Eleanor (Hodgman) Porter is what I call a ‘sweetness and light’ author. By sweetness and light, I mean the simple act of delivering good news, whether it be through a novel, a movie theater, a newspaper, or chatter over the fence with a neighbor. It is the ability to see the good side of even the worst situations and encourage this ability in others, for the betterment of all. It is a choice that we all have — to be satisfied with a lemon, or to make lemonade instead. Eleanor Porter Hodgman’s works reflect our ability to share gladness.
Eleanor Emily Hodgman was born 19 December 1868 in Littleton, Grafton County, New Hampshire. Her parents were Francis Fletcher & Llewella/Luella French (Woolson) Hodgman. Her father was an apothecary, druggist, and dealer in furs, who had a shop next to Thayer’s Inn. Eleanor’s grandfather (also named Francis Hodgman) was the first watch-maker and jeweler to establish himself in Littleton NH in 1831. He soon added the sale of drugs and medicines to his business. When he died in 1864 he left a good estate to his two sons, Charles and Francis F. (Eleanor’s father). Emily had one sibling, a brother named Fred C. Hodgman who was born in 1864. Emily’s mother, Llewella was an invalid, and it is said that Emily herself was frail during her childhood.
The relative affluence of the Hodgman family allowed Emily to be educated at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. By singing at local concerts and church choirs, she had early demonstrated her vocal aptitude. She continued her singing career, even teaching music, for a short time after her marriage. She married on 3 May 1892 in Springfield, Vermont, to John Lyman Porter. He was born 12 Dec 1864 in Corinth, Vermont to John Lyman & Harriet Newell (Hildreth) Porter.
By about 1901 she had directed her attention away from music and toward writing. Her short stories began appearing in popular magazines and newspapers, and by 1907 she had published her first novel, called Cross Currents. This was soon followed by The Turn of the Tide (1908); The Story of Marco (1911); Miss Billy (1911) which was her first really successful book; and Miss Billy’s Decision (1912).
Then Eleanor created a heroine that would make her famous–Pollyanna Whittier. In 1913 she published the book Pollyanna about a young girl who always looked on the bright side of life, and whose infectious “gladness” transforms those around her. The book, and its reprinted editions, eventually sold over a million copies. This book was second on the fiction best-seller list for 1914, and was followed by Pollyanna Grows Up in 1915 (focusing on the heroine’s adventures in Boston). The novel was made into a Broadway play in 1916, starring Helen Hayes, and also into a motion picture in 1920, which starred Mary Pickford. A remake of this movie in 1960 starred Hayley Mills. The “glad game” sparked the creation of “Glad” and Pollyanna Clubs that sprang all over the United States.
Eleanor Porter didn’t stop writing. Other best-sellers of the time, but lesser known, include Just David (1916), The Road to Understanding (1917), Oh, Money! Money! (1918), Dawn (1919), and Mary-Marie (1920). Many of her more than 200 stories were printed as collections in various books.
John and Eleanor Porter, along with Eleanor’s mother Luella, lived in Springfield, Windsor Co VT in 1900 where John was a furniture dealer (1900 U.S. Census). By 1910 they were living [at No. 33 Washington Avenue, per “Literary Landmarks of Boston”] in Cambridge, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, where John was a bond broker for a bond company. It was here in Cambridge that Eleanor Porter died on 21 May 1920 at age 52, a few weeks after publication of her book Mary-Marie. Her husband was executor of her estate. They had no children.
Regarding her writing, Eleanor said, “I have never believed that we ought to deny discomfort and pain and evil. I have merely thought that it is far better to ‘greet the unknown with a cheer.’” (Kunitz and Haycroft, ed. Twentieth Century Authors: A Biographical Dictionary, 1942).
Some of Eleanor Porter’s manuscripts and letters are held at the Barrett Library in Special Collections at the University of Virginia.
Other papers of Eleanor H. Porter were purchased by the Dartmouth College Library from Charles Apfelbaum Rare Books and Collections, Valley Stream, New York, in August 1995.
Eleanor Porter’s birthplace displays a bronze statue of Pollyanna on Main Street (unveiled on the library lawn in 2002). Thayer’s Inn even has a re-creation of Pollyanna’s room.
Littleton town manager, Jason Hock stated, “There is an aggressive optimism here, a focus on positive achievements and retelling the story of where we’re going next.” To carry the joyous enthusiasm even further, Littleton now celebrates “Pollyanna Days” each June as part of their Summer Fest Activities.
This year Summer Fest will be celebrated June 1-4, 2006 with the theme, “Through the Eyes of a Child.”
Hedda Hopper a American actress, and gossip columnist in the 1940s, once said “Nobody’s interested in sweetness and light.”
I disagree. The American people are becoming weary of the bad news, and anyone, or any town, that can focus even briefly on what is good in the world, gets my attention and support. Choose gladness.
–PARTIAL GENEALOGY OF ELEANOR (HODGMAN) PORTER–
Ancestors of Francis Hodgman
Oliver & Hodgman & Pamela Thompson
Benjamin Hodgman & Elizabeth Merriam
Benjamin Hodgman & Lydia Walker
Thomas Hodgman & Abigail Geary
Josiah WEBBER & Elizabeth — [adopted by Thomas & Mary (Morrill) Hodgman
Josiah WEBBER & ?
Francis Hodgman, son of Oliver & Pamela (Thompson) Hodgman, b. 20 Dec 1808 in Stoddard NH; d. 1 July 1864 in Littleton NH. was the first watch-maker and jeweler to establish himself in Littleton NH. He began in 1831 and soon after added the sale of drugs and medicines to his business, which was very prosperous. He died in 1864, leaving two sons, Charles and Francis F., who soon divided the business, the former taking the druggist branch and the latter that of watch-maker and jeweler. He served as town clerk from 1846 to 1851, and as state representative in 1852. He married 16 Dec 1834 in Littleton NH to Mary Burns FLETCHER. She b. 10 Dec 1814 in Amherst NH, and d. 25 Feb 1867 in Littleton NH.
Children of Francis & Mary Burns (Fletcher) Hodgman:
1. Charles Hodgman, b 1837 in Littleton NH; He married about 1864 to Sarah Elizabeth –. She b. abt 1842 in VT. In 1870 and 1880 they were living in Littleton NH. Children: (1) Samuel William, b. Feb 1863 in Littleton NH; in 1900 U.S. Infantry, 12th Reg. Co. C station in the Phillipines; (2) Herbert C., b. abt 1867; in 1930 a salesman for stock and boards living in Tyngsboro MA with wife Jane “Jennie” Redfield Kezar Brown. She b. 25 Nov 1870, dau of Rocaveous & Sarah Ellen (Bancroft) Brown. Also daughter Hazel (age 32 single teacher) living with them in 1930; (3) Carrie L. b. abt 1874 in NH; (4) Burns Plummer, b. 30 Dec 1875 in NH. He married 16 Jan 1901 to Annie L. Hackett of Biddeford ME. In 1903 he was living in Concord NH. From 1899 he was appointed Clerk of the United States Circuit Court for the district of NH, remaining in that position at least through March 1903. 2.+Francis Fletcher Hodgman, b. 1840 in Littleton NH, d. 4 March 1876 in Philadelphia PA; m. Lewella F. Woolson [see above] Oliver Hodgman, son of Benjamin & Elizabeth (Merriam) Hodgman was b. 1773, d. 1816. He married Pamela THOMPSON, dau of Moses & Keziah (Partridge) Thompson. She was b. 1777.
Children of Oliver & Pamela (Thompson) Hodgman:
1. Elmira Hodgman, b. 17 Aug 1801 in Stoddard NH; m1) Jonathan Jefts; m2) Thomas Wellman
2. +Francis Hodgman, 20 Dec 1808 in Stoddard NH [see above]
Francis Fletcher Hodgman, son of Francis & Mary Burns (Fletcher) Hodgman, b. 1840 in Littleton NH, d. 4 March 1876 in Philadelphia PA. He m 22 Sep 1863 to Lewella French Woolson, dau of Elijah Sabin & Hannah (Savage) Woolson. She was b. 22 Sep 1841 in Littleton NH, and d. 23 Jan 1917 in Cambridge MA. Francis F. Hodgeman was not only an apothecary and druggist but dealt in beaverhats and furs and was a watchmaker and jeweller as well. He ran a drugstore with his father, Francis, next to Thayer’s Hotel, Littleton,NH.
Children of Francis F. & Lewella F. (Woolson) Hodgman:
1. Fred C. Hodgman, b. 1864. He married about 1893 to Clara Brown, dau of
Albert & Sarah (Floyd) Brown. She was born 27 Aug 1863 in Springfield,
Windsor, Co VT. In 1910 they were living in Hopedale, Worcester Co. MA, he
being a foreman of a carpenter shop.
2. + Eleanor Emily Hodgson, b. 19 Dec 1868 in Littleton, Grafton Co., NH
[see biography above]