Sangster, Margaret (1838–1912)

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Sangster, Margaret (1838–1912)

American writer. Name variations: Elizabeth Munson. Born Margaret Elizabeth Munson on February 22, 1838, in New Rochelle, New York; died on June 3, 1912, in South Orange, New Jersey; interred in Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn; attended Passaic Seminary (a Baptist school) in Paterson, New Jersey, and graduated from Monsieur Paul Abadie in New York, New York; daughter of John Munson and Margaret R. (Chisholm) Munson; grandmother of writer Margaret Elizabeth Sangster (b. 1894); married George Sangster, in October 1858; children: George Munson Sangster (b. 1859).

Selected writings:

Hours with Girls (1881); Little Knights and Ladies (1895); Janet Ward, A Daughter of the Manse (1902); Fairest Girlhood (1906); An Autobiography: From My Youth Up (1909); My Garden of Hearts (posthumous) (1913).

Margaret Sangster was born Margaret Elizabeth Munson in 1838 in New Rochelle, New York, the firstborn of two daughters of John and Margaret Chisholm Munson , who each had a son from previous marriages. An extremely intelligent child, Sangster could read when she was only four years old. The Munson family, who observed the Presbyterian faith and Calvinist precepts, moved to New York City in 1841, where they remained for five years before settling in Paterson, New Jersey. Sangster was only in her teens when her father died, and an uncle, David Chisholm, stepped in to assist the family.

Sangster received a Baptist education at the Passaic Seminary in New Jersey before graduating from Monsieur Paul Abadie's French and English school in Brooklyn, New York. Even as a young child, Sangster had occupied herself by writing stories and poems. These youthful journals provided a wealth of material that nourished her adult writing career. Her first published work, the short story "Little Janey," led to an extended assignment writing 100 children's stories for a series of illustrations. Margaret pursued her writing career until October 1858, when she married George Sangster, a widower. She willingly accepted the role of mother to his two young daughters, and the couple eventually had a third child, a son named George. George Sangster served in the Union Army during the Civil War, after which the family lived briefly in Norfolk, Virginia, before returning to Brooklyn in 1870.

After the death of her husband in 1871, Sangster wrote to support her family. She contributed to many periodicals, including the Atlantic Monthly and Hearth and Home, where she secured a permanent position as editor of the children's page in 1873. In time, she became assistant editor of the magazine, a position she used to promote her "mission to girlhood." She offered advice and wrote inspirational and provocative essays for young women on such themes as "The Girl and Her Friends," "The Girl in Business," and "Shall Both Be Wage Earners?" She was one of the popular American poets in the period following the Civil War, and her poems "Elizabeth Aged Nine" and "Are the Children at Home?" were known the country over.

Sangster accepted an editorial position at the Christian Intelligencer immediately following the demise of Hearth and Home in 1875. She later worked as a literary adviser for Harper & Brothers and as an editor at Harper's Young People from 1882 until 1889. She also edited Harper's Bazaar for ten years until that magazine ceased publication. At Harper's, as at Hearth and Home, Sangster's occupation allowed her to share her ideals with the magazine's readership. She even altered the format and limited the fictional content in deference to more service-ori ented articles.

Sangster also wrote novels, including Hours with Girls, Little Knights and Ladies, Good Manners, Radiant Motherhood, and My Garden of Hearts, and signed on as a member of the editorial staff of Woman's Home Companion in 1904. Her magazine articles, though characterized as "preachy," were nonetheless amicable, light, and easy to follow. She made no pretense concerning the literary value of her work, and duly recognized "good writers" such as Charles Dickens and Jane Austen . Over the years Sangster's political stance evolved to more liberal and feminist beliefs, in part due to her experiences as a wage earner. She died in South Orange, New Jersey, on June 3, 1912.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1980.

Gloria Cooksey , freelance writer, Sacramento, California