Totally Mahony, not Seaman.


I just came across a pretty major mis-attribution of a quotation in an article by a very well-known scholar of children’s book publishing and library services. If I didn’t happen to have the original source of the quotation sitting in front of me (the Horn Book, August, 1928), then I would never have noticed it.

I’m wondering, however, if the mis-attribution is, in itself, a sign regarding the early network of women who produced and distributed the female junior novels. The author states that Louise Seaman (of Macmillan, who was the first editor of children’s books in America) said something that Bertha Mahony (of the Bookshop for Boys and Girls, and the creator of the Horn Book) first wrote in the Horn Book in 1928. Mahony and Seaman (as well as Anne Carroll Moore, Alice Jordan, May Massee, and Elinor Whitney, among others) composed the first generation of this female network. The quotation itself refers to the publishing side of the network:

We do not mean to depreciate or minimize the splendid publishing of books which men have done but we do believe that men (with few exceptions) have been baffled and groping where children’s books are concerned and that they have not had the vision to shape their organization so that the right people have had the necessary time for these books. There seems every natural reason why women, properly qualified, should be particularly successful in the selection of children’s books to publish and their publishing.


Here’s the thing: Seaman would never have written this statement. She was all like, “hey, George Brett. My role as a children’s editor is based on my qualifications, experiences, and publishing abilities, not on any “natural” ability to work with children.” Mahony, conversely, was more like Moore and Jordan, and tended to still reside in the females-can-excel-in-work-with-children-because-they-possess-“natural”-abilities-to-do-so camp.

So here’s my spin: perhaps the fact that the author of this article confuses something written by Mahony for something written by Seaman demonstrates the degree to which these women worked across disciplines in an effort to create and promote children’s literature. Perhaps, to some degree, the network itself obfuscates the individual women who participated in it.

Or, you know, maybe the author just made a mistake.

[for a crazily-well researched look into the early members of this network, see Jacalyn Eddy’s Bookwomen: Creating an Empire in Children’s Book Publishing 1919-1939.]