Harriet Lothrop, who wrote under the pen name of Margaret Sidney, left young readers a multi-faceted literary legacy. One day on a trip into the country, when she was a little girl in the 1840's, she saw a little brown house that she fell in love with and she began to make up elaborate stories about the house and the poor family, consisting of a mother and five children, who lived there. Later, in 1878, she wrote a story called "Polly Pepper's Chicken Pie" based on the family which had been the product of her childish imagination and sent it to Wide Awake, a children's magazine published by Daniel Lothrop & Company of Boston.
The story was accepted and the editor asked for another one, so Harriet wrote "Phronsie Pepper's New Shoes." Readers began to write in to the magazine and express their enthusiasm for the Pepper family and their doings. In the following year, Harriet produced 12 more stories about the Pepper family for Wide Awake, stories which attracted the attention of the publisher himself, Mr. Daniel Lothrop. His purpose in publishing for children was to produce [quote] "books which make for true, steadfast growth in right living."1 [unquote] and he loved the optimism and moral rectitude of the poverty stricken, but hard working and cheerful Pepper children and wanted to meet the woman who had created them.
They did meet and he encouraged her to work the individual stories into a novel for children. One result of this meeting was The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, published in 1881, followed by eleven more books about the Pepper children, at least half of which are still in print today. Another result of the meeting was the marriage, also in 1881, of Harriet and Daniel. When Daniel passed away in 1892, Harriet ran the publishing company herself for several years, before stepping down and selling it to Lee & Shepard. Lothrop, Lee & Shepard still publishes children's books today. But authoring books and managing a publishing house weren't her only literary accomplishments. After their marriage, she and Daniel moved into "The Wayside," a house in Concord, Massachusetts, which had been previously occupied first by the Alcott's family and then by Nathanial Hawthorne. The Lothrop's restored the house to the way it was in Hawthorne's time and it is now open to the public as part of the Minute Man National Historic Park. Later she purchased the "Orchard House," next door to the "The Wayside," where Louisa Alcott lived from 1858 to 1877 and where Little Women was both written and set. She maintained "Orchard House" for ten years until a nonprofit organization took it over, and it, too, is now open to the public.
Although Lothrop passed away in 1924, her work as author, publisher, and preservationist continues to provide literary encounters for young readers of the 21st century.
1 MacDonald, p. 269.
"Margaret Sidney," in The Junior Book of Authors, Stanley J. Kunitz
and Howard Haycraft, eds. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1940. p. 335-336.
Copyright 2005© Rita Smith
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