The year is 1921. A young teacher arrives in an improbable town of deepest southern Alabama. The young woman from Philadelphia is consumed with an idealistic educator's theories for a progressive school, where children are permitted to bloom in a non-traditional structure. The town is founded as an experiment on the somewhat socialistic economic theories of a leading thinker of the day.
The teacher, an innocent born with a yearning for lasting depth and sincere joy in education, embraces the school and the town with an abiding delight. This is only the beginning of a succinct but rewarding novel that covers both the engaged, everyday lives of the town's citizens, and the underbelly of misunderstanding and suspicion that leads to such suspense as attempted assassination.
That Was Tomorrow, by author Mary Lois Timbes, celebrates a mecca for artists and artisans, poets and prose writers, free thinkers, forward-lookers, and families, for whom the town serves as a magnet. With splashes of romance and excitement set against the beautiful Mobile Bay and its high-cliff settlement on the Eastern Shore, That Was Tomorrow explores the roots of a unique and somewhat mystic small town with a population just as individualistic.
Phantasmagorical as That Was Tomorrow may seem, author Mary Lois Timbes has set it in a real town (Fairhope, Alabama, founded on economist Henry George's Single Tax theory), and a real school (the School of Organic Education, founded by pioneer Marietta Johnson). Both George and Johnson were internationally known at the time for their non-conformist stances on taxes and education.
This is what is so absorbing about the novel: its reality. Novelist Timbes grew up in the town and attended the school -- far later than the years covered by the book, but with exhaustive interviews of early residents, she grasps the wondrous atmosphere and the soul of a place out of time and out of memory. Her evocative novel touches the heart in many ways, not the least of which is its improbable fact.
When you read That Was Tomorrow, you will find yourself wishing you could have experienced such an incredible time and place. Fairhope is still there; it remains as the final town in the U.S. dedicated to Henry George's vision. Today, it serves as a destination for every sort of person with an artistic bent, from retirees to young families. The school where the young fictional Amelia King taught is observing its 107th year as of this writing -- a clear example of an extraordinary educator's mission.
This admixture of fact and fiction pays great tribute to the inhabitants of an unusual town, which has continued to thrive by the efforts of many, including those of the author's.