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Richards, Laura (Elizabeth) Howe

RICHARDS, Laura (Elizabeth) Howe

Born 27 February 1850, Boston, Massachusetts; died 14 January 1943, Gardiner, Maine

Wrote under: "L. E. R."

Daughter of Samuel G. and Julia Ward Howe; married Henry Richards, 1871

As a child, Laura Howe Richards lived in her father's Perkins Institute for the Blind. Her early education was varied, with wide independent reading. She married an architect in 1871. When his business failed to support his growing family, they moved to Gardiner, Maine, in 1876 so he could help with the family mill there.

Richards was active in the life of Gardiner, founding the first American Red Cross chapter in Maine, the Gardiner Public Library (1884), the Women's Philanthropic Union (1895), and the Howe Club (1875) to encourage the appreciation of literature in young boys. She began her writing career with stories and verses taken from the amusements she invented for her own children, but she soon turned to longer children's stories and to adult novels as well. Her first book, Five Little Mice in a Mouse Trap (1880), was a group of stories about a family of boys and girls in a setting quite like Richards' own childhood home. Sketches and Scraps (1881), illustrated by her husband, was the first volume of nonsense rhymes written by an American and printed in the U.S.

Captain January (1890) tells of Star Bright and her guardian, the Maine lighthousekeeper who had rescued the infant from a shipwreck. Now ten years old, Star Bright is lively, and the joy of January's life. Star Bright epitomizes Richards' heroines: She is lively, sensitive to the feelings of others, bright, and generous, and has a sense of humor. Never wealthy, the Richards heroines value their happiness above wealth.

The Margaret series develops the Richards heroine by presenting an older girl with more opportunity for both mischief and woe. In Three Margarets (1897), three cousins, all named for their paternal grandmother, meet when their uncle invites them to spend the summer at Fernley House. Peggy is from a western ranch; impulsive and rough, she is the source of amusement and scorn for her worldly Cuban cousin, Rita. It is Margaret the orphan who achieves harmony and good will with her calm temperament and soothing manner. By the end of the summer the three girls are fast friends. The next three books in the series each examine one of the Margarets.

Richards' first autobiography, When I Was Your Age (1893), was written for children. The second, Stepping Westward, appeared almost 40 years later, in 1931. Richards wrote several biographies for children. Laura E. Bridgman (1906) is about her father's famous pupil, for whom Richards was named. She also wrote biographies of her parents and edited their papers: The Life of Julia Ward Howe (1916), which Richards wrote with her sister Maude Howe Elliott, was awarded the first Pulitzer Prize for biography. Richards also edited her mother's journals, Walk with God (1919).

Richards wrote over 80 books. Her stories and novels offer neither profound nor unique glimpses into American life; but as the statements of the ideal nature of children and of young women, the tales are of great interest. By giving us competent young women who are kind and good and at the same time fallible and given to mischief, Richards provides a model for young women, and offers some important clues to the social historian. Only slightly too good to be true, Richards's heroines are real people with real failings.

Other Works:

Four Feet, Two Feet, and No Feet (1884). The Joyous Story of Toto (1884). Toto's Merry Winter (1885). Queen Hildegarde (1889). In My Nursery (1890). Hildegarde's Holiday (1891). Hildegarde's Home (1892). Glimpses of the French Court (1893). Melody: The Story of a Child (1893). Marie (1894). Nautilus (1894). Five Minute Stories (1895). Hildegarde's Neighbors (1895). Jim of Hellas (1895). Isla of Heron (1896). Narcissa (1896). Some Say (1896). Love and Rocks (1898). Rosin the Beau (1898). Peggy (1899). For Tommy (1900). Rita (1900). Snow White (1900). Fernley House (1901). Goeffry Strong (1901). The Hurdy Gurdy (1902). Mrs. Tree (1902). The Golden Windows (1903). The Green Satin Gown (1903). More Five Minute Stories (1903). The Merryweathers (1904). The Armstrongs (1905). Mrs. Tree's Will (1905). The Greek Revolution (edited by Richards, 1906). Letters and Journals of Samuel Gridley Howe (2 vols.; edited by Richards, 1906 and 1909). The Piccolo (1906). The Silver Crown (1906). Grandmother (1907). The Wooing of Calvin Parks (1908). Life of Florence Nightingale for Young People (1909). A Happy Little Time (1910). Up to Calvin's (1910). Aboard the Mary Sands (1911). The Story of Two Noble Lives (1911). Miss Jimmy (1912). The Little Master (1913). Three Minute Stories (1914). The Big Brother Play Book (1915). Fairy Operettas (1916). Life of Elizabeth Fry (1916). Abigail Adams and Her Times (1917). Pippin (1917). To Arms! (1917). A Daughter of Jehu (1918). Life of Joan of Arc (1919). Honor Bright (1920). In Blessed Cyprus (1921). The Squire (1923). Oriental Operettas (1924). Acting Charades (1927). Honor's New Adventure (1925). Star Bright (1927). Tirra Lirra (1932). Samuel Gridley Howe (1935). Edward Arlington Robinson (1936). Harryin England (1937). I Have a Song to Sing You (1938). What Shall the Children Read? (1939). The Hottentot, and Other Ditties (1939).

Bibliography:

Gardiner, Maine, Public Library Association, Laura E. Richards and Gardiner (1940).

Reference works:

NAW (1971). NCAB. TCA

Other references:

Horn Book (1941, 1943, 1956).

—VIRGINIA GRANT DARNEY

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