Snedeker, Caroline Dale

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SNEDEKER, Caroline Dale

Born 23 March 1871, New Harmony, Indiana; died 22 January 1956, Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Wrote under: Caroline Dale, Caroline Dale Owen

Daughter of Charles A. and Nina Dale Owen Parke; married Charles H. Snedeker, 1903

Caroline Snedeker was the great-granddaughter of Robert Owen, the Welsh reformer who brought together scientists and educators in an attempt to found a model "village of cooperation" in New Harmony, Indiana, in 1825. Snedeker grew up in nearby Mt. Vernon. Nourished on her grandmother's stories of New Harmony and its ideals and her mother's singing and love for music, Snedeker early developed a keen interest in history, literature, and classical music. The family moved to Cincinnati for the children's schooling, and there Snedeker later entered the College of Music to study piano and composition. After the death of their father, Snedeker and her three sisters gave instrumental concerts to support the family, with Snedeker serving as pianist as they toured the Midwest. She was also an instructor of music before her marriage to the Dean of the Cathedral of Cincinnati. The couple moved to Hempstead, New York, where Snedeker was encouraged and advised in her writing by her husband.

Snedeker's writings comprise 13 juvenile novels, all but one of them historical fiction for older children and young adults, two novels for adults, and articles, stories, and poems. The Coward of Termopylae (1911), Snedeker's first novel, grew out of her great love for ancient Greece. Intended for adults, but gaining success when reissued in 1912 as The Spartan, for young people, it is based on two passages from Herodotus about a Spartan soldier during the Persian Wars who was branded a coward and who later acquitted himself by a noble death. In Theras and His Town (1924), written in response to a request for a child's version of The Spartan, an eleven-year-old Athenian boy goes to live with his uncle in Sparta, where he observes the tremendous differences in life and values between the two states. The strength of both books is their revelation of ancient life and thought.

The strength of other Snedeker novels about ancient Greece and Rome is this depiction of everyday life; their weaknesses are events that strain credulity, plots based on too little material, and explanatory and moralistic digressions that impede the plot. ThePerilous Seat (1923), about the daughter of a priest at Delphi; The White Isle (1940), which takes Lavinia and her patrician family from Rome to frontier Britain; and The Forgotten Daughter (1933) are romances. The last, the best crafted, tells of the romance of a Greek slave girl and a Roman aristocrat during the period when Tiberius Gracchus tried to break up the big estates of the nobles and parcel out the land to Roman peasants.

Snedeker also wrote a series of books based on American history. Downright Dencey (1927) deals with friendship that develops between a little Quaker girl and a waif after she has injured him by thoughtlessly throwing a stone at him. Carefully delineated details of Quaker life on Nantucket at the beginning of the 19th century, Dencey's forthright personality, and the mystery of the waif's parentage have a certain charm, making this probably the most read of Snedeker's books today. The Beckoning Road (1929) takes Dencey's family west to New Harmony.

Snedeker first wrote about New Harmony in Seth Way: A Romance of the New Harmony Community (1917), a fictionalization for adults of the life of the zoologist Thomas Say. Although too slow-moving, this book does give a good sense of the community's potential and its problems. The Town of the Fearless (1931) is the fictionalized history of Snedeker's own family and its connection with New Harmony. Snedeker contributed further to the knowledge of Robert Owen's experiment by editing the diaries of another resident, Donald Macdonald, which she discovered in Ireland after a lengthy search.

Snedeker's books are distinguished by conscientious research and careful attention to details of setting, but, particularly in her books for children, Snedeker frequently intrudes upon her story with explanatory and moralistic comments, imposing the value judgements of her time upon the mores of the past. Although generally well received by critics and popular when they came out, Snedeker's books have not stood the test of time. Too labored in movement, romanticized, and stiff in dialogue to appeal to modern audiences, they are seldom read except by those who have a deep interest in their period or a scholarly concern with the history of literature for young people.

Other Works:

The Black Arrowhead (1929). Uncharted Ways (1935). The Diaries of Donald Macdonald (edited by Snedeker, 1942). Luke's Quest (1947). A Triumph for Flavius (1955). Lysis Goes to the Play (1962).


Miller, B. M., "Caroline Dale Snedeker," in Horn Book (April 1956). Snedeker, C. D., "Trilobite Door: Chapters from my Life," in Horn Book (1947-1948).

Reference works:

Authors of Books for Young People (1967). Indiana Authors and Their Books (1949). Junior Book of Authors (1951). Yesterday's Authors of Books for Children (1978).