What Do Frances Hodgson Burnett, Mary Mapes Dodge, and Elsie Leslie Have in Common? Our Juvenile Collection Provides the Answer

Frances Hodson Burnett, Mary Mapes Dodge, Elsie LeslieOne of my favorite collections in the Phillips Library is the juvenile collection.  Having taught Child Development, which included discussions on the importance of books in a child’s life, I was excited to learn about the collection and have spent many an afternoon exploring its depth.  Most of the titles were published in the mid-19th century and are structured around the moral themes of the time.  Many children’s classics are included along with a fascinating collection of juvenile periodicals.

One of those periodicals is St. Nicholas: Scribner’s Illustrated Magazine for Girls and Boys.  Debuting in November, 1873, the magazine was edited by Mary Mapes Dodge, the author of Hans Brinker and His Silver Skates.  St. Nicholas: Scribners Illustrated Magazine for Boys and Girls, Vol. VII, Pt. 1It was 48 pages long and sold for twenty-five cents, with an initial circulation of 40,000 copies.  St. Nicholas was geared for children five through sixteen years of age.  Unlike other periodicals of the time, this new venture was not sectarian in any way; it was to include many examples of high quality pictorial art, foster a love of country, nature, and beauty, and provide content in travel or geography, biography, history, and science along with fiction written specifically for children.  Its parent magazine, Scribner’s Monthly, provided access to authors and illustrators, many of whom had used the monthly to serialize their fiction.

One such author and playwright was Frances Hodgson Burnett, the author of Little Lord Fauntleroy and The Secret Garden, copies of which can be found in our juvenile collection.  Another Burnett title, Editha’s Burglar, was first serialized in the February 1880 edition of St. Nicholas, illustrated by W. TaberEditha, a seven-year-old girl, living with her parents in London has no siblings; she spends much of her time reading.  Recently, she had read about burglars breaking into homes.  One night, Editha thinks she hears someone in the house – she automatically assumes that it is a burglar.  She decides to meet the burglar to ask him to be quiet so that he does not frighten her mother!

Editha Meets BurglarAs she descends the stairs, she remembers it is best to be polite when communicating with adults, so the first words she speaks to the burglar are, Don’t be frightened…I don’t want to hurt you; I came to ask a favor of you.  She then asks the man if he, in fact, is a burglar; of course the burglar denies that he is, but Editha knows he is not telling the truth.  She says, Papa has gone to Scotland…all our servants are women, and mamma would be so frightened if you were to waken her…if you are going to burgle, would you please burgle as quietly as you can, so that you won’t disturb her.?

Burnett’s story was first adapted for the theatre by Augustus Thomas; it was produced at the Popes Theatre in St. Louis in 1887.  It made its Broadway debut as a four-act play at the Lyceum Theatre in September 1887, in which Elsie Leslie played the title role at the age of eight.  Frances Hodgson Burnett saw her in this production and immediately knew that she wanted Elsie to play the Little Lord in the theatrical production of Little Lord Fauntleroy, which premiered on Broadway in 1888.

Although originally published in St. Nicholas, Editha’s Burglar was published in book form by Jordan Marsh and Co., Boston, MA, in 1888, illustrated by Henry Sandham.  The edition held by the Phillips Library was published by Jordan Marsh in 1889.  An interesting feature of the book, is a letter written to Jordan Marsh by Elsie Leslie in 1888 giving them permission to use her image for the lead character of the book.  Elsie Leslie's Letter to Jordan Marsh & Co.She writes Mamma has left it for me to deside if I will let you have my picture for your book…wont it be funny to see my very own picture in Editha like the little girl that used to be in St. Nicholas.  Editha also writes that I am going to play Editha in boston for two weeks and I will ask my mamma to let me come to your store and see all the butiful things…

While exploring our juvenile collection, I was able to connect two children’s authors, one child actor, and one 19th century children’s periodical.  And, that is just the beginning of our exploration of the juvenile collection; periodically, I will share more items from this wonderful collection.

NOTE:  The University of Florida has digitized the entire collection of St. Nicholas: Scribner’s Illustrated Magazine for Girls and Boys.  To read Editha’s Burglar, click on periodical image above.

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