Louise Millicent Thurston

Another biographical cipher who enjoyed brief success as a series author is Louise M. Thurston.

Louisa Millicent Thurston was born in Lancaster, Massachusetts, September 19, 1842, to Wilder Stoddard Thurston (1806-1883) and Rosanna Melicent Pierce (1817-1846). [1] She grew up with two sisters: Clara Wilder (b. June 19, 1838) and Ellen Elizabeth (b. March 31, 1845). Her mother died of consumption when Louisa was four. Shortly after her sixth birthday, her father remarried, but that stepmother, Caroline M. Laughton Thurston, died of consumption only thirteen months later. [2] On September 29, 1852 (the day after his previous wedding anniversary), Louise's father again remarried, this time to Susan Dodge, who had been part of the household since at least June 1850. [3] Years later, Thurston's series fiction would show the importance of siblings and friends along with the instability of the nuclear family, and it is tempting to speculate that her own childhood was one influence for such plots.

Although the family may have experienced emotional hardships, census records indicate Louisa's father was flourishing financially. In 1850, he was listed as a "merchant," with real estate valued at $6,000. The family may have taken in boarders, for in addition to the three girls and Susan Dodge, the household included five other occupants -- 54-year-old Benjamin Morse, a manufacturer; 60-year-old Benjamin F. Tidd, a farmer, and his wife Nancy; Timothy Hager, age 19, a laborer; and 75-year-old Isabella Ingelsbee. The Thurstons moved to Lynn, Massachusetts, in 1857, and by 1860, Wilder S. Thurston, now "a trader," had real estate valued at $18,000 and personal property worth an additional $8,000. Louisa's older sister Clara was employed as a teacher at a "com [?] school," and the family still had boarders -- three salesmen, ages 17 to 26 -- as well as a domestic servant. By 1870, the household had shrunk to three, with only Louisa left at home. Wilder, listed as a "grocer," owned real estate valued at $45,000 and personal property at $6,000. Louisa, following in her sister's footsteps, was now a teacher.

Between the 1860 and 1870 census, a number of changes had taken place in the family. Louisa's older sister Clara married Thomas E. Fry in October, 1862, and the couple moved to New York, then to Chicago by 1870. Her younger sister Ellen married Myron Leonard circa 1868; by 1870, she, too, was living in Chicago with her husband and his relatives. [4]

Forrest Mills In May 1867, in an attempt to acquire more material for Sunday-School libraries, the Sunday-school Society held a competition offering three cash prizes (or premiums) "for the best three manuscripts of books calculated for Unitarian Sunday-school libraries and adapted to children under ten years of age." Twenty-nine manuscripts were submitted, and "Miss Louise M. Thurston [of] Lynn, Mass." received the third premium -- $25 -- for Forrest Mills: A Peep at Child-Life from Within. The book was published by the Sunday-School Society in 1868. Why she -- or the publishers -- chose to alter her name from Louisa to Louise is not known, nor is it known whether the committee awarding the prizes was aware that the second-place manuscript -- Little Spendid's Vacation "By Mrs. C. W. T. Fry, Chicago, Ill." -- was the work of her older sister. [5]

Louisa's only other book publications were the four volumes in the Charley Roberts series. How Charley Roberts Became a Man was issued in 1870. No author was named: the book was published as "By the author of 'Forrest Mills'--a prize story"; the second volume, How Eva Roberts Gained Her Education, carried the same attribution. Lee & Shepard's publicity for the series, however, did include the author's name, advertising it as "Miss Louise M. Thurston's Charley Roberts Series" and the fourth volume listed her as author. The series was generally well-received: Godey's Lady's Book praised the first two volumes as "entertaining and instructive stories," and the reviewer in Catholic World called the third volume "an excellent story," adding that "The characters are full of life." [6] Thurston's sisters' influence was evident in at least one aspect of the series. Not only was book three, Charley and Eva's Home in the West, set in Chicago, but it was dedicated to "Sister Nellie, whose dear companionship made 'home' for my childhood, and whose holier wifehood sweetens and brightens one 'home in the west'."

Although Louisa's older sister Clara seems to have stopped publishing after her first book (restricting her writing to poems for social events), her younger sister Ellen supposedly was "an occasional contributor to the Christian Register, etc." [7] Like Ellen, Louisa also apparently wrote for periodicals, including "Chicago Magazines, Ladies' Repository, [and] The Commonwealth" [8] No record of any articles signed by Thurston has been found in the online archives of Ladies' Repository, but she did contribute at least one story to The Chicago Fashion Magazine -- "Lame Betsy's Story," in the August 1871 issue. [9]

Although advertisements in the fourth volume of the Charley Roberts series stated that the series was "to be completed in six volumes," the remaining titles never materialized and Louisa Thurston's activities after 1872 remain a mystery. The 1880 census showed a "Louise M. Thurston," a high school teacher, living in a boarding house in Boston; despite a minor discrepancy, this is probably Louisa Thurston. She may also have been the same Louise M. Thurston "special assistant, Bowdoin," who was nominated for the school board in 1885. [10] After her father's death in 1883, she and her stepmother remained in the family home until about 1889, when she moved to Winchester. She died February 15, 1917, and is buried in the family plot in Middle Cemetery, Lancaster, Massachusetts. [11]

For a more detailed biography of Thurston with discussion of her work, please see my "'She had ceased to offer her stories for publication': Louise M. Thurston and the Unfinished Charley Roberts Series" available as a pdf at West Chester University's Digital Commons.


[1] Most of the genealogical information about the Thurston family is from Richard L. Pierce, Thomas Pierce of Charlestown, Mass." Rootsweb's WorldConnect Project, a crucial resource in reconstructing Thurston's life. Her place of birth is from Henry S. Nourse, Lancastriana: A Bibliography (Lancaster: n.p., 1901): 42.

[2] Pierce. Cause of death from The Birth, Marriage, and Death Register, Church Records and Epitaphs of Lancaster, Massachusetts and Deaths In Lancaster, Mass., 1843 to 1849. Note that the latter has a transcription error for Rosanna Thurston.

[3] Pierce; Nourse, 13; 1850 US Census.

[4] Pierce; 1870 US Census.

[5] "Publishers' Note" in Louise M. Thurston, Forrest Mills: A Peep at Child-Life from Within (Boston: Sunday School Society, 1868): n.p. Nourse identifies the author as Clara Thurston (Nourse, 16). Yet another puzzle is presented by the book's dedication: "To My Sister's Children, the six little boys and girls who are nearest and dearest." Clara Fry had one child, born circa 1864, listed in the 1870 census; Ellen Leonard's entry in the 1900 census indicates she had had five children (none of whom have been identified), but it would have been impossible for her to have acquired them by 1868 unless the information about the length of her marriage was inaccurate in the 1900 census or they were stepchildren. Even so, no children appear in her entry in the 1870 census, and no entry for her husband has been found in the 1860 or 1880 census. Genealogical records for that branch of the family stop with the three sisters, providing no clues to the reference.

[6] "Literary Notices," Godey's Lady's Book 80 (Jan 1870): 97; "New Publications," Catholic World 12 (Jan 1871): 575; "Notes," The Nation (Sept 2, 1869): 191. The reviewer for Harper's offered a dissenting opinion. Lumping Charley and Eva Roberts' Home in the West with several books by Oliver Optic and S. B. C. Samuels's Springdale Series, he remarked "Robbers, smugglers, counterfeiters, and murderers carry the heroes and heroines through a series of adventures that are saved from being sensational by being stupid. That children read such stories with avidity is not surprising, but what possesses parents to purchase them and Sunday-schools to give them circulation?" ("Children's Books," Harper's New Monthly Magazine 42 [Jan. 1871]: 304).

[7] The February 21, 1895, Chicago Daily Tribune's account of the Founders' Day celebration of the Chicago Women's Club notes that the entertainment included a poem by Mrs. Clara W. Fry ("Woman's Club of Age": 12). Nourse, 42.

[8] Nourse, 42.

[9] "Miscellaneous," Chicago Tribune, August 7, 1871: O3.

[10] The Louise M. Thurston in the 1880 census reported her age as 33 rather than 38. "School Board," Boston Daily Globe, May 27, 1885: 4.

[11] An image can be seen at Find-A-Grave.

Copyright 2019 by Deidre Johnson . Please do not reproduce without permission

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