This Day In Writing History
On January 26th, 1831, the famous children's book writer Mary Mapes Dodge was born in New York City. As a young girl, Mary was well educated by private tutors, as her father, James Jay Mapes, was an affluent professor.
In 1851, at the age of twenty, Mary wed her boyfriend, a young lawyer named William Dodge. She bore him two sons, James and Harrington. Then, in 1858, facing serious financial trouble, Mary's husband abandoned the family. He was found dead in an apparent drowning a month later.
Left a poor widow at 27, Mary Mapes Dodge went to work to support herself and her children. Working with her father, she wrote for, edited, and published two magazines - The Working Farmer and The United States Journal. A few years later, in 1864, her first book was published.
The Irvington Stories was a collection of children's stories about life in colonial times. The book was so successful that Mary's publisher asked her to write another one. This time, she wrote a novel set in the Netherlands in the early 19th century. Her colorful portrait of Dutch life, which introduced a famous Dutch folk tale to American children, became an instant bestseller and brought Mary international fame.
Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates (1865) was inspired by historian John L. Motley's multi-volume works The Rise of the Dutch Republic and The History of the United Netherlands, which Mary Mapes Dodge had read and greatly enjoyed. Hans Brinker is a fifteen-year-old Dutch boy who, along with his younger sister Gretel, hopes to win the big speed skating race on the canal, though all they have are handmade wooden ice skates. The grand prize for winning the race is a new pair of silver skates.
Hans and Gretel's father cannot work because he is ill and suffering from amnesia after falling from a dike. So, Mrs. Brinker and her children must work to support the family. The Brinkers are looked down on in their community because they're poor. Hans and Gretel learn that a famous surgeon named Dr. Boekman may be able to cure their ailing father. Unfortunately, Dr. Boekman is expensive and has become gruff and hardhearted since he lost his wife and son.
When Dr. Boekman finally agrees to examine Hans Brinker's father, the diagnosis is pressure on the brain, which can be cured with a risky and expensive operation that involves trephining. To help pay for the operation, Hans offers Dr. Boekman the money he's been saving to buy steel skates for the big race. Touched by this gesture, the doctor agrees to perform the surgery for free.
Able to buy good skates, Hans enters the big race, but then lets a friend (who needs the silver skates more than he does) win instead. Meanwhile, Mr. Brinker's operation is successful, and his health and memory are restored. The experience changes Dr. Boekman, who loses his gruffness and hardhearted nature. Later, he helps Hans Brinker get into medical school, and Hans becomes a successful doctor.
The novel included the famous Dutch folk tale about the heroic little Dutch boy who stuck his finger in a dike to plug a leak. It was the first book to introduce this Dutch folk tale to American readers. It also introduced Americans to the sport of speed skating.
After the success of Hans Brinker, Mary Mapes Dodge would visit the Netherlands for the first time. She would write more children's books, including novels and children's poetry collections. She would continue her career as an editor as well. She became an associate editor of Hearth and Home, the literary magazine edited by Harriet Beecher Stowe, the legendary abolitionist and author of the classic novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin.
In 1873, Scribner's asked Mary to become the editor-in-chief of their new children's magazine, St. Nicholas Magazine. Under Mary's direction, it became the most famous and highly regarded children's publication of its time - an innovative and progressive literary and art magazine for children that contained no heavy-handed moralizing.
St. Nicholas Magazine would feature the writings and illustrations of the best contemporary authors and artists. The magazine's first hit was a serialized version of Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic novel, Little Lord Fauntleroy. Louisa May Alcott's Jo's Boys, Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, and the works of Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson would also be published in serialized form by the magazine, which would remain in publication for almost 70 years.
Mary Mapes Dodge died in 1905 at the age of 74.
Quote Of The Day
"What a dreadful thing it must be to have a dull father." - Mary Mapes Dodge
Today's video features a clip from the classic 1969 TV movie adaptation of Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates. Enjoy!