Thursday, December 10, 2009

Frances Margaret Fox, Michigan Children’s Author

By Susan Powers and Hannah Jenkins
teen frances 
Frances Margaret (Madge) Fox was born June 23, 1870 in South Farmington, Massachusetts. Tragically, her mother died two weeks after giving birth to Frances. Her father remarried and moved the family to Mackinaw City, Michigan, where he became a railroad dispatcher. Frances’ childhood was difficult; there were reports of beatings and other mistreatment. In spite of these hardships, Frances grew to love the Mackinac area.

The course of Frances’s life changed when she met the Joslyns, a family from Bay City, Michigan who summered in the Mackinac area. The family showed great kindness toward her. Frances eventually moved to Bay City to live with the Joslyn family, working for Lee Joslyn, Sr. as a secretary. She created many entertaining stories for the Joslyn children, Lee and Alan. These stories later became the foundation of her writing.

Encouraged by the writer William Thomson[1], Frances began to write down her stories and submit them for publication. In 1901 Frances published her first book for children, Farmer Brown and the Birds. Other books soon followed. Frances published fifty-one books and countless articles for magazines during her writing career. When the income from her writing permitted, Frances moved back to Mackinaw City, eventually building a stone house on the Straits of Mackinac that she named “Happy Landing.” She was well known in the area for her smile and her kind words to others. As a treat for the local children, Frances created the Sunshine Club and for years invited neighborhood children into her home to drink lemonade and share stories. Often she would give her stories a trial run by reading her manuscripts aloud to the Sunshine Club before sending them to her publisher.
For many years Frances spent summers in Mackinac and winters in Washington D.C., conducting research for her writings at the Library of Congress. Her notes reflect her intellectual curiosity; she researched topics such as forest animals, flowers, and famous people from Michigan’s early history. She was one of very few researchers of her time  allowed access to the stacks in the Library of Congress.

The Frances Margaret Fox Papers at the Clarke Historical Library contain hundreds of her stories, as well as her journals, research notes and letters. In the collection there is a handwritten version of the first Little Bear story, her most well-known series of books. Little Bear and his family were based on the characters found in the children’s classic Goldilocks and the Three Bears. A small, transcribed segment of this hand-made Little Bear book is posted below.


Frances died on March 1, 1959. Her last request was to be cremated and to have her ashes deposited in her beloved Straits of Mackinac, a request fulfilled by Alan Joslyn, her lifelong friend. Her remains were scattered from the beach of her favorite home, “Happy Landing.”

[1] William Thomson was a fellow Bay City, Michigan resident who heard of Frances’ stories, and one day took it upon himself to stop Frances on the street to say, “I am astounded that you have kept your talent hidden so long.” He encouraged her to seek publication of her stories. Thomson was the author of Great Cats I Have Met and other stories. See ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Frances Margaret Fox, 1942-November 1943 Diary, Frances Margaret Fox Papers, Clarke Historical Library, Mount Pleasant.

Transcription of Fox’s Original Little Bear

original little bear cover Little Bear pg 1
Click images to enlarge

From the cover:
This is the original Little Bear

What Woke Baby Bear
(written for Laura aged three.)
Before the little bear learned to walked and long before Goldilocks ate his porridge, broke his chair and slept in his bed, the middle-sized bear used to rock him to sleep every day. She was an old fashioned kind of mother and loved to cuddle her baby bear, in her arms. She used to sit in the middle sized chair and rock and rock and rock, with the little bear in her arms and sing (to the tune of Hush my babe [illegible] still and slumber
Bye bye my little cub
Bye bye my little cub
Bye bye my little cub
Bye bye bye.

A Child’s Letter to Frances

note from child to frances fox
Dear Miss Fox.
We like your book very much.
We got the book this morning.
I read it to Pat and she liked it.
It is a good bed time story.

Artwork by  Little Bear Illustrator Walt Harris


This ink sketch was drawn for Frances by Walt Harris, the illustrator of the Little Bear Stories. The text reads “Fox & Bear,” a humorous play on Frances’ last name and the character Little Bear. The drawing is initialed by Harris.

Further Reading on Frances Margaret Fox

Dailey, Sheila. “Little Bear and Other Stories: A Look at the Life and Works of Michigan Children’s Author Frances Margaret Fox.” Great Lakes Review, 8, no. 1 (1982): 25-30.
Turner, Gordon. “Frances Margaret Fox.” The Cheboygan Observer, September 6, 1982.


Jean Kestel said...

It's amazing how research on an
article about the Rose Percy doll
introduced me to Francis Margaret
Fox. Thanks to the Clarke Historical Library for safekeeping
and sharing this wonderful author's
legacy! Jean Kestel 11/01/2010

treasureleeking said...

I am writing a one act play based on Frances M. Fox. Thanks for the info I found here.

Anonymous said...

I am writing a one act play about Frances M. Fox, thank you for your info.

Kathy Moberg said...

She dedicated Little Bear at Work and Play to the "first girls who lived in the Martha Cook Dormitory in Ann Arbor, MI." Does anyone know what the link was between Ms. Fox and the University of Michigan women? The dorm opened in 1915, and it looks like the book was copyright in 1920. Thanks!

Garth A said...

I have the original 1915 book "Doings of Little Bear" which I'm giving to my daughter this Christmas. I found it among my father's things when he passed away in 1995. He was an avid book collector, and knowing it's from Michigan, where I live also, is just icing on the cake. Thanks for the background info.