Annie Ketchum Dunning (Nellie Grahame)

The fragments of information available about Annie Ketchum Dunning's life suggest that writing and religion were important elements in her early (as well as later) years. She was born November 2, 1831, in New York City, to Hiram (1792-1870) and Anne Dow Ketchum (1802-1885). [1] Appleton's describes her father, an attorney, as "a politician of some distinction." [2] Although he never held office, he was active in politics, an ardent supporter of the Whig party and of Daniel Webster, who considered him an advisor and friend. During the 1850s and 1860s, Hiram Ketchum's name appeared regularly on the front page of the New York Times, often in connection with his speeches at rallies and similar events. [3] He was also adept at writing, and his (front-page) obituary noted that "his nom de plume, 'A Whig from the Start,' was well known throughout the country as representing an able and vigorous pen which had few equals in political argumentation." [4]

As befit the daughter of a prominent attorney, Anne was well educated, "in private schools in New York, and was for several years a pupil of John S. C. Abbott." [5] John Abbott, of course, was an author in his own right as well as brother to series author Jacob Abbott, who would have been firmly established in his writing career during Anne's school days.

Little is known about Anne's home life. She was the third of nine children and grew up with a sister two years older than she, four younger brothers, and a sister fourteen years her junior. [6] Her birth order and the size of the family suggest she had playmates and practice at entertaining younger children.

Both of Anne's parents appear to have been religious. In 1858, Hiram Ketchum was one of a group of "influential clergy" and "prominent laymen" involved in meetings "to consider what measures could and should be adopted to arrest the progress of sabbath desecration." [7] Anne's mother was the daughter of clergyman Daniel Dow. Reverend Dow, a Yale graduate, served as minister to the Congegrational Church in Thompson, Connecticut, for fifty-three years. He was so valued that after he died suddenly in 1849, the church selected his replacement solely on the basis of "a chance word left by Doctor Dow." [8] As one church history explains, Dr. Dow's comment "led to the immediate choice of his successor, the first and only candidate, Reverend Andrew Dunning, of Brunswick, Maine." Dunning, a Bowdoin graduate, had held a pastorate in Plainfield a few years earlier; he appears to have been a widower with a 3-year old daughter (Maria?) when he came to Thompson. The same church history describes him as "Lovely in person and character, eminently prudent, peace-loving, sound in judgment, able in discourse." [9]

Dunning's background and character are of interest because on December 12, 1855, approximately five years after he became the minister of Thompson's Congregational church, he married Annie Ketchum. She was twenty-three; he was thirty-nine, with a nine-year-old child. [10] According to her entry in Appleton's, Annie Ketchum Dunning began writing in 1857 "to supplement [her husband's] small salary" and "then became a writer for the Presbyterian board of publication." Her decision may have been prompted by their growing family: their daughter, Annie Dunning, was born August 15, 1857; their son, Robert Andrew, on July 24, 1862. [11] The 1860 census shows the household included not just the couple and their children but also Rev. Dunning's sister (who also appears with the household in 1870 and 1880, suggesting she may have made it a permanent residence) and a 16-year-old girl, Margaret Ross (who may have been a servant). ad for Dunning's books

Annie Ketchum Dunning's first book, Clementina's Mirror; or, Six Glimpses of Life, was issued by in 1858 by Sheldon & Co., who also handled some of Jacob Abbott's series. Like her subsequent publications, it bore the pseudonym Nellie Grahame. [12]

Most of Dunning's series books (and the majority of her other works) were written for the Presbyterian Board of Publication. Judging by the titles, they were typical of the didactic fare issued by religious presses. The earliest linked volumes may be semi-autobiographical: Little Annie's first thoughts about God (1860) and Little Annie's first Bible lessons (1863). From 1864-66, she published a string of books sometimes classified as The girl who..." series. Rather than having shared characters, the books' only unifying device appears to be the title structure: a character's name for the main title, and "The girl who" (or, in some cases, "The little girl who") as the start of the subtitle followed by a character asset or flaw (i.e., Mary Raymond; or, The girl who wanted to be a Christian; Carrie Trueman; or, The girl who disobeyed her parents). A contemporaneous series for boys adopts the same design (Charlie Evans; or, The boy who could not keep his temper , etc.). Her ten-volume "Stories for the little ones" from 1868 also seems to lack a common element other than format, but two later offerings, Letting Down the Bars (5 vols., 1881-82) and What To Do (3 vols., ca1883), may utilize a more traditional series pattern.

As the dates of her series indicate, Dunning's writing spanned three decades. Her last book appears to be Broken Pitchers from 1887. During those decades, she provided a home not only for her family but also (as of the 1870 census) for Andrew's invalid brother. Widowed in 1872, she was still sharing her home with her step-daughter and sister-in-law in 1880 (as well as with her daughter, a schoolteacher). She died April 28, 1896. [13]


[1] Information about the Ketchum family is from "Ancestry World Tree: ferris" via

[2] "Dunning, Annie Ketchum," Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, vol. 2 (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1886).

[3] For examples of a few front-page stories where Hiram Ketchum's presence or words receive particular attention, see "Scott Ratification Meeting," New York Daily Times, June 25, 1852; "Religious Liberty: Meeting at the Tabernacle," New York Daily, Jan. 27, 1854; "The Union Forever! Immense Demonstration in This City," New York Times, April 21, 1861.

[4] "Hiram Ketchum," New York Times, September 17, 1870: 1. Ketchum's obituary is also the source for information about his friendship with Webster; it is also acknowledged in George Ticknor Curtis's Life of Daniel Webster (Appleton, 1870), which names him among the "dear and cherished friends of Mr. Webster" and later refers to him as an "intimate and much-loved friend of Mr. Webster" (x, 404).

[5] Appleton's.

[6] "Ancestry World Tree: ferris. " The family's first child, a son, died the year before Anne was born. Another brother, born when she was eight, lived only nine months. The relevant dates for Anne's siblings are: Matthew Franklin (Nov. 22, 1827-Sept. 7, 1830), Cornelia (Sept 22, 1829-Apr 21, 1891), Hiram II (Nov 3, 1834-Nov. 28, 1898), William Amos (Feb. 3, 1836-Apr. 22, 1882), Landon (Jan. 6-Sept. 23, 1839), Lewis (29 Oct 1840- ?), Edmund (Mar 1 1843-?), and Arabella (ca1845-?). Arabella's date of birth is estimated from her age in the 1850 census.

[7] "First Day, Seventh Day, Sabbath or Sunday in New York," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Feb. 6, 1858: 2.

[8] Information about the Dow family is derived from the charts in "Ancestry World Tree: Ancestors of Allan Haberkorn" via Daniel Dow's background and ministry are described in "History of Churches in Thompson, Connecticut" from (or based on) Richard M. Bayles, History of Windham County, Connecticut (New York: W.W. Preston, 1889) at Windham County, Connecticut, Genealogy.

[9] Quoted material from "History of Churches in Thompson, Connecticut". Information about Dunning's daughter -- and his presumed status as a widower -- is from his entry in the 1850 census.

[10] The marriage date is from "Ancestry World Tree: ferris," which also shows Dunning's birth and death dates as July 11, 1815-March 25, 1872.

[11] Ibid.

[12] At least one later book, Theodore (1871) used another pseudonym (in that case, "A true Baptist"), and a few titles were issued under her own name (Mrs. A. K. Dunning).

[13] "Ancestry World Tree: ferris." It is a sign of how little is actually known about Dunning that family genealogies are the only source for even the year of her death.

Return to main page

Copyright 2005 - Deidre Johnson -- Please do not reproduce on other sites without permission