Mary Mapes Dodge
Mary Mapes Dodge (January 26, 1831 – August 21, 1905) was an American writer and editor of children’s books and stories, best known for her novel Hans Brinker. Born Mary Elizabeth Mapes in New York City, she the daughter of a well-to-do family, and as such, she enjoyed a privileged education by private tutors that included languages, literature, music, and art.
In 1851, at age twenty, she married William Dodge, a lawyer with whom her father had business dealings. In short order, the couple had two sons. Just a few years into the marriage, Mr. Dodge was beset by financial difficulties and abandoned the family. He was found dead a month later from an apparent drowning. The young widow Mary, barely into her mid-twenties, moved to her father’s “gentleman’s farm in Mapleridge, New Jersey. There, she began writing in earnest, and from then on, supported herself and her children through her work as a writer and editor. She also wrote poetry, though much of that portion of her efforts can more aptly be described as light verse.
Mary’s father employed her in his magazine publishing company as a writer and editor, and she took to both tasks with talent and diligence. Parallel to her steady work, she wrote stories and found a ready market for them in the popular magazines of the day. A collection of short stories, The Irvington Stories (1864) was her first published book and was a modest yet solid success. Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates (1865) followed close on its heels. It was instant bestseller and remained a beloved classic for generations of children. The story was set in Holland, a place to which Mary had never traveled until after the book’s publication.
As an editor, Mary Mapes Dodge had progressive ideas on what made good reading for children. She put her philosophy into action as the editor of a new children’s magazine, St. Nicholas, which in 1873 published its first issue. She believed that children deserved wholesome yet entertaining fare with beautiful visuals, unlike the preachy pablum and dull illustrations that ruled at the time. Impressively, she bought stories to print from authors who were already well known such as Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, Rudyard Kipling, L.Frank Baum, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Illustrators whose work she used in the magazine’s pages included Arthur Rackham, N.C. Wyeth, and Howard Pyle. Under her guiding hand, St. Nicholas became one of the most successful magazines for children during its several-decades run.
Mary’s adopted home of the New York Catskills came by way of traveling in Europe. There she met design pioneer Candace Wheeler, who invited her to join a group that maintained a summer colony of cottages in the Catskill mountains in upstate New York. She loved the area so much that she built a cottage and named it “Yarrow” after the flowers that grew there. In 1905, Mary Mapes Dodge died in her summer cottage in the Catskills (NY) town of Tannersville and was buried at the Evergreen Cemetery in Hillside, NJ.
- The Irvington Stories (1864)
- Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates (1865)
- A Few Friends and How They Amused Themselves (1869)
- Theophilus and Others (1876)
- Donald and Dorothy (1883)
- Baby World (1884)
- The Land of Pluck (1884)
More information on Mary Mapes Dodge
- Mary Mapes Dodge on Wikipedia
- Mary Mapes Dodge on Goodreads
- Remembering St. Nicholas Magazine for Children
- “Lady of the Silver Skates”
News and Articles
- NPR: Today, Magazine’s Kid Bylines Read Like ‘Pulitzer Prize Roll Call’
- Don’t Ask, Don’t Dwell: The One Big Rule for Giving a Book as a Gift
Read and Listen
- While there is no specific Mary Mapes Dodge home to visit, the Onteora Club in Tannersville NY, where her cottage once stood, is available for short stays and even to buy a home.
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