Even now, Maria would be considered a firebrand.

 

She was born in Massachusetts, to a sickly and emotionally distant mother and a stern, religiously devout father named Francis.  Mr. Francis was a successful baker, so she grew up in a solidly middle-class, if rigid, household.  Possibly her first act of independence was to insist on going by her middle name, Maria, because she disliked her first name, and took it a step further by pronouncing it "ma-RYE-a".

 

After basic schooling, she attended a women's seminary where she studied to be a teacher.  However, at the encouragement of her older brother, a Unitarian minister, she tried her hand at writing, and within six weeks, she completed her first novel.  It told the story of a white teen-age girl, Mary, who weds an American Indian.  Though the man has been a long-time friend to Mary's family, her parents are aghast at their union.  The novel attacked society's odium toward interracial marriage, particularly in its depiction of the sanctimonious attitudes of the "decent folk" toward the mixed couple's child.

 

Initially, the book fared poorly---until the critics savaged the story it told as "unnatural" and "revolting to every feeling of delicacy."  That was all it took to flame the public's interest in it, and sales increased to the point where Maria showed a handsome income from it.

 

And the lady was just getting started.  Her next effort was an historical novel, The Rebels, which told the story of the events leading to the American Revolution as seen through the eyes of two women from Boston.  This book was not well received by either the critics or the readers.  So, Maria shifted gears, turning to non-fiction.  She produced The Mother's Book, an instructional book on modern child-rearing, and then followed it up with The Girl's Own Book, offering advice on "what every young girl should know."  Both were controversial for her progressive stance in promoting a female's independence from the expectations of males.  Reviewers found Maria's commentary to be radically liberal in attitude.

 

Her most financially successful work was The Frugal Housewife.  It was basically a cookbook, but in between the recipes, she provided plenty of suggestions to young housewives on how to stretch a meagre budget.  Maria stated quite plainly that the book was designed for women from poor households.  And there must have been quite a number of them; The Frugal Housewife would see thirty-three printings over the next quarter of a century.

 

 

 

As if you couldn't tell, Maria was a feminist, and she wasn't shy about it.  Capitalising on her modest fame as an authoress, she became an activist, railing against society's subjugation of women.  Its treatment of females, she insisted, was virtually identical to the practice of slavery, in that women were regarded by men as property with no personal rights.  She didn't hold back, either, in condemning the willful oppression of blacks in this country.  But, instead of being applauded as a champion of human rights, Maria was viewed, in most circles, as an annoying gadfly, to be swatted away.

 

Undaunted, she continued to write, and with remarkable versatility.  She penned another historical novel, Philothea, a romance set in ancient Greece.  More impressive were her non-fiction works, one covering the global history of women's oppression, and the other, a scholarly overview of the institution of slavery, one of the first major studies in that area.

 

That was on top of editing the weekly children's magazine she had founded, Juvenile Miscellany, and writing a regular literary column for her husband's newspaper, The Massachusetts Journal.

 

In her lifetime, Maria would author over thirty works, many of them arguing for the suffrage of women and minorities, and that's what would come back to bite her where her seat met the chair. As her writing pushed harder and harder for equal treatment of the excluded groups in America, she began to antagonise her readers.  Most folks, it seemed, liked things just fine the way they were.

 

And it didn't help that, in her middle age, she became a Free-Thinker, rejecting the traditional Christian religious ethic, and then wrote a three-volume argument against it, in which she stated, "It is impossible to exaggerate the evil work that theology has done in the world."

 

Politics and religion---the two things you're not supposed to discuss in polite society, particularly if you want to sell a lot of books.  Her book sales plummeted, especially in the Bible-belted South.  Parents viewed Maria as an extremist who had no business giving advice to children.  They cancelled their subscriptions to Juvenile Miscellany in enough numbers to force the publication to go under.  The backlash resulted in a serious loss of income for---

 

 

"Hey, commander, this is all very interesting, but what's it got to do with Thanksgiving?" 

 

Oh, come on, guys.  By now, you should know this story will tie into Thanksgiving somewhere along the line.  Maybe you'll catch on if I go back and fill in a few blanks . . .  

 

Maria---Lydia Maria Child---was born in 1802.  A published author at the age of twenty-two.  One of the first public activists for the equality of women.  And a loud and vociferous crusader for the abolitionism in America.  Her historical account of slavery in America, An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans, released in 1833, is considered the first anti-slavery book published in America.  Over the next ten years, she would write four more works pushing the country toward abolishing slavery in America, at a time when the federal government was burying its head in the sand over the subject.

 

Pounding the podium on women's rights---fair treatment of the Indians---freeing the slaves---Maria chided her countrymen like a petulant school marm.  Yet, she had a softer side, too.  She produced children's stories and volumes of poetry.

 

Are you catching on, yet?  (Those of you who haven't gone ahead and Googled "Lydia Maria Child", that is.)  No?  Well, it's really not your fault.

 

You see, we never know what achievement in life we'll be remembered for.  Sometimes, it's the achievement alone that's remembered, and not the person behind it.

 

Lydia Maria Child was a popular novelist---her tale of interracial romance, Hobomok, was the Peyton Place of the early nineteenth century---and a famous activist, raising the banner of equal treatment for females and minorities at a time when that kind of talk could get you arrested or your house burnt down. 

 

Yet, she's not remembered for any of that, the way Harriet Beecher Stowe and Susan B. Anthony are.  Maria's been relegated to the dustbin of history.

 

Except for one contribution to the cultural scrapbook of America.

 

From her 1844 book of poetry, Flowers for Children, one of her poems was put to music by an unknown composer.  In that form, it would go on to become one of the most popular holiday songs in our American heritage.  It's not heard as often as it used to be, because Christmas music starts so early, now.  But for a long time, it was the carol commonly heard at Thanksgiving.  In fact, it celebrates Thanksgiving Day in its lyrics and in its title, the only holiday song in our country to do so.

 

That title is "A New-England Boy's Song About Thanksgiving Day", and I'll bet all of you sang it when you were kids.  The title isn't familiar, I know.  In fact, it's probably the first time you've come across it.  But I guarantee that you know the first verse.  Even though a couple of the words have changed from the ones that Lydia Maria Child wrote, she'd know it right off, too.  It's the one that begins:

 

Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house we go . . .

* * * * *

From Cheryl and myself, to all of you, our fondest wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving Day, and many more of them!

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"That was all it took to flame the public's interest in it, and sales increased to the point where Maria showed a handsome income from it."

Similarly when the Production Code office found that "The Moon is Blue" was unacceptable (joking about seducing virgins? Implying single women weren't all virgins? Shocking!) United Artists released the amiable rom-com as a Banned Film, and sales went through the roof.

As always, Commander, a fun read, and about an interesting woman.

"Hey, commander, this is all very interesting, but what's it got to do with Thanksgiving?"

that wasn't my (rhetorical) question. Mine was, "Hey, commander, what are you going to do to put a positive spin on this year?"

"Are you catching on, yet? (Those of you who haven't gone ahead and Googled 'Lydia Maria Child', that is.)"

Knowing that "this story will tie into Thanksgiving somewhere along the line," I avoided the temptation so as to avoid spoilers. It wasn't easy, though.

"A New-England Boy's Song About Thanksgiving Day"

I never knew that!

We did spend every Thanksgiving at my (maternal) grandmother's house and, although i did sing that song, she lived only four blocks away... no river, no woods.

Another great Holiday tale!

I give thanks for your insights!

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours and all who mingle here!

Great one, Commander! I look forward to your Thanksgiving entries. This was all new to me.

Commander Benson said:

"Are you catching on, yet? (Those of you who haven't gone ahead and Googled 'Lydia Maria Child', that is.)

What, and spoil the ending?

Fine work, as usual, Commander. You really ought to collect these into a book. 

Happy Thanksgiving, Commander!  And  the same to all the Legionnaires!

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