Julia Fletcher Carney gets the credit

It occasionally happens that women will use male pseudonyms in order to get recognized in the arts.  Sometimes their works are attributed to men, whether by accident (for example, A.P. Carter getting the credit for Maybelle Carter’s songs) or sometimes the deception is intentional.  The latter situation existed for the work of Julia Abigail Fletcher Carney.  So what’s the story?

Julia Fletcher was born in 1823 in Lancaster Massachusetts.  Though she showed a talent for writing when quite young, her mother discouraged this as she felt it wouldn’t help her as an adult.   But Julia came down with scarlet fever when she was eight and was homebound for several years.  She spent the time writing when not reading.  By 14, she was sending poems to local papers.  At age 19, she worked as a teacher and continued teaching until she married Thomas Carney, a Universalist minister, in 1849.  They moved out west where four of their children died during the western years.   She and the surviving three children went back east to Illinois after Rev. Carney’s death in 1871.  She continued to write prose and poetry as well as short sketches. She wrote for Universalist and other periodicals, and many of her poems were set to music and published as hymns.  By the time she died in 1908, she knew her works were quoted and had inspired hymns.

“Little Drops of Water” was written as a ten minute writing assignment in a teachers’ summer program she attended in Boston.  This was added as filler to a previously written article to be published in a paper “A Letter to Sabbath School Children”.   This poem has been used by many people, but one notable use was at the opening of the British Red Cross in 1845.  It reminded the audience that little things mattered.  It has been cited by world leaders and in a Nobel Prize speech.  In her later years, Carl Sandburg was her next door neighbor.  He said of her, “She loved children and wrote poems she hoped children would love.”

For many years, this poem, set to a French folk song, was attributed to Rev. E. Cobham Brewer (1810-1897).  In addition to his fame as sporting a great beard, he compiled many dictionaries, and as a known writer, he published “Little Drops of Water” as his own.   But since Julia Fletcher had published the poem in 1845, three years before Brewer claimed authorship, she eventually got the credit.

As a side note, I had occasion to deal with “Whispering Hope” in a performance.  It was allegedly written by Alice Hawthorne, but this was a pseudonym for Mr. Septimus Winner.  It’s quite a twist to see the gender switch going the other way around!