Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931), American author of juvenile fiction wrote the Little Colonel series.
Hattie Cochrane (1891-1975), a friend of Johnston's would become the model for her character Little Colonel, a precocious young girl growing up in aristocratic Kentucky prone to bullying and temper tantrums. The series brought fame to the Pewee Valley and inspired a movie starring Shirley Temple and Lionel Barrymore. Young girls all over America were writing her letters of appreciation and devouring her books, which went on to sell over a million copies and were translated to many languages. They illustrate the social and moral tone of the times in Old Louisville and beyond. Johnston touched the hearts of many with her semi-biographical characters including The Old Colonel, Mom Beck, Papa Jack, Mrs. Sherman, Aunt Allison, and The Waltons, based on so many people in her real life.
Annie Julia Fellows Johnston was born on 15 May 1863 in Evansville, Indiana. Her mother was Mary Erskine Fellows and her father Albion Fellows was a Methodist minister who died when she was just two years old. Annie and her two sisters Lura and Albion (and later her brother Erwin) settled with their mother near her grandparent's farm in MacCutchenville, near Evansville.
At an early age Annie was expressive of her imagination and sensitive to her surroundings and the people in it, of which she observed in her many poems and stories. She was a voracious reader, attended Sunday school, and at the age of seventeen taught at the district school. She then went on to attend the University of Iowa. Back in Evansville she was a public school teacher. After some months spent travelling in Europe with her sister she married her cousin, widower William Johnston (d.1892). He had three children, though she never had any of her own. Her husband had encouraged her to write and submit her work to various magazines. Her first novel Big Brother was published in 1894.
Whilst visiting Pewee Valley, Kentucky (where she would settle at "The Beeches" in 1899) Johnston found inspiration for her characters and setting in The Little Colonel (1895). Two Little Knights of Kentucky (1899), The Little Colonel's House Party (1900), The Little Colonel's Holiday (1901), The Little Colonel's Hero (1902), The Little Colonel at Boarding School (1904), The Little Colonel in Arizona (1904), The Desert of Waiting (1905), The Little Colonel's Christmas Vacation (1905), The Little Colonel: Maid of Honor (1906), Legend of the Bleeding Heart (1907), Little Colonel's Knight Comes Riding (1907), The Little Colonel's Chum: Mary Ware (1908) (Ware based on Johnston's sister Albion), The Rescue of the Princess Winsome (1908) a verse play, Mary Ware in Texas (1910), Mary Ware's Promised Land (1912), Miss Santa Clause of the Pullman (1913), Georgina of the Rainbows (1916), and Georgina's Service Stars (1918) were titles to follow during her prolific and successful career.
Though Johnston was dealt tragedy in her life (in 1899 her stepdaughter Rena died, and stepson John contracted tuberculosis and died in 1910) she continued to produce the Little Colonel series and affect a positive influence on her readers. The Land of the Little Colonel: Reminiscence and Autobiography was published in 1929. She died on 5 October 1931 and lies buried at the Oak Hill Cemetery of Evansville, Indiana.
Biography written by C.D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc 2006. All Rights Reserved.
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