Follen, Eliza Lee Cabot, 1787-1860

Titles by this author
The pedler of dust sticks

Follen, a reformer and juvenile author, was active in Boston's literary and religious life. One of thirteen children born to Samuel and Sally Barrett Cabot, Eliza Lee Cabot Follen enjoyed the stimulating social and intellectural environment assured by her family's prominence (Moe 58). She showed unusual intellectual ability at a young age, and due to her distinguished family connections, she was in contact with the leading people of Boston (Kunit and Haycraft 279). She was a follower of William E. Channing and taught in his Unitarian Sunday School. She married Charles Follen, a German refugee in 1828. He was the first German professor at Harvard College, but his appointment was not renewed, possibly due to his anti-slavery campaigns. During their Harvard years, the couple became friends with Harriet Martineau and were avid supporters of the antislavery cause (Moe 58). Her husband died in 1840 after an attempt at preaching which failed when anti-abolitionists demanded his removal.

Follen moved to West Roxbury Massuchusetts where she earned her living primarily by writing. She edited the Christian Teachers' Manual (1828 - 1830) and the Child's Friend (1843-1850). She also edited Gammer Grethel (1840), the first American edition of Grimm's fairy tales. Of her poems, plays, and stories for children, her first and most popular was The Well Spent Hour (1827 - 1828). In this story, a nine year old girl learns through benevolence and self-control the meaning of a sermon text. Readers were drawn to the story by Follen's gentle tone and benevolent understanding of childhood. The story was continued in a sequel entitled The Birthday (1832) which examines financial struggle within the child's family. Follen has been most celebrated for her short tales such as True Stories about Dogs and Cats (1855) and The Pedler of Dust Sticks (1855). Although her children's verse is not well-known, she was an innovator in her decision to discard the harsh and morbid verse more characteristic of the early Nineteenth Century. Her poetry was meant to give more pleasure than instruction and she intended to capture some of the pleasant natured nonsense and musicality of nursery rhymes (Moe 59).

Before her death on January 26, 1860 in Brookline, Massachusetts, she published The Works of Charles Follen, with a Memoir of His Life, 5 vols (1841 - 1842). This was a sympathetic but unsentimental treatment of her husband's live. Follen has been described as a woman of religious and moral conviction, and she is remembered for bringing a concern for the tastes of children to American children's literature in the pre-Civil War period (Moe 60).

Moe, Phyllis. American Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide from Colonial Times to the Present. Vol. 2. Eds.Lina Mainiero and Langdon Lynne Faust. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1980. (58-60).

Kunitz, Stanley J. and Howard Haycraft, ed. American Authors 1600 - 1900. New York: Wilson, 1938. (279).

Other Sources:

Elizabeth Bancroft Schlesinger, "Two Early Harvard Wives: Eliza Farrar and Eliza Follen." New England Quarterly, 38 (June 1965): 141-167.

Myerson, Joel ed. The American Rennaissance in New England. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Bruccoli, 1978 (64).

Written by Stephen Rachman