Joyce W. Warren
Born Sara Payson Willis in Portland, Maine, on July 9, 1811, Fanny Fern was the fifth of the nine children of Nathaniel and Hannah (Parker) Willis. The family moved to Boston when Fern was an infant, and in 1816 her father began printing the Boston Recorder, the first religious newspaper in the United States; in 1827, he founded the Youth's Companion, the first children's periodical in the country. Although her father was a professional newspaperman, Fern claimed that any talent she had for writing was inherited from her mother, who, she said, "talked poetry unconsciously" ( New Story Book10-13). She described her father, a converted Calvinist and deacon of the Park Street Church, as a sober man who cast a pall on the household ( Ethel Parton, "Fanny Fern"23). As a child, Fern rebelled against her father's attempts to convert her to Calvinism, and throughout her career she wrote on the cruelty of bringing up children in an oppressive and fearful religious atmosphere. In an effort to bring his spirited and rebellious daughter to a religious conversion, Willis sent her to a series of boarding schools. Consequently, Fern remained in school longer than any of her sisters and longer than most other women of the time, graduating from Catharine Beecher's Hartford Female Seminary in 1831 when she was almost twenty.
Although she did not come to conversion, Fern did receive an excellent education. According to her society's construction of women, however, her real education did not begin until she returned to her father's house, to learn, as she later said in one of her newspaper articles, the domestic arts of "bread-making and button-hole stitching" ( New York Ledger, 26 February 1870). While at home, she also helped out her father, writing articles and proofreading copy for