Did the Christmas-time release of the Greta Gerwig’s film adaptation of Little Women inspire you to want to read the novel (again or for the first time)? If you hadn’t found the time before, don’t worry if you don’t have a copy of the book at home because Hamden Public Library’s abundant list of online e-book offerings by Louisa May Alcott includes not only Little Women, Little Men and the other family-centered books for young people, but several of the adult “thrillers” she also enjoyed writing.
And, if these nostalgic tales leave you wanting to spend more reading time in that simpler world, you may be surprised to learn that there is a series of books created by a New Haven-born author that once rivaled Alcott’s in popularity. In all, a total of a dozen titles comprise Margaret Sidney’s Five Little Peppers series which began with the publication of Five Little Peppers and How They Grew. The Pepper family consists of five children struggling with their widowed mother to make ends meet while finding ways to amuse and support each other, in much the same way Alcott’s March family does in Little Women. Sidney’s book was published in 1881, thirteen years after the debut of Little Women.
Margaret Sidney was, in truth, Harriet Mulford Stone. Born in 1844, Harriet was the daughter of prominent 19th century New Haven architect, Sidney Mason Stone. She grew up in a house her father built (which is still standing) on Olive Street in the Wooster Square area and was the proud descendent of Connecticut Colony and Hartford city founder Rev. Samuel Stone and Connecticut Colony Governor, Robert Treat. She attended Miss Dutton’s School at Grove Hall in New Haven where she was described as displaying “such mental alertness, combined with retentive memory and a great imaginative and poetic talent” that she was “marked for future success.”
When as an adult she pursued her literary interests, she chose to use a pen name in deference to her father who she said, “looked with disfavor on young women who wrote for publication”. She created the name Margaret Sidney by taking his first name as her last in his honor. In her fledgling efforts as a writer, she began a correspondence with the Boston-based publisher, Daniel Lothrop. Intrigued by her writing, Lothrop began to make stops in New Haven while on business trips to New York and Philadelphia, and their budding friendship culminated in a New Haven wedding in 1881.
The couple moved to Concord, Massachusetts when Daniel’s Boston apartment became too confining and in doing so, Harriet found her second passion: historic preservation. The property she and Daniel purchased was The Wayside, once home to both Nathaniel Hawthorne and the Alcott family, just down the road from Orchard House, Louisa May Alcott’s famous residence. Harriet worked tirelessly until her death in 1924 on preserving both homes as literary landmarks while she continued to write for children and adults. Always interested in history, she penned Little Maid of Concord Town, Little Maid of Boston Town and, in 1900, The Judges’ Cave; Being a Romance of the New Haven Colony in the Days of the Regicides, 1661, a hardcover copy of which is available in the Hamden Historical Society Room at Miller Library.
The Five Little Peppers series is available electronically through our online collection and as part of Project Gutenberg. You can also watch a PBS documentary on the Orchard House, where some of the Gerwig film was actually shot, on both Hoopla and Kanopy.