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Name Speare, Elizabeth George
Pseudonym
Born / Died 1908–1994
Scope

The Elizabeth George Speare collection consists of manuscripts, correspondence, and photographs.

Manuscripts by Speare in the collection include Calico Captive (Houghton Mifflin, 1957); The Witch of Blackbird Pond (Houghton Mifflin, 1958); The Bronze Bow (Houghton Mifflin, 1961); Life in Colonial America (Houghton Mifflin, 1963); and The Ice Glen (Houghton Mifflin, 1967).

Correspondence in the collection consists of five letters to Speare from her publishers, Houghton Mifflin (1957-1966).

Photographs in the collection consist of three prints of Speare with family members and officials at the 1959 Newbery Caldecott Award Dinner.

To view Elizabeth George Speare holdings in other collections, click here.

Biography

A former teacher who enjoyed success as an author of historical novels for children and young adults, Elizabeth George Speare (1908 - 1994) received numerous awards and prizes for her writings, including two Newberry Medals from the American Library Association.

Elizabeth George was born on November 21, 1908 in Melrose, Massachusetts, one of two children and the only daughter of engineer Harry Allan George and his wife, the former Demetria Simmons. She was raised in Massachusetts and briefly attended Smith College before transferring to Boston University from which she received two degrees, a bachelor's in 1930 and a master's in 1932. Following her graduate work, she accepted a position as a high school teacher in Rockland, Massachusetts where she remained for three years before accepting a teaching job in Auburn in 1935. By that time, she had become engaged to Alden Speare and she gave up her teaching career when the couple married in September 1936 and relocated to Connecticut.

As early as age eight, Speare had written short stories and poetry and she was particularly close with one of her female cousins who shared her fascination for the literary. When her family held annual reunions, the two young girls would find a quiet place and exchange the notebooks filled with tales, continuing the practice up to their college days.

After her marriage, Speare put aside her literary aspirations and concentrated on raising her son and daughter. By the time the children were in junior high school, though, she began in earnest to concentrate on her writing career. Initially, she wrote first-person articles about family trips or meetings. For American Heritage magazine, she wrote a fact-based article on two sisters in 18th-century Connecticut who refused to pay taxes only to have their land repossessed. The piece later served as the basis for the television special Abby, Julia and the Cows (1958).

In the course of doing research for a project, Speare discovered an early 18th-century diary which recounted the ordeal faced by the diarist and her family when they were captured by Native Americans and eventually sold to French traders. Inspired by this story, Speare crafted her first novel, Calico Captive (Houghton Miflin, 1957). While some found the work predictable with stereotypical characters, other critics were effulgent in their praise, particularly for Speare's storytelling.

Her second novel -- and perhaps her best known -- was The Witch of Blackbird Pond (Houghton Miflin, 1958), in which she depicted the unlikely friendship between a teenage girl from Barbados and a Quaker woman. Set in Wethersfield, Connecticut (where the author made her home), the book depicted how the heroine, Kit Tyler, was perceived as "odd" and "different" because of her upbringing and her flaunting of local conventions. The locals with their puritan heritage branded her a witch, leading to a trial. The novel received critical acclaim and earned Speare her first Newberry Medal.

Three years later, Speare received a second Newberry Medal for her book The Bronze Bow (Houghton Mifflin, 1961), which featured a male protagonist. This ambitious novel, set in Biblical times, featured a teenage Galilean seeking revenge for the death of his parents at the hands of the occupying Romans. He encounters a disparate group of individuals, including Jesus who teaches the youth about forgiveness and acceptance.

Speare next produced the nonfiction study Life in Colonial America (Random House, 1963) and then tried her hand at an adult novel with The Prospering (Houghton Mifflin, 1967). Again using historical fact as its basis, that novel focused on a Massachusetts family that attempted to "westernize" local Native Americans in the belief it would be in their best interest.

Her last published novel was The Sign of the Beaver (Houghton Mifflin, 1983), which centered on a thirteen-year-old left in charge of his family homestead who receives assistance in survival from a local Native American. Speare earned a Newberry Honor Medal for that book.

In 1989, Speare was presented with the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal for "distinguished, enduring contribution to children's literature" and cited her "vitality and energy, grace of writing, historical accuracy, and tremendous feeling for place and character."

Elizabeth George Speare died of an aortic aneurysm on November 15, 1994 in Tucson, Arizona at the age of 84. She was survived by her husband and her two children.

Library of Congress Subject Headings Women authors, American.
Photographs.
Children's literature, American -- 20th century.
American literature -- Women authors.

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