As a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse, Lily was independent and used to living alone and fending for herself. She went to be a teacher as a teenager, but she was very self-sufficient even as a child. In Chicago, she falls in love with a man and learns to depend on others—until she finds out he betrayed her.
Mother Albertina tells Lily that she has a strong personality, and girls with strong personalities make good teachers. There was a shortage of teachers, because women were going to factory jobs men had left behind to go to war, and Lily found out she could get a job at just fifteen if she passed the test. However, she did not have the eighth grade education the board preferred.
In Red Lake, Lily had a one-room schoolhouse all to herself, but nowhere to sleep. So she slept on the floor. She loved the job because she was pretty much left to her own devices.
Superintendent Macintosh hardly ever came around, and I got to teach exactly what I wanted to teach, in the way I wanted. (p. 63)
The school had no textbooks, and students just brought whatever books they had at home to learn to read from. She continued to move around when the school found a certified teacher, so she never put down roots.
When the war ends, Lily loses her job because qualified teachers are returning to the classroom. There she meets and marries Ted, until she finds out that he is already married. She has the marriage annulled, and writes a letter to Ted’s other wife. Yet Lily is still self-reliant. She finds jobs where she can, until she finally takes classes to become a teacher.