Dodge, Mary Mapes (1831–1905)

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Dodge, Mary Mapes (1831–1905)

American, known for her important contributions to children's literature, both as author of Hans Brinker; or, The Silver Skates and as editor of St. Nicholas. Born Mary Elizabeth Mapes in New York City on January 26, 1831 (some sources cite 1803 or 1838); died of cancer in Onteora, New York, on August 21, 1905; daughter of James Jay Mapes (an inventor, agriculturist, chemist, artist, and editor) and Sophia (Furman) Mapes; educated at home by tutors and governesses; married William Dodge (a lawyer), on September 13, 1851; children: James ("Jamie") Mapes (b. June 20, 1852); Harrington ("Harry") Mapes (b. November 15, 1855–1881).

After sudden death of husband of unknown causes, returned with her sons to her family home, Mapleridge, in Waverly, New Jersey (1858); became editor of her father's United States Journal (1861); began contributing adult stories to Harper's New Monthly Magazine (1863); published book for boys, The Irvington Stories (1864); because of long standing interest in Holland, penned Hans Brinker; or, The Silver Skates (1865); inherited her father's considerable debts at the time of his death (1866); began writing for children's periodical, the Riverside Magazine (1867); published A Few Friends and How They Amused Themselves, a love story with descriptions of 20 games included (1868); became associate editor of weekly periodical, Hearth and Home (1868–73); founded and edited Scribner's children's periodical, St. Nicholas (1873); gained steady recognition with publication of foreign editions of Hans Brinker as well as four more of her books (1870s); lost Waverly property and a great deal of money in legal judgment (1881); lost youngest son to typhoid (1881); in a break from Scribner's, took Donald and Dorothy to Roberts Brothers, which published it (1883); purchased a cottage in Onteora, New York, an artists' colony, where she spent her summers (1888); published The Land of Pluck and When Life Is Young (1894).

Selected writings:

The Irvington Stories (1864); Hans Brinker; or, The Silver Skates: A Story of Life in Holland (1865); A Few Friends and How They Amused Themselves (1868); Rhymes and Jingles (1874); Theophilus and Others (1876); Along the Way (1879) Donald and Dorothy (1883); The Land of Pluck: Stories and Sketches for Young Folk (1894); When Life Is Young: A Collection of Verse for Boys and Girls (1894); Poems and Verses (1904).

The second of five surviving children of James Jay and Sophia Furman Mapes , Mary Elizabeth ("Lizzie") was born on January 26, most probably in 1831, although there is some question about the exact year. Both her parents came from prominent New York families, and James Jay Mapes, who some described as a maverick genius, was an inventor, agriculturist, chemist, artist, and editor. Although talented in many fields, he was not well paid and his financial affairs were at times precarious. Both parents were devoted and provided their children with a good education at home where they were instructed by tutors and governesses. All the children's lives were enriched by a succession of literary and scientific figures who often visited their home, including Horace Greeley, William Cullen Bryant, and John Ericsson, who built the first armored turret ship, the Monitor, during the Civil War. From an early age, Lizzie was interested in music and art.

Around 1846, James Mapes purchased a run-down farm called Mapleridge at Waverly, New Jersey, as a place where he could demonstrate some of his agricultural methods and as a home for his family. They moved there in 1847. This purchase was financed by a friend from New York, a lawyer named William Dodge, whom Lizzie eventually married on September 13, 1851. William was 15 years older than Lizzie, and it is assumed that their marriage was successful. The couple moved to William's family home in New York City, where several generations lived together. Two sons were born to the couple: Jamie Dodge (June 20, 1852) and Harry Dodge (November 15, 1855). Lizzie's placid family life was shattered in 1858, when William Dodge died suddenly. Exactly what occurred is uncertain, but records show death was by drowning. There is a possibility that he committed suicide. After his burial on November 11, 1858, Lizzie Dodge and her sons returned to Mapleridge and lived with her family. Devoted to her sons, she spent hours every day reading and talking to them and taking part in their activities at a special place in an old building near Mapleridge, which she called "The Den." She also used this location as a place to write. In an attempt to divert his daughter's mind from her tragedy, James Mapes urged Lizzie to begin writing, and in 1861, he purchased the United States Journal, adding this to a periodical he had helped to found called Working Farmer. Dodge became editor of this new section while continuing to write using several pseudonyms for both the Farmer and the Journal. She soon began sending articles to other publications, and in 1863, she started contributing adult stories to Harper's New Monthly Magazine. As suggested by James Mapes, Lizzie wrote a book for boys, and the result, The Irvington Stories, was published by James O'Kane in November 1864. Though this book was not a bestseller, it was popular enough to induce her to begin another book.

Although she had never been to Holland, she had always wanted to write a book about that country and had been collecting material for years. The result of her research was Hans Brinker; or The Silver Skates, which was published by O'Kane in December 1865, despite his reservations. This book became a bestseller (sales of 300,000 were needed at that time) in 1865, along with the American edition of Charles Dickens' Our Mutual Friend. The popularity of Hans Brinker was even greater when it was republished by Scribner's in the next decade. Dodge's philosophy of children's literature, evident in this book, was that it should provide intellectual stimulation but should discourage "emotional precocity." Dodge's happiness over the success of Hans Brinker was subdued by the death of her son Jamie less than a month after the book's publication.

Dodge became part of the New York literary circle, and among her friends was Horace E. Scudder, the editor of the Riverside Magazine for

Young People (published 1867–70), a quality periodical for children. She wrote an article for him reviewing toys and games, which included two card games she invented, The Protean Cards and The Stratford Game. Her interest in games culminated in a book for adults called A Few Friends and How They Amused Themselves, a combination love story with descriptions of 20 pastimes, which was published by Lippincott in November 1868. That same year, Dodge accepted the position of associate editor for a new weekly periodical, Hearth and Home, and remained there until 1873. At the same time she was busy working at Hearth and Home, she also continued to write for the Riverside Magazine (until its demise in 1870) and for adult periodicals such as Scribner's Monthly and Atlantic Monthly.

During the early 1870s, Mary Elizabeth Dodge began to use the name of Mary Mapes Dodge to avoid confusion with two other authors with the same name—Mary Barker Dodge , a poet, and Mary Abigail Dodge (1833–1896), who wrote under the name Gail Hamilton. In 1872 yet another opportunity presented itself, when Josiah Holland and Roswell Smith, who with Charles Scribner had founded Scribner's Monthly, asked Dodge to contribute her thoughts about adding a children's periodical to the Scribner line. She was soon asked to found and edit such a periodical, and she left Hearth and Home in March 1873, devoting her energies to establishing St. Nicholas: Scribner's Illustrated Magazine for Girls and Boys. That same year, she and her son Harry took a long awaited trip to Europe and enjoyed sightseeing, meeting literary contemporaries and visiting the Netherlands. Upon her return, the first issue of St. Nicholas was published in November 1873. The magazine was successful from the start, partly because of the way Dodge involved her readers in many activities. Wonderful illustrations by artists including Reginald Birch, George Wharton Edwards, Oliver Herford, Joseph Pennell, Arthur Rackham, Frederic Remington and N.C. Wyeth were featured in the publication. St. Nicholas also published the work of noted authors and poets, including Louisa May Alcott , Noah Brooks, Edward Eggleston, Lucretia Peabody Hale , John Townsend Trowbridge, Thomas Bailey Aldrich, Bret Harte, Sarah Orne Jewett , Horace E. Scudder, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, and Alfred Tennyson.

During the 1870s, Dodge was at the pinnacle of her success and her work received wide recognition. Hans Brinker was revived again, and in 1875, a French edition of it and Little Women won the Montyon prize of 1,500 francs, given by the French Academy for the book that each year rendered the greatest service to humanity. The next year an Italian edition of Hans Brinker appeared. In addition, four other books by Dodge were published during this decade: Rhymes and Jingles (1874), Baby Days: A Selection of Songs, Stories, and Pictures, for Very Little Folks (1877), Theophilus and Others (1876) and Along the Way (1879). What could have become a major crisis for Dodge came in 1877, when Frank Stockton resigned as assistant editor of St. Nicholas because of bad health. However, the position was filled ably by William Fayal Clarke, who became a close friend of Dodge and her family, even moving into the Dodges' boardinghouse where he was a part of the household for almost 20 years.

From 1879 to 1881, Dodge had a string of bad luck: she suffered from ill health, a legal judgment resulted in the loss of the Waverly property and a great deal of money, and her son Harry was plagued by poor health. In September 1879, Harry Dodge contracted typhoid and died unexpectedly in February 1881. That same year, Roswell Smith bought out Josiah Holland and Charles Scribner to form the Century Company, which took over the publication of St. Nicholas. During this period, Dodge began making strong demands of her publisher, which Charles Scribner was unwilling to meet. Miffed because she felt her books had not been promoted properly and upset over personal and financial problems, Dodge took her novel, Donald and Dorothy, to Roberts Brothers, which published it in November 1883. This book never attracted the attention of her earlier classic.

Following Harry Dodge's death, Mary Dodge's own health suffered. Overworked and ill, she took a trip to Europe for rest in 1886, and there she met Candace Wheeler , who was promoting a colony at Onteora Park in the Catskills, a place where writers and artists could relax. In 1888, Dodge purchased a cottage at Onteora Park and spent all her summers there for the rest of her life. St. Nicholas continued to attract new contributors in its second and third decades, including Frances Hodgson Burnett , Rudyard Kipling, John Bennet, Howard Pyle, Theodore Roosevelt and Mark Twain. In 1894, two of Dodge's books were published by the Century Company, The Land of Pluck, short works mostly culled from St. Nicholas, and When Life is Young, a book of verses. In 1898, exhausted by her own failing health and from nursing Fayal Clarke after an appendectomy, Dodge was ordered by her doctor and her employer to take a trip to Europe to recuperate. Her health, however, continued to deteriorate, and while at Onteora, Dodge died of cancer on August 21, 1905. She was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Elizabeth, New Jersey. After her death, Clarke continued as editor at St. Nicholas until 1927. The magazine was sold in 1930, after which it rapidly deteriorated and finally ceased publication in 1940.


Karrenbrock, Marilyn H. "Mary Mapes Dodge," in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 42. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1985, pp. 146–160.

Jo Anne Meginnes , freelance writer, Brookfield, Vermont