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Originally published as: Sue Lynn McGuire, “The Little Colonel: A Phenomenon in Popular Literary Culture,” Register of the Kentucky Historical Society (Spring 1991), 121-46.

Permission given by the Register of the Kentucky Historical Society. Illustrations from the Willard Library, Evansville, Indiana, and the Department of Library Special Collections, Western Kentucky University and used with permission.

Abstract

Written by Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931), a set of twelve novels published between 1895 and 1912, influenced thousands of readers to emulate the main character, Lloyd Sherman, and her chums. As the rise of the “New Woman” found multi¬tudes of southern women fearful that such change would threaten the stability of the home, impressionable young readers idealized the Old South and accepted the selfless values which Johnston taught through the Little Colonel series. Drawing upon both her own experiences and those of her devoted audience, Johnston recorded life as she knew it and provides modern read¬ers with insight into the lives of upper-middle-class youths of the turn-of-the-century American South.

Disciplines

Architectural History and Criticism | Historic Preservation and Conservation | History of Gender | United States History | Women's History

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The Boston Transcript hailed Annie Fellows Johnston as “the most gifted and the most helpful of the present-day writers for young people.” The Kentuckian possessed “a rare gift in producing little stories in the nature of allegories full of spiritual significance and beauty.”

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Expressing gratitude to Johnston for her stories of the Little Colonel, one young admirer wrote from Tennessee, “where is the little girl that doesn’t aspire to higher ideals, when they read your books?”

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Girls were instructed to use their Little Colonel Good Times Record to write about pleasant happenings. Marjorie Clagett chose to record her life accurately when she penned: “There is something I must put down that isn’t good times at least for me.”

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Portraying themselves as “southern girls and about the age of your heroine in the Little Colonel series,” two readers told Johnston that her volumes “constantly call to mind our old Virginia home, Locust Grove, and the good times we use [sic] to have.”

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“Although modern readers question many of the values taught by Annie Fellows Johnston in the Little Colonel series, the impact of the literature on numerous turn-of-the-century children and succeeding generations cannot be doubted.”