Racially biased literature poured from the pens of postbellum writers whether they were primarily specialists in the sciences, humanities, or arts. Historian I.A. Newby has noted that the nation experienced an unprecedented inundation of anti-Negro literature between the years 1890 and 1920. 1 Writers for children veered between ambivalence and open hostility, writing for an audience that was perceived as exclusively White. It was understood that Black children could not be expected to enter the realm of the reading public. Such a presumption is clearly tied to a set of political expectations.
There can be little doubt that the Civil War was at the center of life and politics for most postbellum children’s writers. Moreover, it is significant that this particular conflict was not about a simple boundary dispute or some other typical form of rivalry; it was about the way an entire section of the human race was to be defined. Thus bitterness about the war became (on the Southern side) bitterness about people, and even emancipationist zeal on the Northern side could not rise above postwar biases bred of nonacquaintance with Black identity and culture. In this chapter, biographical details shed light upon why Blacks were excluded as an audience, yet included as fictional characters in works by postbellum authors. But the “Great Rebellion” itself is the central fact to keep in mind.
We will consider first the group of writers that directed their works primarily toward youngsters. Within this group, William T. Adams and Louise-Clarke Pyrnelle were professional teachers, at least for a time. Edward Stratemeyer and Martha Finley wrote children’s books as a business venture (although Finley also spent two years