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Richards, Laura E. (1850–1943)

Richards, Laura E. (1850–1943)

American novelist, poet, and short-story writer. Born Laura Elizabeth Howe in Boston, Massachusetts, on February 27, 1850; died on January 14, 1943; daughter of Samuel Gridley Howe (Boston reformer and educator who founded the Perkins Institute for the Blind) and Julia (Ward) Howe (1819–1910); sister of Maud Howe Elliott (1854–1948); tutored at home by private teachers, later attended local schools; married Henry Richards (an architect and illustrator), on June 17, 1871; children: Alice Maude Richards; Rosalind Richards; Henry Howe Richards; Julia Ward Richards; Maud Richards (died in childhood, 1885); John Richards; Laura Elizabeth Richards.

Laura E. Richards, daughter of Samuel Gridley Howe and Julia Ward Howe , was born in

1850 and grew up in a house called "Green Peace" in South Boston. Next door was the Perkins Institute for the Blind where she and her siblings played and made friends with the students and their teachers. Richards was named for her father's first pupil, Laura Bridgman . "As a child I did not think of the wonder of her, any more than of that of sunrise, or a tree, or any other miracle," wrote Richards. "She was Laura; she was blind, deaf and dumb; Papa had brought her out of prison." Before long, Richards was reading Elizabeth Barrett Browning 's Rhyme of the Duchess May to an aging blind employee of the institute's workshop.

Richards adored Green Peace, describing it from the day she began to write, she claimed, "first in Five Mice in a Mouse-trap, again in When I Was Your Age." The family spent their summers in Lawton's Valley, a few miles from Newport, Rhode Island. At age ten, Richards started writing, and she would publish 80 books in her lifetime. By the time she wrote Captain January in 1889, she had already penned many juveniles. "I think this story went to every reputable publisher, or to all that I knew about, in this country, and to several in England. No one would have it." Finally published in 1891, Captain January sold three million copies. It was first filmed in 1924, starring Baby Peggy ; the second version, starring Shirley Temple (Black) , was filmed by 20th Century-Fox in 1936.

In 1876, Richards moved with her husband Henry Richards to his boyhood town of Gardiner, Maine, where she lived until her death. There, for 30 or more summers, the couple ran Camp Merryweather, a camp for boys. Richards also helped establish the town's high school, library, office of the district nurse, and befriended a shy neighbor, later known as the poet Edwin Arlington Robinson. Her writer friends included Sarah Orne Jewett and Margaret Deland .

Along with the Pulitzer Prize-winning book on her mother, Julia Ward Howe, 1819–1910 (1916), which she wrote with her sister Maud Howe Elliott , Richards wrote biographies on Elizabeth Fry (1916), Abigail Adams (1917), Joan of Arc (1919), Laura Bridgman (1928), and on her father Samuel Gridley Howe (1935). Like her mother, Richards remained productive well into her advanced years. Her autobiography Stepping Westward was written when she was 81; she died at the age of 93.

sources and suggested reading:

Commire, Anne. Yesterday's Authors of Books for Children. Vol. I. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1977.

Richards, Laura E. Stepping Westward (autobiography), 1931.

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