Martha Finley

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Martha Finley (1828-1909), American teacher and author wrote the Elsie Dinsmore (1867) series.

Her Presbyterian upbringing was the source of inspiration for her life's work, piety, filial love and obedience main themes, especially in the Elsie books. Finley was a simple yet elegant woman who lived a quiet life, and there are few known details of it. She never married though she knew great love through her family and beloved readers, especially children, whom she often addresses at the beginning of her novels. At one time she had over 25 million readers combined in North America and England.

Martha Finley was born on 26 April, 1828 in Chillicothe, Ohio. Her parents were first cousins Dr. James Brown Finley, and Maria Theresa Brown. The Finley family moved to South Bend, Indiana in 1836. The Finley’s were affluent, and young Martha was educated at home by tutors, then attended various private schools.

Both her parents died in 1853, and Martha moved to New York and became a teacher. She later lived in Phoenixville as well as Philadelphia. While she was teaching she was also developing her writing skills and her first successes were for a newspaper and Sunday School Stories in a Presbyterian publication. She was fairly young when sickness laid her up and she was hard put to support herself. The idea of her Elsie Dinsmore character came to her during prayers, as an answer to her plight. The success of her first Elsie Dinsmore story brought on a surge of demand for sequels by her fans and publisher, until Finley produced 28 volumes in the series.

Elsie Dinsmore, whose mother died while giving birth to her, is introduced at the age of eight living on her grandfather's plantation. `Aunt Chloe', her black nurse, instils Christian values and morals in her, and often the outcast Elsie prays for patience with her tormentors who mistreat and bully her. When she is reunited with her father returning from Europe he turns a cold shoulder from misunderstanding, and only though her trials of obedience to Jesus and the Sabbath and tests of her will does she earn his love. Elsie goes on the marry one of her father's friends, Mr. Travilla, and her stories follow her through marriage and motherhood.

"She poured out her story of sins and sorrows, in simple, child-like words, into the ear of the dear Saviour whom she loved so well; confessing that when she had done well and suffered for it, she had not taken it patiently, and earnestly pleading that she might be made like unto the meek and lowly Jesus." - From Elsie Dinsmore (1867)

During the Civil War and until 1874 Finley travelled between New York and Philadelphia. When her school was destroyed during the war, she moved to Bedford, Pennsylvania to live with her sister and an aunt. In 1876 Finley's health was failing and she visited relatives in Elkton, Maryland, but soon made it her home too. Finley's ill health didn't stop her from writing, often from her bed. She died in 1909 in Elkton, Cecil County, Maryland and is buried in the Elkton Cemetery.

Biography written by C.D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc 2005. All Rights Reserved.

The above biography is copyrighted. Do not republish it without permission.

Recent Forum Posts on Martha Finley

The Original Mildred

I haven't read the modern Millie Keith series. However, I HAVE read the 19th-century original novels, in which she's generally referred to more formally as "Mildred." In the original books Mildred is a distant "poor cousin" to the Dinsmores. She's at least 15 years older than Elsie, being in her mid-teens at the time of Elsie's birth. In the first book Mildred's lawyer father moves the family to Pleasant Plains, Indiana, a rather primitive pioneer town. Mildred, though a good Christian girl, has some faults---most notably her pride, which causes her to look down on the country bumpkin neighbors. Several of the young men try to court her, but she has no use for any of them. Then one of the rejected suitors--- a blacksmith---- suffers a terrible injury and has to have his hand amputated! Mildred, pitying him greatly, is kind enough to sit by his side, giving him moral support, while the grisly surgery is performed. After that, the two of them become friends. But not lovers, since Mildred really does need someone on her own intellectual level. In the second book she goes to visit the rich relations at Roselands. There she falls under some bad influences. Mrs. Dinsmore----Elsie's unpleasant step-grandmother---urges Mildred to start enjoying more worldly pleasures. Pretty soon the young girl succumbs. She even goes dancing, which Martha Finley considers a most diabolical pastime! But Mildred's conscience later reproaches her, and she gives up these "unseemly" activities. Elsie is introduced as a 4-year-old child, whom Mildred befriends and tries to protect from Mrs. Dinsmore's cruelty. And by the end of the book Mildred has fallen in love with Charlie Landreth, a very nice young man but not a Christian. The third book concerns Mildred's moral dilemma. Should she marry the godless man that she loves, or one of her more acceptable Christian suitors? In the end Charlie converts, so that she's glad that she waited so long for him. Book four begins with the pair as newlyweds, paying a visit to Horace Dinsmore and 12-year-old Elsie. Book five is interesting, because it centers on one of Mildred's brothers----Rupert Keith---who goes out West during the Gold Rush. En route he is captured by Indians! He later escapes, assisted by a beautiful Spanish girl. Their subsequent marriage is very romantic, and I'm pleasantly surprised that Martha Finley would have sanctioned anything so unconventional. Book 6 is all about the Civil War, in which Mildred's elder son serves. And she and Charlie give sanctuary to some runaway slaves; unlike the Dinsmores, they are Abolitionists at heart. These books are more down-to-earth than the Elsie series. If Elsie's the fairy tale princess, Mildred's the real girl who works hard, loves her family, and tries to do right. She's less angelic than Elsie, having a real temper and a certain amount of arrogance to overcome. In way, I prefer her to Elsie. She's a character, I think, that more girls can relate to. Though I haven't read the new revised "Millie," I gather that the modern series differs a great deal from the old. What's Mildred like in the new books? Does she interact with Elsie at all? Is the plotline the same? Being unable to find the new books here, I have no means of comparison, and I'm kind of curious!

Elsie Dinsmore, Violet Travilla and the Millie Keith Series

This is sad... no one has posted anything in this sub forum. I have long been a fan of the Elsie Dinsmore series. But I first read the abridged version. I always had the preconceived biasness for unabridged books. But in this case, having read the abridged versions first, I judge it to be a lot (actually, HEAPSSSSS!!!) better than the original written by Miss Finley. I was never more surprised in my life. :nod: I can refer to the website of the Elsie, Violet and Millie Series. It is really, really good. They have some snippets of the books (btw, the books are handsomely bound. Hardcover, with the heroines themselves on the front.) I love it! But, .... I will leave the website to do the talking. ;) It's a must visit. And a wonderful present for any girl. no matter how old. It's one of those timeless classics. :banana:

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