ago. There were a lot more rolls per year than she expected. She grimaced, wondering whether to start at the early end or the late end.
If the money had run out for the scholarships at some point, then earlier was more likely. And Alice had mentioned the dorm and the scholarship, but not the person, so she had likely not been at the school while Mary Thomas was alive, so 1873 was the likely earliest year.
Dawn took a deep breath and searched for 1873. There were four rolls of microfilm for that year. She took them all out of the drawer, locked the cabinet, and headed for the microfilm machine.
Her stomach was rumbling, but she tried to ignore it. She was in the middle of something, and she could eat when she was done.
She loaded the first roll and turned the wheel slowly but steadily, skimming headlines. Surely if a student had died on campus, there would be a dramatic headline.
Then again, she thought uneasily, had there been any headlines when students had died at the end of last semester? No one’s parents seemed to have heard about it, which argued that it had not made the news. Had the college deliberately suppressed it? If so, chances were good it wasn’t the first time.
Still, she’d gotten this far. She wasn’t going to give up now.
She skimmed through all of 1873, then returned the rolls and got the ones for 1874. And 1875. She was starting to feel a little sick with hunger, so she promised herself she would go get lunch after she went through 1876.
Her patience was rewarded, sort of. Her heart jumped into her throat when she saw a headline that read “Mary Thomas scholarship recipient.” She had almost turned past the whole article; she carefully reversed until she was back at the headline.
The full thing read. “Emma Ardern, first Mary Thomas scholarship recipient, graduates with honors.” Dawn was disappointed that it wasn’t about Alice, but read the article anyway.
Emma Ardern had been a West Ashburn local, which was apparently part of the reason she was given the first scholarship. She was the granddaughter of immigrants, and her family had always worked in factories, until now. The Mary Thomas scholarship had allowed her to go to college and learn “all the womanly arts that our obscure local school can provide.” Dawn smiled, imagining how Emma Ardern’s life must have been changed—as well as that of her whole family—once she had her education.
Alice must have had the same experience.
The end of the article briefly mentioned that the next Mary Thomas scholarship had been awarded to a girl from the next state to the south, but it didn’t include her name. Obviously, if she wasn’t from West Ashburn, the Gazette wasn’t nearly as interested in her.
Still, that helped Dawn narrow things down. If there had only been one Mary Thomas scholarship recipient attending the school at a time, not one per year, there could only have been a few of them—no more than ten, if the scholarship had ended before 1910, and she was sure it hadn’t been mentioned in the yearbooks.
Feeling more cheerful, if no less hungry, Dawn returned the microfilm and gave Eric back the keys. Later she would come back and look at 1877. Maybe then she would find Alice Atkins.