Cornelia Lynde Meigs
Cornelia Lynde Meigs (#1247) was born on December 6, 1884 in Rock Island, Illinois, to Montgomery (#768) and Grace (Lynde) Meigs. Her father is the son of Quartermaster-general Montgomery C. Meigs (#368). She writes, "I grew up in the small and interesting town of Keokuk, Iowa on the west bank of the Mississippi river where my father was a government engineer in charge of navigation improvements for the many-minded stream."1 She attended with her sisters a small private school, then to the town's high school. She later attended Bryn Mawr College, graduation in 1908.
"It was tolerably plain that I was meant to be a teacher; becoming a writer was not such an evident or easily accomplished process. At an Iowa boarding school where I first began teaching I used to tell stories to the younger children, and found myself experimenting with different kinds of tales and finding quickly just what sort they liked and what they would have not of."2
"To be a member of a large family is excellent training for many things, among them story telling. One of my older sisters told me many tales when I was small; I, in my turn, adopted her technique and told many others to the only member of the family who was younger. My father was an excellent teller of tales, as had been his father, so that a particularly large number of family legends went, without loss of vividness, from generation to generation.
"Since my father's kindred had been, in long succession, officers in the army and navy, and my mother's father and mother had been pioneers from Vermont to Illinois, stories current in our house made the settlement of the Middle West, the War of 1812, the brush with the Barbary Pirates, and the Civil War as familiar as any events within this century. It was, for the most part, the stories of naval adventure which fired my imagination the most."3 And fire her imagination they did, for in 1927 she won the $2,000 Beacon Hill Bookshelf Prize with "The Trade Wind." By 1930 Meigs was an established writer for young people. Her stories of early days in America were widely read and loved. Meigs' "stories sometimes start in the Old World, England or Ireland; they include such historical events as colonial settlements in New England, the explorations of Zebulon Pike in the West, and pioneering in the Mississippi country. But her stories are always something more than historical fiction. Each one carries a theme idea for any generation. Indeed, Cornelia Meigs Manages frequently, in [her] stories of the past, to illuminate certain problems of the present.
"Master Simon's Garden (1929) carries a still more striking theme. In the little Puritan New England settlement called Hopewell, where everything is done for utility and thrift, Master Simon develops his beautiful garden - a riot of colorful flowers and sweet herbs. It is an expression of his philosophy of tolerance and love in complete contrast to the intolerance and suspicion of some of his neighbors.
"But these are not propaganda stories, and Cornelia Meigs is not writing with a message always in mind. Every one of her books has action aplenty and plots that are absorbing and often exciting. However, the plots are stronger because of their genesis in a strong theme. It is the theme which gives unity to the action and significance to the conclusion."4
One day an editor from Little, Brown and Company asked if she would undertake the task of writing a biography on Miss Louisa May Alcott. Indeed she would, for all of her life she had loved Louisa Alcott's books. So she began work on the book, reading everything she could find, visiting many people who remembered Miss Alcott, including Mrs. Pratt, the daughter-in-law of Anna Alcott, who was "Meg" in Little Women. Mrs. Pratt gave her a lot of valuable information, some never published before. When the biography, "Invincible Louisa," was published in 1933, it was quickly acknowledged as a splendid work.5 Therefore, at the annual conference of the American Library Association held during June, 1934, in Montreal, Canada, she was awarded the Newberry Medal (1933-34). The award was for this biography, but also as a recognition of her previous work. In 1936 she received a check for $300 for her prize winning children's story "Fox & Geese," from Child Life magazine. Few writers for children have had all their books received with equal praise.
"Like a great many other people I wanted to write, but for a long time I let my life be filled so full of responsibilities and miscellaneous occupations that there was no real time for it. I was a teacher of English at St. Katharine's School at Davenport, Iowa, when I wrote my first book."6 "As time went on and I went more fully into writing, I began to understand that I was at the beginning of a great movement to recognize and remedy that lack [of children's books]. The first publishers' department especially for children was organized. Libraries began to open special rooms for children and to train special librarians for them. I went forward on the wave of that exciting development."7
Meigs is the author of several works of history and wrote more than 40 books for children and youth. She was professor emeritus of English at Bryn Mawr College. Cornelia never married. She died on September 10, 1973, at her home in Harford County, Maryland. She was 88 years old.
Here is a partial list of titles written or edited by Miss Meigs during her lifetime, including the year published:
Copyright (c) by Rick Meigs