Meigs, Cornelia (Lynde)

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MEIGS, Cornelia (Lynde)

Born 6 December 1884, Rock Island, Illinois; died 10 September 1973, Hartford County, Maryland

Also wrote under: Adair Aldon

Daughter of Montgomery and Grace Lynde Meigs

The strong sense of family tradition that pervades much of Cornelia Lynde Meigs' writing for young people comes naturally from her own appreciation of kinship and its values. A descendant of Commodore John Rogers of Revolutionary fame, Meigs grew up in a close-knit family on the Mississippi, where her father was a government engineer.

Graduating from Bryn Mawr College in 1907, Meigs taught in Davenport, Iowa (1912-13), where she began "to tell stories to the younger children…finding quickly just what sort they liked and what they would have none of." Meigs' first book of short stories, The Kingdom of the Winding Road (1915), resulted from this experience. Novels, two plays (The Steadfast Princess won the Drama League prize in 1915), and four pseudonymous adventure stories followed during the next two decades.

From 1932 to 1950 Meigs taught English at Bryn Mawr. Meigs' work as a literary scholar culminated in her editing and contributing to the landmark book A Critical History of Children's Literature (1953; revised edition, 1969). Ann Pellowski refers to it as "a definitive survey of the literature," and Frances Sayers says that Meigs' section "The Roots of the Past" has the "storyteller's narrative pace, the novelist's eye for endearing detail, and the scholar's control of historic perspective."

These talents are evident in most of the fiction, history, and biography that Meigs wrote. Her historical romances, beginning with Master Simon' Garden (1916), are compelling narratives. This first novel is suitable for an adolescent audience and traces the vicissitudes and final triumph of puritan Master Simon's family and garden ("a symbol of tolerance and understanding" according to Constantine Georgiou) through several generations. The sense of continuity of family ideals is strong, and the many characters are clearly individualized.

Three successful shorter fictions followed the "olden days" adventures of eight-year-old heroines. The Willow Whistle (1931) has an exciting plot and convincing descriptions of daily living on the prairie. Wind in the Chimney (1934) recounts a young girl's growing love for the Pennsylvania farmhouse where her widowed mother has brought the family from England. The Covered Bridge (1936) tells of young Constance's stay on a Vermont farm in the winter of 1788.

Vermont, where Meigs had a summer home for many years, is the setting for other books, notably Call of the Mountain (1940). This story of a young man's determination to make a mountainside farm his true inheritance contains Meigs' usual mixture of adventure, courage, and generous actions. Another book that deserves mention, although its story line is not so clear as that of Meigs' best work, is Vanished Island (1941). Here, Meigs writes some marvelous chapters about steamboating on the Mississippi of her childhood.

Two of her books on American history, The Violent Men: A Study of Human Relations in the First American Congress (1949) and The Great Design: Men and Events in the United States from 1945 to 1963 (1964), show comprehensive research though perhaps not enough winnowing of significant detail to make them as readable as her biographies.

Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women (1933) won the Newbery Medal in 1934. "A thoroughly readable and satisfactory life," Bertha Miller called this labor of scholarship and love. In her acceptance paper for the prize, Meigs stated that she read Alcott's letters and journals "over and over again through my growing years" and in times of difficulty for "the stimulation of courage" they brought. Her biography carries this same "stimulation of courage," as does her last major work, Jane Addams: Pioneer for Social Justice (1970), another excellent biography of a strong woman.

Meigs' young heroines, although brave and sensible, often play a comparatively passive role, but of the two real-life models that Meigs chose for her biographies, each, like Alcott, "gallantly went her own way and won her own triumph." Meigs' talents seem fully realized only in her biographies. However, her books, of whatever type, have, as Bertha Miller notes, "given expression to America's best in thought, feeling and action."

Other Works:

The Island of Appledore (1917). The Pirate of Jasper Peak (1918). The Pool of Stars (1919). At the Sign of the Heroes (1920). The Windy Hill (1921). Helga and the White Peacock (1922). The Hill of Adventure (1922). The New Moon: The Story of Dick Martin's Courage, His Silver Sixpence, and His Friends in the New World (1924). Rain on the Roof (1925). As the Crow Flies (1927). The Trade Wind (1927). Clearing Weather (1928). The Wonderful Locomotive (1928). The Crooked Apple Tree (1929). Swift Rivers (1932). Young Americans: How History Looked to Them While It Was in the Making (1936). Railroad West (1937). The Scarlet Oak (1938). Mother Makes Christmas (1940). Mounted Messenger (1943). The Two Arrows (1949). The Dutch Colt (1952). Fair Wind to Virginia (1955). What Makes a College? A History of Bryn Mawr (1956). Wild Geese Flying (1957). Saint John's Church, Havre de Grace, Md. 1809-1959 (1959). Mystery at the Red House (1961). Glimpses of Louisa: A Centennial Sampling of the Best Short Stories (edited by Meigs, 1968). Louisa M. Alcott and the American Family Story (1971).


Georgiou, C., Children and Their Literature (1969). Pellowski, A., The World of Children's Literature (1968).

Reference works:

CA. Junior Book of Authors. Newbery Medal Books.

Other references:

Horn Book (Sept. 1944). LJ (July 1934). PW (30 June 1934, 25 April 1936).


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Meigs, Cornelia (Lynde)

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