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, 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.
 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
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,
Bye bye my little cub
Bye bye my little cub
Bye bye my little cub
Bye bye bye.
A Child’s Letter to Frances
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 FoxDailey, 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.