Whenever I come in to do research at the Library Company of Philadelphia, I am excited to know that I will be spending hours upon hours in the Reading Room, scouring over old books (and sometimes letters or magazines!). I was the type of child to always have their nose in a book, so working with old, rare, archived books is a dream come true.
For my high school senior internship, I researched a literary feud between a female author (Mary Abigail Dodge, pen name Gail Hamilton) and her prominent Boston publisher (Ticknor & Fields). Dodge demanded pay that was equal to that received by other authors, and Ticknor & Fields refused—a story that we are still hearing today. Dodge wrote a book about her experience, A Battle of the Books (1870), which I read as part of my research.
I also took interest in Dodge’s writing for children. She edited and wrote for the magazine Our Young Folks, which was also published by Ticknor & Fields. In the first volume of Our Young Folks, three of Dodge’s stories follow the adventures of a young girl named “Trip” and her friends and family. I took a liking to Trip, as well as to Dodge’s versatility as a writer—I loved that Dodge could write serious, political essays and books as well as stories for children to read before bedtime.
The April 1865 issue of Our Young Folks includes a story called “A Half-Holiday” about an after-school blackberry picking adventure that Trip takes with her friends. The children trespass on an intimidating old farmer’s land to get to their blackberry-picking destination, and are chased by him on their return. When the old man falls into a ditch and becomes stuck, the kids overcome their fear to help him out. It’s a wholesome story that frames good morals for young, impressionable readers, but in my opinion, the most endearing part of the story is before the old farmer makes his entrance. At the blackberry-picking place, Trip sits with an older, rambunctious boy named Nathan with whom she is “fine friends,” and who has filled his pail almost to the top with blackberries. He asks to see Trip’s pail, and observes that there are only three blackberries in it: “one red, one green, and one withered on one side,—a sorry show.” Instead of making fun of the girl for her poor blackberry-picking abilities, Nathan teaches her how to find them, and helps her fill up her pail. Dodge writes, “And so they plucked and chatted, the sunshine burning into their young blood, and the blackberries reddening them even more than the sun; busy tongues, busy fingers, aprons sadly torn and stained,—but what matter, since the tin pails were every moment weighing down more heavily.” It’s a heartwarming scene to read.
Dodge’s stories for children—the Trip stories were my favorites—suggest the pleasures of good morals and harmonious relationships, even for children. Their light, cheery tone contrasts sharply with Dodge’s angry tone in A Battle of the Books, which she wrote when she was feuding with her publisher only a few years later. But that is a story for this coming August…