Johnny Tremain | Study Guide

Esther Forbes

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Esther Forbes | Biography


Early Years

Esther Louise Forbes was born on June 28, 1891, in Westborough, Massachusetts, to William Trowbridge, a lawyer, and Harriette Merri Field Forbes, a historian and writer. Seven years later, the family moved to Worcester, Massachusetts.

Forbes attended Bradford Academy from 1909 to 1912. Nearsighted and dyslexic, she had trouble in school and escaped the demands of a rigid curriculum by writing stories. She attended the University of Wisconsin–Madison, from 1916 to 1918, during which time she joined the editorial board of the Wisconsin Literary Magazine.

Forbes moved back to Worcester in 1919 and worked as a manuscript reader at the book publisher Houghton Mifflin Company in Boston. She also contributed articles to the Boston Evening Transcript. Her first short story, "Break-Neck Hill," was published in 1920 in the Grinnell Review and won the O. Henry Award for the best short story that year. In 1926 Forbes married Albert L. Hoskins Jr., a lawyer, and left Houghton Mifflin Company. The couple moved to New York City, where they lived until their divorce in 1933; Forbes then moved back to Worcester.

Literary Career

Forbes was a prolific and acclaimed writer. Between 1926 and 1943 she had seven books published. These included the novels O Genteel Lady! (1926), A Mirror for Witches (1928), Miss Marvel (1935), Paradise (1937), and The General's Lady (1938). She also published the biography Paul Revere and the World He Lived In (1942), for which she received an honorary doctorate of letters from Clark University and the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1943.

Johnny Tremain was published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children in 1943. Forbes initially sent the manuscript to another publisher, Harcourt, Brace & Company. When the editors demanded revisions, she refused to make the changes. She submitted the novel to her former employer, Houghton Mifflin Company, which agreed to publish it as she wished. In 1944 Johnny Tremain won the Newbery Medal for Children's Literature, awarded annually by the American Library Association for the most distinguished American children's book published the previous year.

Forbes's prolific career continued with the publication of America's Paul Revere (1946) and The Boston Book (1947). Forbes won the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Novel Award in 1947 for The Running of the Tide, which came out in print a year later.

Final Accolades

In 1949 Forbes was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Her final novel, Rainbow on the Road, was published in 1954. In 1960 she became the first woman elected to the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, a research library and collection of works printed in the United States through 1876.

Esther Forbes died on August 12, 1967 of rheumatic heart disease. She is best remembered for Johnny Tremain, a staple of classroom literature.

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