Those Special Women—Part 2

Those Special Women—Part 2
This month I am writing about a select group of female authors, because I was impressed with their personal stories. Though there are many female characters in juvenile literature, I am choosing to focus on the creators of Jo (Little Women); Caddie Woodlawn; Mary (Secret Garden); Anne of Green Gables; Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm; Jerusha Abbott (Daddy Long Legs); Pollyanna; Pippi Longstocking; and Patty-Jo (Patty-Jo ‘n Ginger). All of these characters were created by women. The female characters were unusual in some way, which is what made the books memorable classics that can still be enjoyed by females in the 21st century. These women were the AAUW kind of women through actions, if not by pedigree or education.
Louisa May Alcott, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Carol Ryrie Brink, and Astrid Lindgren needed to work to support their families. Alcott’s family may have spent time communicating with famous people, but Alcott never married and her family depended on her income. The family home was used for the setting of Little Women, plus it is said the family was patterned after Alcott and her siblings with Jo being the one most like Alcott. There are actually blogs that discuss whether or not the story was just another romance, with all the females in search of husbands.
Frances Hodgson Burnett’s family moved from England to Knoxville, Tennessee to receive help from her successful uncle, who lived in the States. After they arrived, the uncle lost his money and 19-year-old Burnett began writing for magazines. Eventually she married a physician and her life changed for the better. They traveled to Europe;it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out where information for Secret Garden (1969), Little Princess (1869), and Little Lord Fauntleroy was gathered.
Astrid Lindgren worked for a local newspaper and had a child out of wedlock who was turned over to foster care and then later stayed with her parents. She moved to Stockholm and learned to be a typist and stenographer. Eventually she married and had a more comfortable life, but in the interim getting her child out of foster care was the motivating force behind seeking a dependable career. It is said that, Pippi Long-stocking was created to amuse her sick daughter, who requested a fantasy while she was recuperating. When this story was submitted for publication, it was rejected by an established publisher. A newly formed publishing house accepted the work, and the initial rejection of this book goes down in history as one of the greatest publishing mistakes in history. Pippi has been published in 60 languages. Lingren has been credited as being the foremost Swedish contributor to modern children’s fantasy. A publishing award in her honor has the largest monetary award for children’s and youth literature. Within the next two years Lindgren’s portrait will appear on the 20 kronor banknote. Newbury Award winner, Carol Ryrie Brink was raised by a maternal grandmother and aunt after the death of her parents. She started out in comfortable surroundings until she became an orphan at age 8. Her grandmother, who told stories about her girlhood home, provided the material that provided inspiration for Caddie Woodlawn. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate, Brink was highly educated with a degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and later she was awarded an honorary doctorate of letters from the University of Idaho. Her success enabled her to help her guardians when they fell on hard times. Lucy Maude Montgomery wrote so she could escape an unhappy step family situation. Montgomery tried her hand at teaching, which she didn’t like. She became a prolific writer with 100 stories to her credit in a 10 year period. Her best known story is her books about Anne of Green Gables. Her story which is set on Prince Edward Island has had such profound effect on the tourism business that even the hair color for Anne is copyright protected. She was another author who addressed the placement of orphans for work rather than compassion. Eleanor Porter not only wrote a memorable series of books, she added a new word to the dictionary because of her book Pollyanna. She was once questioned about her altruistic tendencies and she responded that she chose to see the best, and it was not that she was unaware that the world was imperfect. Her upbeat character probably came directly from the author’s experience. Porter completed high school with tutors because she was too sick to attend school regularly. She was trained as a singer at the New England Conservatory. She achieved considerable commercial success and during the early 1900s, she had several books high on the best sellers list year after year. Kate Wiggin, like Alcott had a spotty education, but as author, educator, and songwriter she turned her talent to bettering the lives of children. She started the first free kindergarten in San Francisco in a very poor neighborhood. She and her sister also established a training school for kindergarten teachers. After marriage, typical of the times, she had to retire, so she used her writing to continue funding her former school. She too was a commercial success with her Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm series and other stories. Through her stories she let readers know even poor children play and find mischief in their surroundings. Jean Webster, whose Daddy Long Legs story started me on this quest, was a relative of Mark Twain, plus her father and Twain were, for awhile, partners in a publishing business. Webster would definitely have gone against her background if women’s rights and career choices were not a part of her stories. She lived her early childhood in an activist setting that included her temperance-oriented great grandmother and her grandmother who focused on racial equality and women’s suffrage. Webster was a graduate of Vassar College. She was touched by the plight of needy children while enrolled in a course on welfare and penal reform. She became involved in a settlement house and she maintained her interest in the betterment of others for the rest of her life. Her experiences in a boarding school and at college served her well as she began writing. Daddy Long Legs was published more than 100 years ago and it is still a memorable piece of work whether in print or on stage. Jackie Ormes enjoyed an active social life as an artist married to a manager of the Black hotel for traveling entertainers. She had a business relationship with a well-known doll manufacturer. Though the joint venture lasted only a few years, today the dolls she designed are highly collectable. Ormes was the only syndicated Black female cartoonist. She used her wit and political insights to share with her audience what was going on in the news. She got away with this for a long time because her work was published in Black newspapers. Through her Patty Jo character Ormes let the public know that many Black children lived in pleasant surroundings. They wore good looking clothing and they had opinions about what was going on. As I tried to pick a few “Pattyisms,” I had difficulty because there are so many. One quote asked, “When did it become un-American to be colored?” There were several appeals to support the March of Dimes, the McCarthy hearings were mentioned, plus she even alluded to the death of Emmitt Till in 1955. For a Christmas column Patty Jo requested that just the people who were really angry fight, so that those who weren’t angry wouldn’t need to be angry with each other.
As you can see, these authors used their experiences plus skills to bring a story to life. Most of the women I’ve mentioned, have contributed so much to children’s literature. Their work is still cherished, in some cases more than a hundred years later. There is a common thread of making things better for others while finding their own path. They all shared their causes through the problems their characters overcame, and some even added new words to the dictionary. A few needed to work to live while others lived to work and make a difference. Several were highly educated while others had what was acceptable at the time. They share a love of writing, and they became successful because they did so with passion. Interestingly, writing was okay for women because they could do so at home. They are on this list because they created female characters that were interesting and in their own individual ways modeled for others determination in the face of adversity. The authors remind us that we can all do something if we have the will. That is why the works are still seen as providing positive messages in the 21st century

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One Response to Those Special Women—Part 2

  1. kathe1223 says:

    Really interesting. I hope everyone reads your column this month.

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