Ellsworth, Mary Ellen (Tressel) 1940-
ELLSWORTH, Mary Ellen (Tressel) 1940-
Born August 13, 1940, in Chicago, IL; daughter of Harry S. (a certified public accountant, actuary, and lawyer) and Marguerite (King) Tressel; married Michael H. Ellsworth, September 15, 1962; children: Robert H., M. Patrick, Mary Elizabeth, Kathleen. Education: Smith College, B.A., 1962; Columbia University, M.A., 1963, Ph.D., 1981. Hobbies and other interests: Gardening; sports like hiking, swimming, and cross-country skiing; animals; old houses; antiques.
Home—P.O. Box 145, Eastford, CT 06242. Office—English Department, Connecticut College, Box 5225, 270 Mohegan Ave., New London, CT 06320.
Rye Country Day School, Rye, NY, teacher of English and mathematics, 1963-65; Grace Church School, New York, NY, teacher of English and mathematics, 1960s; Queensborough Community College, assistant professor, lecturer in English, 1960s; Queens College, Queens, NY, assistant professor, lecturer in English, 1960s; Tunxis Community College, Farmington, CT, lecturer in English, 1970s; Quinebaug Valley Community College, Danielson, CT, lecturer in English, 1981-82, 1991-95; Eastern Connecticut State University, Willimantic, CT, lecturer in English, 1982-90, assistant professor of English, 1996-97; Three Rivers Community College, Norwich, CT, lecturer in English, 1992-93, 1995-97; St. Joseph College, West Hartford, CT, lecturer, 1992; Harford College for Women and University of Hartford, Hartford, CT, lecturer in English, 1995-96; Connecticut College, New London, CT, visiting assistant professor of English, 1997-98, 2001, 2002—.
Association for the Study of Connecticut History, New England Historical Association; Stowe Society.
Connecticut Humanities Council Grant recipient, 1989-92; Yale visiting faculty fellow, 1994-95.
Gertrude Chandler Warner and the Boxcar Children, illustrated by Marie DeJohn, A. Whitman Co. (Morton Grove, IL), 1997.
A History of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1799-1999, Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences (New Haven, CT), 1999.
WORK IN PROGRESS:
A children's story of friendship; a biography of a twentieth-century woman author; an edition of a twentieth-century poet's memoirs.
Mary Ellen Ellsworth told CA: "I was asked by a colleague to give a presentation on a local author as part of the 300th anniversary celebration for Windam County in Connecticut, where I live. I soon found that the area author who seemed to have the greatest readership was Gertrude Chandler Warner, who had written nineteen volumes of the 'Boxcar Children' mystery series for children. Even though I don't think it was quite what the university expected, I gave my paper on Warner, and it seemed to be thoroughly enjoyed by all the colloquium participants. One participant, the president of Putnam's Aspinock Historical Society, asked me to give a talk on Warner at his group's spring meeting the following year. That meeting was a lot of fun; local residents and former Warner students came, bringing anecdotes and mementos, and we videotaped the evening. Then I put my Warner materials away as I went on with my teaching and other writing projects. Many months later, on a cold fall afternoon, I received a call from a college administrator in Florida, whom I did not know. She said that she had grown up in Putnam and had Miss Warner as her teacher. Her mother had sent her the videotape of the Putnam evening for her birthday. Coincidentally, at a recent booksellers' meeting, a representative of the Albert Whitman Company, Warner's publisher, had mentioned to her that they were looking for someone to write Warner's biography. She was sure I was the one to do it! So I prepared a manuscript and gave it a trial-run on the second-graders in our local elementary school.
"I had Warner's own books to work with, and articles about her and her publications in the two local papers. I worked hard at trying to track down any other individuals who might have known Warner in the classroom or through her church or Red Cross work. Individuals at the Putnam Public Library and the Aspinock Historical Society were very helpful. We found photographs to go along with the time period. I visited the house where Warner had grown up and made the 'Sunday afternoon drive' to the Warner family farm. Eventually, as I talked to more individuals, I tracked down the names of surviving family members in Rhode Island and arranged a visit with them. We shared a wonderful day, and I was able to review some of the early childhood manuscripts I had not seen before. I also found that Albert Whitman and Company had selected another Connecticut person to do the drawings of the book. We arranged a Saturday together and spent the afternoon walking in Warner's Putnam footsteps. Marie DeJohn was able to verify the authenticity of her drawings. I think she did a wonderful job! I also continued to dig—to try to find more details about Warner family life. I confirmed even more thoroughly what a wonderful, spirited group the Warners were!
"Overall, this has been a labor of love. Our four children are all avid readers, and they all read the 'Boxcar Children' mysteries. So some of the Warner books are around the house (I keep all books!). The research took time and ferreting, but so many people shared an obvious enthusiasm that it was an enjoyable and positive experience.
"I wrote for children because they were and are Warner's primary readers. Warner clearly was an exemplary person and affected positively the lives of those around her here in the Putnam area. But her greatest impact was and is in what she did for young readers everywhere. By creating intelligent, independent children as her central characters—two girls and two boys—and setting them off on adventures written in a way that unsophisticated readers could fully enjoy—she added to the richness of the imaginative experiences of millions of young people worldwide. Now through my book, I hope these readers will have the opportunity to know this woman, who had a clear vision and purpose, but who, in many ways, had a most ordinary life in a most ordinary setting. A publicly reserved, dignified, rather quiet woman, living in small-town America without advanced education, great wealth, or the best of health, went her way and left an important legacy for all children.
"Children's writing, in some ways, presents the biggest challenge if it is well done. Ideas must be presented clearly, simply, and directly—in a well-organized fashion—without talking down or being simple-minded. Warner did that, and that is what I have tried to do in my biography about her.
"A note of interest: in February, 2003, the people of Putnam, Connecticut, purchased a boxcar similar to the one Warner wrote about. The boxcar was placed near the center of town and will be opened to house the Gertrude Chandler Warner Museum.
"I have been involved in public education all of my adult life, trying to do whatever I could to make it as effective as possible. Part of this stems from my own passion for ideas in general and for literature and writing in particular, and part, I know, from wanting the best for my own four children as they were growing up. One way to try to impact things in my local area—a rural region of northeastern Connecticut—was to be on the school board. So I got elected to the local school board and served for eighteen years. I also served on our community college's advisory councils for eight years, and as a member of the board of trustees of our local high school for many more years. These are all volunteer activities."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, August 1, 1997, review of Gertrude Chandler Warner and the Boxcar Children.
Horn Book Guide, September, 2000, review of Gertrude Chandler Warner and the Boxcar Children.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 1997, review of Gertrude Chandler Warner and the Boxcar Children.
Publishers Weekly, July 8, 2002, review of Gertrude Chandler Warner and the Boxcar Children.
School Library Journal, July, 1997, review of Gertrude Chandler Warner and the Boxcar Children.