Born: May 15, 1863
Died: October 5, 1931
Pewee Valley, Kentucky
Annie Fellows Johnston became famous in the late 19th and early 20thcenturies as a prolific author of books for children. She wrote dozens of books and contributed short stories to popular children’s magazines of the era. Her 13-book Little Colonel series was broadly read, beginning with the first book, The Little Colonel, in 1895. The series was about a little girl who had the temperament of her grandfather, who had been a Confederate Army colonel. The books were the basis for the 1935 20thCentury Fox movie, The Little Colonel, starring Shirley Temple and Lionel Barrymore.
Of her 1929 book, The Land of the Little Colonel: Reminiscence and Autobiography, theBoston Evening Transcriptsaid Johnston had “a rare gift in producing little stories in the nature of allegories full of spiritual significance and beauty… the most gifted and the most helpful of present-day writers for young people.” Her work is now considered anachronistic, depicting the antebellum South still transitioning from the Civil War, and must be taken in the context of the times.
Sue Lynn Stone McDaniel, in her article “The Little Colonel: A Phenomenon in Popular Literary Culture,” characterizes Johnston’s writing as having led several generations of impressionable young readers to idealize the Old South and accept selfless values which she taught through the Little Colonel series, which was mostly set in a fictionalized Peewee Valley, Kentucky, she called Lloydsborough Valley.
Born Annie Julia Fellows, she grew up with her mother, Mary Erskine Fellows, brother Erwin and two sisters, Lura and Albion, on a farm in McCutchanville, Indiana, near Evansville. Her father, Albion, a Methodist minister, died when she was 2. Annie was a voracious reader and began writing poems and short stories as young girl. She attended the University of Iowa for a year (1881-82) and returned to Evansville where she taught school for three years before taking a job as a private secretary. She traveled for several months through New England and Europe, and the influence of these trips appeared later in many of her stories.
Upon returning, she married a cousin, the widower William L. Johnston, who had three young children. William died in 1892, leaving Annie a widow with his children to support. That is when her writing career began. Johnston moved to Pewee Valley in 1898. She loved the leisurely pace and aristocratic lineage of its people. But in 1899, her stepdaughter Rena died and her stepson John’s health deteriorated. In 1901, she took him West to a more favorable climate; first in Arizona, then California and Texas. He died in 1910 and Johnston returned to Pewee Valley, where she lived until her death. She is buried in the Oak Hill Cemetery in Evansville.
Big Brother (1893)
The Little Colonel (1895)
Ole Mammy’s Torment (1897)
The Gate of the Giant Scissors (1898)
Two Little Knights of Kentucky (1899)
The Little Colonel’s House Party (1900)
The Little Colonel’s Holiday (1901)
The Little Colonel’s Hero (1902)
The Little Colonel at Boarding School (1904)
The Little Colonel in Arizona (1904)
In the Desert of Waiting (1905)
The Little Colonel’s Christmas Vacation (1905)
The Little Colonel: Maid of Honor (1906)
Travelers Five (1911)
Legend of the Bleeding Heart (1907)
Little Colonel’s Knight Comes Riding (1907)
The Little Colonel’s Chum: Mary Ware (1908)
The Rescue of the Princess Winsome (1908)
Mary Ware in Texas (1910)
Mary Ware’s Promised Land (1912)
Miss Santa Claus of the Pullman (1913)
Georgina of the Rainbows (1916)
Georgina’s Service Stars (1918)
Annie Fellows Johnston Collection, Berea College Special Collections:
Annie Fellow Johnston biographical information: