Elia Peattie, an Uncommon Woman


Omaha World-Herald | Short Stories of the West | Ghost Stories | Short Novels | Children's Stories | Miscellaneous

Youth and America: Elia Peattie's Stories for Children and Young Adults

One of the marks of Elia Peattie's versatility was her ability to move effortlessly not only between genres but also reading audiences. In addition to the hundreds of stories, reviews, and novels she wrote for adults, Peattie created dozens of books and stories for her younger readers, America's children, the kinds of stories her own three children would enjoy. Her first known published work for children was an 1887 short story, "Grizel Cochrane's Ride," an historical account of the Monmouth rebellion, for St. Nicholas followed by an illustrated history of the United States, Our Land of Liberty, or The Wonderful Story of America, published in 1895. Among her young adult novels are a series of books about Azalea, a girl from the Blue Ridge Mountains, and two that were first serialized in the Youth's Companion.

Peattie's work reflects the multi-faceted experience of childhood in the late nineteenth century, especially those living in rapidly changing, industrializing cities. Sometimes her youthful characters admired the great, mechanical marvels of the age, the trains, and occasionally they traveled in them westward across unfamiliar terrain, faces pressed against their windows, hope in the future high. "Prairie, prairie, prairie, as far as the eye could see . . . the sky was blurred with dust, the silence absolute." [1] She wrote of families lost and of families found, of friendships and courtships and sorrow. Her characters studied in schools, planted and dreamed in gardens, and worked countless types of jobs. Notwithstanding the circumstances surrounding each of her young characters, however, Peattie was quick to point out the power each possessed to be the innovator of his or her own future. "It is never quite possible to tell what the human brain is going to do. Even the possessor knows little about its vagaries," she wrote in "The Family He Found," published in The Youth's Companion in 1900. Helen Walden, a character in another short story, "The Fourth Chaperon," whose childhood had required her to work instead of receive an education, had nonetheless imagined a better path and staunchly followed it. "Here, when school had been denied her, and heavy burdens of housekeeping and child tending and sewing had been put upon her, she used to come in the evenings, and cowering under the army blankets, study and read. There was no one to guide her. She took what came to hand. She made the most of everything." [2]

Peattie believed that children's fiction should accurately mirror their real lives instead of present adult constructions of the childhood realm. She decried those authors who "did not follow the processes of a child's mind with any more accuracy than [they] followed the evolution of a star." [3] Fortunately, several magazines came into existence during the latter part of the nineteenth century that also subscribed to Peattie's viewpoint. St. Nicholas Magazine, the Youth's Companion, and Wide Awake published literature expressly for youth that was written by some of the most esteemed literary figures of the day. Of these periodicals, which refused to marginalize American childhood, Peattie was moved to write in the Omaha World Herald, "The child knew presently what it was to see childhood pictured, by artists and by writers. It saw that its joys, its tears, its temptations had at last come to be appreciated. It saw at last that there were those who knew how deeply children could love and hate; how brave they could be; how sacrificial; how happy. The world that they had peopled with things not seen with the eye was reproduced . . . they no longer had that dragging sense of insignificance to which they had been accustomed." [4]

Peattie's belief in the importance of telling children's stories is interwoven throughout her work. One example can be found in her novel-length fairy tale, Edda and the Oak, which narrates the journey of a young girl as she travels from her home, a large city, to her grandmother's farm in the West. The child subsequently is delighted to discover that her grandmother's garden is indeed more than it seems, for within it is an enchanted fairy realm that can be crossed into by night.

Edda, an archetype of the developing American child, bears little resemblance to many of the youths from European literature who stumble upon magical realms. Instead of desiring the use the fairies' magic for her own gain, she makes a quick study of their culture and aids her new acquaintances in finding solutions to perplexing concerns of their kingdom. At one point in the tale, when Edda is introduced to the fairy queen, Peattie emphasizes the importance of the child understanding not only her own worth but also the worth of her own story.

The queen raised a pair of gold lorgnettes and looked at Edda long and hard.

"Come," she said, "you seem an interesting child. Are you?"

"I don't know," said Edda in a rather silly way. There were hundreds of little creatures listening, and she could hear the elves giggling at the question.

"Don't you interest yourself?" asked the queen.

Edda nodded, and felt herself blushing redder and redder.

"Then you will probably interest me. Come child, walk with me, and tell me all the story of your life."

"Oh, are we going on a very long walk?"

So she talked as hard and as fast as she could, and it's really a fact that, by talking so fast that her tongue ached, she was able, by the time the maids had clothed her in a moonlight-blue satin, hung over with threads of silver delicate as cobwebs, to tell Goldheart almost everything there was to tell about herself." [5]

It seems quite deliberate that Peattie emphasizes not only the importance of knowing and preserving a child's story, but also the value of the child telling her story in her own voice. This great respect for children's minds, their experiences, and their inestimable worth as contributors to society formed the basis of Peattie's approach to creating their literature. She wrote in 1895, " . . . if vistas are to be opened up to the mind, the library . . . must not be limited . . . as soon as possible I would lead the mind of either boy or girl to the classics and I would encourage them to read books that relate to achievement. I would give them lofty ideals. The daily stress of living will lower their ideals fast enough at best . . . it is not for any one to set bounds and metes for her. She may have a capacity for comprehension which the purchaser of the library never possessed. The human soul comes soon to its own responsibility. The human mind runs to its liberty." [6]

Bibliography of Writing for Children by Elia Wilkinson Peattie


America in War and Peace. Chicago: W.B. Conkey, 1898.

Azalea: The Story of a Girl in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Chicago: Reilly, 1912.

Annie Laurie and Azalea. Chicago: Reilly and Britton, 1913.

Azalea at Sunset Gap. Chicago: Reilly and Britton, 1912, 1914.

Azalea's Silver Web. Chicago: Reilly and Britton, 1915.

Edda and the Oak . Chicago: Rand, McNally, 1911. Also published in A Christmas Party for Santa Claus by Ida Huntington (Rand McNally 1912).

Lotta Embury's Career. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1915.

The Newcomers. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1917.

Our Chosen Land: A Romantic Story of America from the Time of its Discovery and Conquest to the Present Day. An Interesting Account of the Progress and Development of Our Country, Written Especially for Young Folks. Chicago: Wabash, 1896. [An abridgment of the author's Story of America].

Our Land of Liberty, or The Wonderful Story of America, Containing the Romantic Incidents of History, from the Discovery of America to the Present Time. Chicago: International Publishing Company, 1895.

The Pictorial Story of America Containing the Romantic Incidents of History from the Discovery of America to the Present Time. Chicago: Amer. Pub. and Engraving, 1895; Union Pub., 1896; National Pub., 1896, Tombaugh Publications, 1982.

Pictorial Story of America: Part 3 Fulton County, Indiana. Chicago: National Pub, 1896.

Sarah Brewster's Relatives. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1916.

The Story of America : Containing the Romantic Incidents of History, from the Discovery of America to the Present Time. San Francisco: R.S. King, 1889; Chicago: Mid-continent Pub., 1891, 1892; Cleveland: Neff, 1893; Chicago: W.B. Conkey, 1898.

With Scrip and Staf: A Tale of the Children's Crusade. New York: A.D.F. Randolph, 1891.


Ickery Ann and Other Girls and Boys. Chicago: H.S. Stone, 1899. Includes short stories: "Ickery Ann," "The Genius," "Grizel Cochrane's Ride." "Bertha's Debut," "The Shut-ins," "The Message of the Lilies," "The McCulloughs of the Bluff," "Tarts," "Jock, the Chipmunk," "How Christmas Came to the Santa Maria Flats," "Christmas at Goldberg," "The Dead Letter," "The Wooing of Fan Tod," "The Breeziest Reunion," and "Tommy, the Beach Cat."

~Stories and Poems~

"At Aunt Frank's Service." Youth's Companion (1 Feb. 1900):49.

"At Dr. Merriwether's Service." Youth's Companion (11 Aug. 1904):374.

"Barbara's Valentine." St. Nicholas (13 Feb. 1902):76.

"Bertha's Debut." St. Nicholas 17 (Jan. 1890):217-221.

"The Color Bearers." Youth's Companion (17 Sept. 1914):477.

"A Declaration of Independence." Youth's Companion (10 Dec. 1903):619.

"The Disgrace of Grandfather." Youth's Companion (7 Sept. 1916):492.

"Dressmaking." Youth's Companion (5 July 1917):377.

"The Family He Found." Youth's Companion (25 Jan. 1900):37.

"The Fourth Chaperone." Youth's Companion (28 Sept. 1905):448.

"Grandmother's Fete." Youth's Companion (2 Oct. 1902):470.

"Grizel Cochrane's Ride: Founded on an Incident of the Monmouth Rebellion." St. Nicholas 14 (Feb. 1887):271-278.

"The Home Road." Youth's Companion (26 Aug. 1915):429-430.

"How Bet Came to Her Own." Brown Book of Boston June 1904 (vol 9.2).

"Kenyon's Bride." Youth's Companion (7 Jan. 1904):1.

"The Last Sedan-Chair." Youth's Companion (22 Feb. 1906):85.

"The Lion Light." Youth's Companion (1 Nov. 1917):621-622.

"The Little Brides of Tryon." [poem] Youth's Companion (28 July 1921): 412.

"Lotta Embury's Career." (Serial) Youth's Companion (10 Dec. 1914 through 11 Jan. 1915).

"The McCulloughs of the Bluff." Youth's Companion (16 June 1898):285-286.

"The Mean Little Town." (Serial) Youth's Companion (5 Oct. 1916 through 7 Dec. 1916).

"In Memoriam." Youth's Companion (30 May 1912):281.

"Message of the Lillies." Youth's Companion (7 Apr. 1898):161-162.

"Old Kaskaskia." Youth's Companion (21 Apr. 1904):196.

"The Pageant." Youth's Companion (2 Aug. 1917):430.

"Sarah Brewster's Relatives." (Serial) Youth's Companion (24 July 1913 through 25 Sept. 1913.)

"A Singing Bird." Youth's Companion (20 June 1912):331.

"Some Odd Figurines." Youth's Companion (10 Oct. 1901):491.

"Tapestry." Youth's Companion (18 June 1903):293.

"Tarts." Youth's Companion (21 Apr. 1898):191.

"True Hospitality." Youth's Companion (19 Apr. 1900):215.

"The Utilization of Uncle Reginald." Youth's Companion (25 May 1899):262.

"Wan Tsze-King". Youth's Companion (2 June 1901):229-230.

~Collected in Anthologies~

"Grizel Cochrane's Ride: Founded on an Incident of the Monmouth Rebellion." Heroines of History and Legend: Stories and Poems. Ed. Elva S. Smith. Boston: Lothrop, Lee, and Shepard, 1921.

"How Christmas Came to the Santa Maria Flats." Children's Book of Christmas Stories. Ed. Asa Don Dickinson. Garden City, NY: Children's Crimson Series, 1913.

"Grizel Cochrane's Ride." Heroines of History and Legend. Ed. Elva S. Smith. Lothrop, Lee, & Shepard, 1921.

~Selected Book Reviews ~

"100 Books for Girls." Omaha World-Herald (14 Apr. 1895):18.

"Mrs. Wiggin's Delightful 'Rebecca': A Study of Girl Life in New England." Chicago Tribune 3 Oct. 1903:13.

"Kate Douglas Wiggin." Chicago Tribune 17 Sept 1904:7.


Peattie, Elia. "About Children's Books." Omaha World Herald. 7/16/1893. p.16

———. "Easter Lilies and Girls." Omaha World Herald. 4/14/95, p. 18.

———. Edda and the Oak. Chicago: Rand, McNally & Co. 1911.

———. "The Family He Found." The Youth's Companion. 1/25/1900. p.1

———. "The Fourth Chaperon [sic]." Youth's Companion. 9/28/05. P. 448

———. "The Home Road." The Youth's Companion. 8/26/1915.


"The Crow Telling the Secret to Edda." from Edda and the Oak by Elia W. Peattie, Pictures by Katherine Merrill.Chicago: Rand, McNally & Co, 1911:132

"And then came Azalea." from Azalea: The Story of a Girl in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Chicago: Reilly & Britton, 1912: Frontispiece.


1Peattie "Home Road" 1.   [back to text]
2Peattie "Fourth" 448.   [back to text]
3Peattie "Family" 1.   [back to text]
4Peattie "About" 16.   [back to text]
5Peattie Edda 48, 49-50.   [back to text]
6Peattie "Easter" 18.   [back to text]