Esther Louise Forbes

1891 – 1967

Esther Louise Forbes was born as the youngest of five children in Westborough, Massachusetts, to William Trowbridge Forbes and Harriette Merrifield Forbes on June 28, 1891. Her father was a probate judge in Worcester and her mother, a writer of New England reference books. Both her parents were historical enthusiasts. One of her great-uncles was Samuel Adams, leader of the Sons of Liberty. When Esther was seven, her mother inherited a large plot of land in Worcester, Massachusetts, where the family moved in 1898.

Esther and her sisters were sent to the prestigious Bancroft School. After high school, she took classes at the Worcester Art Museum and Boston University, and later, Bradford Academy, a junior college. She graduated from Bradford Academy in 1912. In 1915, she published her first short story, "Breakneck Hill," which won the O. Henry Prize. In 1916, she joined her older sisters Cornelia and Katherine in Madison, Wisconsin, where Cornelia was in graduate school and Katharine was teaching. That year, Forbes started sudies ath the University of Wisconsin and joined the editorial board of the Wisconsin Literary Magazine.

In 1919, she returned to Worcester and joined the editorial department of Houghton Mifflin Company in Boston. From 1924 to 1926, she wrote feature articles for the Boston Evening Transcript. In 1926, Forbes published her first novel, O Genteel Lady!, which was selected by the newly formed Book of the Month Club. In the same year, Forbes married Albert L. Hoskins, Jr., a Harvard Law School student and moved to New York City. Forbes divorced him in 1933 due to his disapproved of her career.

Forbes returned once again to Worcester and lived with her mother and unmarried siblings. Her mother worked closely with Forbes on the research for her novels, often at the local research library, the American Antiquarian Society. Forbes wrote a series of historical novels set in New England from colonial times through the early years of the Republic, all with female protagonists. The New York Times described her as “a novelist who wrote like a historian and a historian who wrote like a novelist.”

With the research of her mother, Forbes wrote the historical biography, Paul Revere and the World He Lived In, which won the 1943 Pulitzer Prize in History. While researching this book, Forbes learned about the role young apprentices played during the Revolutionary War. This interest developed into Johnny Tremain, a historical novel of a young boy growing up in the time of the American Revolution. In 1944, the book won the Newberry Award for best children's literature and became an instant Young Adult classic which was taught in many schools. Forbes continued to write award-winning books, such as The Running of the Tide.

In 1943, she received an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Clark University, one of seven honorary degrees. In 1949, she was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1960, Forbes became the first woman elected to membership in the American Antiquarian Society. She died of rheumatic heart disease in Worcester, Massachusetts, on August 12, 1967. Her manuscripts were donated to Clark University in Worcester and her royalties were donated to the American Antiquarian Society. Johnny Tremain is still read widely in schools and its popularity makes it one of the few lasting classics of American children literature.

Works:
"Oh Genteel Lady!" (1926)
"A Mirror for Witches" (1928)
"Miss Marvel" (1935 historical about a Worcester family)
"Paradise" (1937)
"The General's Lady" (1938 historical novel about Bathsheba Spooner)
"Paul Revere and the World He Lived In" (1942 biography)
"Johnny Tremain" (1943 Young Adult novel)
"The Boston Book" (1947 pictorial essay)
"America's Paul Revere" (1948 pictorial essay)
"The Running of the Tide" (1948)
"Rainbow on the Road" (1954)

© 2020 Clan Forbes Society, Inc.

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