Maine: An Encyclopedia
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Clarke, Rebecca

Rebecca Sophia Clarke (February 22, 1833-August 10, 1906), daughter of Asa Clarke, was born in Norridgewock.  After her education at the Female Academy in Norridgewock, she moved to Evansville, Illinois, living at the home of a married sister while she taught school.

In 1858, progressive deafness forced her to give up teaching and she returned to her home in Norridgewock where she spent the remaining years of her life.

The Clarke sisters, Rebecca Sophia and Sarah Jones, wrote under pen names Sophie May and Penn Shirley, respectively.

Beginning with her first published story in 1861, Rebecca Clarke produced over forty volumes of children’s books which achieved enormous popularity. They include The Twin Cousins, Dotty Dimple (a series), Cousin Grace, and Captain Horace, among others.

The children in her books were believable people who captured young readers’ imaginations. Prudy Parlin, Dotty Dimple and Flaxie Frizzle were not pious prigs, but rollicking, mischievous young people.

Her books, mostly written in six volume series, were filled with homely realism and everyday humor. Norridgewock was the scene of most of her stories and characters. Incidents were often drawn from her experiences or tales told by older residents.

After achieving a comfortable income from her writing, she traveled abroad and wintered in Baltimore, Florida and California. She gave willingly of herself and was universally beloved in Norridgewock. Rebecca Clarke donated a library building, still in use, to the town.

The Sophie May House, on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1845 by Cullen Sawtelle. In addition to its architectural merit, survives as the home of America’s first author of what might be described as books for and about real children.

Additional resources

Maine. Historic Preservation Commission. “Sophie May House.”  Augusta, Me. April 2, 1976. National Register of Historic Places: http://pdfhost.focus.nps.gov/docs/nrhp/text/76000114.PDF (accessed December 15, 2014)

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