"Over the river and through the woods" ... this standard winter holiday song is familiar to millions. Originally published Flowers for Children, Vol. 2 in 1844, the poem has long outshone the rest of the poems in that volume. And who wrote it?
A few will know that the author was a woman named Lydia Maria Child. Perhaps her name is even printed with the song's lyrics. But even if the name of the writer appears with the verses, few people today know or remember who Lydia Maria Child was.
She was one of the earliest American women to earn a living from her writing. She was known in her time as the writer of one of the most popular domestic advice books, The Frugal Housewife, later renamed The American Frugal Housewife to distinguish it from a similarly-named book published in England. She later published other popular advice books, including The Mother's Book and A Little Girl's Own Book.
Child also published Juvenile Miscellany, an early American magazine for children. It is in this volume that A Boy's Christmas first appeared.
Her earliest novel, Hobomok, was one of the first American novels to depict pioneer life. It was also notable for its sympathetic portrayal of a Native American hero.
When Maria (she detested the first name Lydia) turned to anti-slavery writing with her Appeal for the Class of Americans Called African, much of her devoted audience turned against her. She later edited the Anti-Slavery Standard and wrote a series of anti-slavery tracts. She edited the autobiography of ex-slave Harriet Jacobs. After the Civil War, she edited and published The Freedmen's Book for the education of newly-freed slaves.
She also turned to other topics, including a survey of the history of the world's religions and inspirational essays. In several later books, both fictional and political, she returned to issues of justice for Native Americans and African Americans.
Her most important contribution to history is probably The Appeal, but her little poem about winter holidays in New England is far better known today.
Child, Lydia Maria. Over the River and Through the Wood. Paperback, children's book, Iris Van Rynbach illustrator. 1992.
Text copyright 2000-2005 © Jone Johnson Lewis. All rights reserved.