Lydia Maria Francis Child
Lydia Maria Francis Child was a popular cookbook writer as well as the author of now-famous and much-loved Thanksgiving poem.
Life and Times
Lydia Maria Francis Child lived from 11 February 1802 to 20 October 1880.
She was the author of “The Frugal Housewife”, a book aimed at poorer housewives who didn’t have servants (e.g. the vast majority of women in the world.) It was an attempt at a scientific approach to housekeeping and cooking, focussed on how to save money and time. By 1930, the full title had become: “The American Frugal Housewife, Dedicated to Those Who Are Not Ashamed of Economy.” She is perhaps best remembered for a poem she published in 1844, “A Boy’s Thanksgiving Day.”
She was strongly opposed to slavery. Among her friends were Charles Sumner, Edgar Allan Poe, John Greenleaf Whittier, and William Ellery Channing.
Lydia was born in Medford, Massachusetts (the same town that Fannie Farmer would be born in 1857.) Her parents were David Convers Francis, a baker, and Susannah Rand Francis. She was the youngest of six children. The family lived in a white stuccoed house on the corner of Salem and Ashland Streets. She was educated at a local girls school. She hated her first name, and always went by “Maria” outside of print.
- 1820s — Lydia published two novels, “Hobomak” and “The Rebel.”
- 1824 — Lydia met David Child, a Harvard graduate in law, and the editor and publisher of the Massachusetts Journal.
- 1827 — Lydia became engaged to David Child.
- 1828 — Lydia married David Child. Through their lives, David spent a lot of time of political causes, but didn’t make much money. It was Lydia’s work that brought in all the money.
- 1829 — Publication of The Frugal Housewife in Boston by Carter and Hendee.
- 1830 — Despite the book’s success, Lydia and David were still deeply in debt.
- 1830 — She began editing a children’s magazine called “Juvenile Miscellany.”
- 1833 — Published a book called “An Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called Africans.” This caused the marketability of her name to drop. She was considered a radical in Boston and lost her membership in the Boston Athenaeum. She had to give up editing her magazine, and her career never recovered.
- 1836 — Published a novel, “Pilothea.”
- 1841 — Lydia moved to New York to manage the National Anti-Slavery Standard newspaper for 2 years
- 1843 — Lydia publishes in book form a collection of her weekly columns from the newspaper, called “Letters from New York.”
- 1844 — Publishes “Flowers for Children”, Volume 1 and Volume 2. In volume 2 carried her now-famous poem, “A Boy’s Thanksgiving Day.”
- During the last half of the 1840s, Lydia became disenchanted with the anti-slavery cause owing to all the political infighting amongst different factions, but by the 1850s she was back at it again with many tracts published.
- 1852 — She and David move to a farm at Wayland, Massachusetts
Child continued to be active over the next 30 years, in various causes and in writing. She died on 20 October 1880, aged 78, at home at Old Sudbury Road in Wayland, Massachusetts, and was bured in North Cemetery in Wayland.
Literature & Lore
“Over the river, and through the wood,
to Grandfather’s house we go;
the horse knows the way to carry the sleigh
through the white and drifted snow.” — Lydia Maria Child. In “Flowers for Children”. C.S. Francis & Co., New York. Vol. 2, 1844.
Theroux, Alexander. The Home of ‘Jingle Bells’. New York: New York Times. 27 December 1981.