Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

Barbara Claassen Smucker (1915-2003): A Tribute

Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

Barbara Claassen Smucker (1915-2003): A Tribute

Article excerpt

Barbara Claassen Smucker, born in 1915 in Newton, Kansas, descends from remarkable forebears. One of her grandmothers marched and carried a hatchet, along with Carry Nation and other women temperance leaders, into the bars of frontier Wichita, Kansas to fight "demon rum." Her Claassen grandparents were part of the great emigration of Dutch/Prussian/Russian Mennonites to the western prairies of the United States and Canada in the 1870s. Is it any wonder, then, that her books for children are saturated with a sense of justice and a deep empathy for oppressed persons?

Best known among Mennonite readers are her Henry's Red Sea and Days of Terror. Many of us have heard Barbara relate how she began to write historical fiction for children. While she and her husband Donovan were at Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Chicago, they once invited Peter and Elfrieda Dyck to their home for a meal. The three Smucker children, usually eager to escape adult conversation, stayed at the table, listening spellbound to the Dycks' stories of Mennonites escaping persecution following the Russian revolution. Barbara realized that those stories should reach a wider audience. Henry's Red Sea, published by Herald Press in 1955, was the first of her twelve books.

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Best known among non-Mennonite, especially Canadian, readers is her Underground to Canada, published in the United States as Runaway to Freedom. In the turbulent 1960s, while Donovan was president of a black college in Mississippi, Barbara taught at a nearby all-black high school. …

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