These are two stories of strong young girls I loved as a young girl myself and into adulthood when they became television series. The reason I liked them was because of the spunk of the main characters and to romanticize the simpler times of the past, although there was little that was simpler then when faced with realities.
The authors of both stories had much to draw from in their own lives which gave us glimpses of the hardships that were constant.
Lucy Maud Montgomery was born in Clifton (now New London) in Prince Edward Island on November 30, 1874. Her mother, Clara Woolner Macneill Montgomery, died of tuberculosis (TB) when Lucy was twenty-one months old. Stricken with grief, her father, Hugh John Montgomery, placed Lucy in the custody of her maternal grandparents, though he remained in the vicinity. However, when Lucy was seven, he moved to Prince Albert, North-West Territories (now Prince Albert, Saskatchewan). From then on Lucy was raised by her grandparents, Alexander Marquis Macneill and Lucy Woolner Macneill, in the community of Cavendish, Prince Edward Island.
This is where Lucy became Anne and her talent for writing emerged. While at school, at age 13, she had her first poem rejected for publication and upon rejection, Montgomery wrote, “Tears of disappointment would come in spite of myself, as I crept away to hide the poor crumpled manuscript in the depths of my trunk.” She would later write, “down, deep down under all the discouragement and rebuff, I knew I would ‘arrive’ some day.” In 1893, she attended Prince of Wales College in Charlottetown to obtain a teacher’s license. She completed the two-year teaching program in Charlottetown in one year. Subsequently, in 1895 and 1896, she studied literature at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Montgomery loved Prince Edward Island. During solitary walks through the peaceful island countryside, Montgomery started to experience what she called “the flash” – a moment of tranquility and clarity when she felt an emotional ecstasy, and was inspired by the awareness of a higher spiritual power running through nature. Montgomery’s accounts of this “flash” were later given to character Emily Byrd Starr in the “Emily of New Moon” trilogy, and also served as the basis for her descriptions of Anne Shirley’s sense of emotional communion with nature. In 1905, Montgomery wrote in her journal that “amid the commonplaces of life, I was very near to a kingdom of ideal beauty. Between it and me hung only a thin veil. I could never quite draw it aside, but sometimes a wind fluttered it and I seemed to catch a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond–only a glimpse–but those glimpses have always made life worthwhile.” A deeply spiritual woman, Montgomery found the moments when she experienced “the flash” some of the most beautiful, moving and intense of her life.
Isn’t this lovely? It’s what endeared me to Lucy’s writing. Her independent nature also endeared me to her, after reading her biography about how she remained single for so long. She was living in Victorian Canada after all, and her one true love died of influenza shortly after she broke off her engagement to another. She was aware that “marriage was a necessary choice for women in Canada, even with her substantial income.
After Lucy’s Grandmother’s death in 1911, she finally married Ewen (spelled in her notes and letters as “Ewan”) Macdonald (1870–1943), a Presbyterian minister, and they moved to Ontario where he had taken the position of minister of St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church, Leaskdale in present-day Uxbridge Township.
Starting in 1917, Montgomery was engaged in five bitter, costly, and burdensome lawsuits with Louis Coues Page, owner of the publishing house L.C. Page & Company, that continued until she finally won in 1928. Page had a well-deserved reputation as one of the most tyrannical figures in American publishing, a bully with a ferocious temper who signed his authors to exploitative contracts and liked to humiliate his subordinates, including his mild-mannered younger brother George, in public. Seems there have always been insecure men who use bullying as intimidation. But Lucy wouldn’t be one of his victims. Montgomery received 7 cents on the dollar on the sale of every one of the Anne books, instead of the 19 cents on the dollar that she was entitled to, which led her to switch publishers in 1917 when she finally discovered that Page was cheating her. When Montgomery left the firm of L.C. Page & company, Page demanded she sign over the American rights to Anne’s House of Dreams, and when she refused he cut off the royalties from the earlier Anne books. Even though he did not own the U.S. rights to Anne’s House of Dreams, Page sold those rights to the disreputable publishing house of Grosset & Dunlap, as a way of creating more pressure on Montgomery to capitulate. Instead, Montgomery sued Grosset & Dunlap. Page was counting on the fact that he was a millionaire and Montgomery was not, and that the prospect of having to spend thousands in legal fees would force her to give in. Much to his surprise, she did not. Montgomery hired a lawyer in Boston and sued Page in the Massachusetts Court of Equity for illegally withholding royalties due her and for selling the U.S. rights to Anne’s House of Dreams, which he did not possess.
Laura Ingalls Winder
Laura Elizabeth Ingalls Wilder (February 7, 1867 – February 10, 1957) was an American writer known for the Little House on the Prairie series of children’s books, published between 1932 and 1943, which were based on her childhood in a settler and pioneer family.
As I researched her long life, so much of the television stories came alive. Her sister Mary, for instance, becoming blind and going away to a “blind school. It is quite obvious that Ms. Ingalls wrote from experiences. Due to crop failures, one year the family helped run a hotel.
When Laura was 12 years old, Wilder’s father filed for a formal homestead over the winter of 1879–1880. De Smet, South Dakota, became her parents’ and sister Mary’s home for the remainder of their lives. After spending the mild winter of 1879–1880 in the surveyor’s house, they watched the town of De Smet rise up from the prairie in 1880. The following winter, 1880–1881, one of the most severe on record in the Dakotas, was later described by Ingalls Wilder in her novel, The Long Winter (1940). Once the family was settled in De Smet, Ingalls attended school, worked several part-time jobs, and made friends. Among them was bachelor homesteader Almanzo Wilder. This time in her life is documented in the books Little Town on the Prairie (1941) and These Happy Golden Years (1943).
Laura’s nickname for Almonzo was Manly; his for her was Bessie for her middle name Elizabeth. They married when she turned 18, Manly was 28.
He became ill with life-threatening diphtheria that left him partially paralyzed but did nearly fully recover with just the need for a cane. In 1911, Laura became a bona fide writer with a permanent position as a columnist and editor with The Missouri Ruralist, a publication, which she held until the mid-1920s. She also took a paid position with the local Farm Loan Association, dispensing small loans to local farmers. While the couple were never wealthy until the “Little House” books began to achieve popularity, the farming operation and Wilder’s income from writing and the Farm Loan Association provided them with a stable living.
The more you know about both of these fine women authors the more you know about their own lives growing up and the influences they made on others young and old, then and now. I revisited them because their stories brought me comfort in these times of great turmoil. Hope and strong women will always be the victors!