Marguerite Henry grew up in a large family in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the early 1900s. She was the youngest of five children, although her parents had seven (two older brothers had died before she was born). Her husband, Sidney, was also from a large family. The couple never had children of their own—biological children, that is.
Fan photos courtesy of the Kerlan Collection of Children's Literature at the University of Minnesota.
I've heard from more than one person who knew or met Marguerite Henry, queen of horse books, that she viewed all of her readers as her children. I believe it to be true.
I sat for hours poring over her personal papers held at the Kerlan Collection archives at the University of Minnesota. The letters she wrote to her fans were heartfelt and meaty. One letter that sticks out was a child asking how to get a horse to stand nicely for mounting. Marguerite wrote a detailed response that was essentially a free training session. Repeatedly Marguerite encouraged letter writers that maybe one day they would write a horse book. Fans sent her their pictures—and it seems she kept them all.
I was so curious why Marguerite Henry and Sidney didn't have their own children. The people I interviewed for Marguerite, Misty and Me, who knew her, didn't know the reason. My speculation is they wanted to have kids, but it just didn't happen. IVF was not a thing in their day.
One friend recalled Marguerite stating that if she had had children of her own, then she probably wouldn't have written books. It's hard to imagine a world without Misty of Chincoteague and King of the Wind.
I find it interesting that Marguerite used the language of birth when referring to her horse books. When asked if she really wanted to write King of the Wind, a story with a mute boy and animals that didn't speak—the main characters were all literally voiceless, she said she was pregnant with the story idea.
When people asked her how long it took her to write a book, she replied something to the effect, "as long as it takes a mare to carry a foal." That's eleven months.
I just got back from Chincoteague Island where I spent a glorious week immersed in Chincoteague Pony subculture. I had conversations with people from all over the country—Virgina to California, Minnesota to Florida. They were on the island watching the famous pony swim we learned about in the pages of Misty of Chincoteague.
A fellow guest at Miss Molly's Inn (the same inn where Marguerite stayed when she went to the pony swim in 1946) told me when she was in elementary school, her dad pulled her out to go to the grand opening of a new department store. Marguerite Henry was there signing books. My fellow Marguerite Henry fan shared that her dad (through a friend of his) arranged for the two of them to have lunch with Marguerite! And Marguerite presented her with a cake platter that had been used for birthday cake back when she would throw big parties to commemorate Misty of Chincoteague's birthday. The silvery, circular platter was signed by the author and had a doodled black horse shoe on the bottom.
Another guest at Miss Molly's said she attended a lecture Marguerite gave at her university. After the talk, she approached the author she had read during her childhood and told her what a fan she was. Marguerite invited her to dine with her. At the end of their lunch (or dinner), Marguerite presented her with an autographed, personalized copy of King of the Wind.
A fellow equestrian author told me when she was young, her horse died. She wrote Marguerite a letter to share the sad news. Marguerite wrote her back. She still has the letter. She was a prolific letter writer and eventually wrote a book Dear Readers and Riders, to respond to questions people had about the author’s personal life, work and pets.
Even though Marguerite Henry never had children of her own, she still has countless fans who remember her fondly. At the Chincoteague Island Library when I gave a talk about my journey researching and writing Marguerite, Misty and Me, I looked around the room and a few members of the audience had tears in their eyes (I was choked up too). What a beautiful legacy. We, her fans and readers, are all Marguerite's children. And as her children, we are all part of one big beautiful family. We are united in our love of animals, horse books and the magical stories she composed, that still live on in our hearts.