The University of Iowa LibrariesThe Biographical Dictionary of Iowa: Jacket Art - Agriculture - Cresco, Iowa by Richard Haines ca 1934 -  Photo by Scott Christopher courtesy of Gregg Narber


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Meigs, Cornelia Lynde
(December 6, 1884–September 10, 1973)

–author best remembered for her Newbery Award-winning biography of Louisa May Alcott, Invincible Louisa —was born in Rock Island, Illinois, but grew up in Keokuk, Iowa, where the family moved when she was an infant. Meigs was the fifth of six sisters. Her parents, Montgomery and Grace (Lynde) Meigs, provided the family with a large house and garden, and summers were often spent in New England with relatives. Montgomery Meigs, a government engineer, was in charge of improvements on the Mississippi River.

    After public school, Meigs attended Bryn Mawr College, receiving her A.B. in 1907. She then taught English at St. Katherine's School in Davenport in 1912-1913. After a time spent at home taking care of her father and writing, she joined the faculty at Bryn Mawr in 1932 and taught there until 1950. After she retired from Bryn Mawr, she taught writing at the New School of Social Research in New York City.

    Her writing career began in 1915 with the publication of The Kingdom of the Winding Road, a collection of fairy tales, followed by Master Simon's Garden in 1916. Her stories for young people at first flowed naturally from the storytelling of her sisters and her father and eventually involved her interactions with her students and her 12 nieces and nephews. Meigs explained her connection to stories of the past: "Since my father's kindred had been, in long succession, officers in the army and navy, and my mother's father and mother had been pioneers from Vermont to Illinois, stories current in our house made the settlement of the Middle West, the War of 1812, the brush with the Barbary pirates, and the Civil War as familiar as any events within this century."

    In 1935 Meigs bought a farm in Vermont, "Green Pastures," and often hosted her family there. From 1942 to 1945 she was employed by the U.S. War Department in Washington, D.C. In 1949 Meigs published her first book for adults, The Violent Men: A Study of Human Relations in the First American Congress. Over the next 20 years, she wrote adult books on the United Nations and the history of children's literature and a novel titled Railroad West, as well as more children's books.

    In addition to winning the Newbery Medal for Invincible Louisa in 1934, recognizing her distinguished contributions to children's lit erature, Meigs also won a Newbery Honor three times: in 1921 for Windy Hill, in 1928 for Clearing Weather, and in 1933 for Swift Rivers. Her first writing award was in 1916 for her play The Steadfast Princess. She received the Beacon Hill Bookshelf prize in 1927 for The Trade Wind, and the Child Life prize for the story "Fox and Geese" in 1938.

    In her autobiographical sketch for Junior Authors, Meigs described the effort it took for her to begin her writing career and her difficulties in getting published. She concluded, "I have learned two things from this experience... one, that you must have sufficient confidence in your project to make time for it no matter what are the demands and distractions; the other, that inspiration has to be attended by intensively hard work, sometimes, even replaced by it—apparently—tobring a writing enterprise to its proper end."

    Cornelia Lynde Meigs died in Havre de Grace, Maryland, at age 88.
Sources The Dartmouth College Library, Hanover, New Hampshire, houses the Cornelia Meigs Collection, 30 boxes of manuscripts of her works, correspondence, and much material on the United Nations. Of special interest are the letters that the Meigs sisters wrote to each other regarding their lives at home and abroad. Some Meigs papers are housed at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg and at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. See also "Cornelia Meigs," in The Junior Book of Authors, ed. Stanley Kunitz and Howard Haycraft (1951). Some of her books were published under the pseudonym Adair Alton.
Contributor: Patricia Dawson