LIMA — It’s a poem that many of us know as a song — and a Christmas song, at that.
But that’s not its history.
“Over the river and through the wood” was a poem written by Lydia Maria Child. It was first published in her “Flowers for Children, Vol. 2,” in 1844 and was originally titled “A Boy’s Thanksgiving Day.” It reminisces of memories of Child visiting her grandfather’s house.
So, who was Child and why was her growing up so precious?
Child was born to Convers Francis and Susanna Rand Francis Feb. 11, 1802, in Medford, Mass. Her parents married in 1788 and Child was the youngest of her siblings, according to “History of Medford.” Her middle-class father was a Calvinist and a successful baker/businessman, according to the Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography.
She and her older brother, also named Convers, were of like intellectual minds. When she was 9 years old, he left home to attend Harvard. She wrote him religiously for years and continued to be close throughout their lives. While he was away, she continued to learn at the local schools and was given free reign to use her pastor’s library at the Congregational Church.
When her mother died and her close sister married, it was decided Child should go live in her sister’s household in Maine. While she was there, she was exposed to a Native American settlement — which would later become the subject of a fictional historical novel.
Child continued her studies and earned a teaching position in Gardiner, Maine, but returned to Massachusetts to be closer to family. Her beloved brother became a Unitarian minister, and she attended his church regularly although a quote attributed to her shows that she eventually found the group spiritually lacking.
Her book with Native American themes, “Hobomok: A Tale of Early Times” catapulted her to fame at the time and she soon started a children’s magazine.
In 1828, she married David Child, a lawyer and journalist. Her earnings would contribute greatly to their household, as she took hold of the everyman-type angle and published “The Frugal Housewife.” This was a book aimed at those women too poor to employ servants and was a success.
In 1831, William Lloyd Garrison started The Liberator, an abolitionist newspaper, and she began to write for the cause. She soon found herself pushing the line of what was acceptable with her “An Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called Africans,” published in 1833.
“I am fully aware of the unpopularity of the task I have undertaken,” she wrote in the introduction, “but though I expect ridicule and censure, it is not in my nature to fear them.”
Her response to a letter from the wife of Virginia Sen. James M. Mason is telling. Mrs. Mason wrote how nice the Southern ladies were to their slaves, even helping them give birth.
“… here in the North, after we have helped the mothers, we do not sell the babies.”
Her expectations of societal shunning were valid, but she continued to write from the liberal abolitionist viewpoint — even writing “Freedmen’s Book,” a reading primer for former slaves.
Child was also involved in the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association and spoke out against forcing the Cherokee west.
When Child died in 1880, abolitionist Wendell Phillips eulogized in a service at her Wayland, Mass., residence.
Child was “ready to die for a principle and starve for an idea,” he said. “We felt that neither fame, not gain, nor danger, nor calumny (slander) had any weight with her.”
Lydia Maria Child