The Wisconsin Roots of Award-Winning Author Marguerite Henry

The Wisconsin Roots of Award-Winning Author Marguerite Henry

If you are a horse lover, chances are that Marguerite Henry's award-winning books like Misty of Chincoteague, Justin Morgan Had a Horse and King of the Wind captivated you when you were a young reader. Misty and Justin Morgan both won Newbery Honors, and King of the Wind, the Newbery Medal (the highest prize for children's literature). While many know she produced volumes of unforgettable horse books, it's a lesser known fact that Marguerite was a Wisconsinite, and America's Dairyland provided a foundation for her long and lustrous author career.

Display of Marguerite Henry biograph on white kitchen counter with apples

Marguerite Breithaupt from Milwaukee

A few months ago I released a Marguerite Henry biography. When I set out to uncover the hidden history of my favorite horse book author, I started at the beginning, and headed to Milwaukee, the city where she was born in 1902. With the help of an archivist at the Milwaukee County Historical Society, I located the street where the beloved horse book author entered the world. (See the gorgeous interior of MCHS below).

Marguerite Henry's childhood home was near the corner of North Avenue and Booth Street in the Riverwest neighborhood, around the corner from Kilbourn Reservoir Park. Back then, it was a German neighborhood (her maiden name was Breithaupt).

Marguerite Henry research Milwaukee County Historical Society

Marguerite's father, Louis Breithaupt owned a printing company, and would occasionally take his budding writer to work with him. Marguerite claimed it was there where printer's ink got into her blood and she delighted in pretending to edit copy. 

Lover of the Library

The local library was a magnetic force for the young reader and lover of horses. Marguerite roller skated every other day about a mile to drop off and pick up a new book. The North Side Branch Library was a haven, and Marguerite admired Miss Ovitz, a kindly librarian. It was Miss Ovitz who offered the young girl her first job. Marguerite became a book mender! Using paste and ribbons, needle and thread, the young brunette skillfully repaired books that had been damaged through much circulation. 

Wisconsin Writer Hall of Fame Marguerite Henry 1998

I searched for the North Side Branch Library, but it no longer stands. However, Milwaukee's Central Library is stunning, and Marguerite Henry's name is on a commemorative wall of Wisconsin writers, along with some other notables such as Laura Ingalls Wilder, John Muir and Orson Welles.

Marguerite attended Riverside University High School, graduating in 1920. She then attended college at what is today known as University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. In high school and college she was a member of the yearbook staff. She was active in drama and a literary society. 

In the summer of 1922, Marguerite joined her older sisters on a North Woods adventure in Minocqua, Wiscosin. There, at a fishing camp (which sounded more like a resort from the literature I read) she met a tall, dark and handsome Sidney Henry. The young man who made her heart leap hailed from Sheboygan. The pair hit it off and the following year they were married at a Baptist Church in Milwaukee.

Minocqua Travel Guides

The newlyweds moved to the north side of Chicago and lived on Sheridan Road. I attempted to find the address of their home, but was unsuccessful. My best guess is they lived perhaps in Rogers Park, Uptown or Edgewater.

Although she never lived in Wisconsin again, various family members did and I found record of her returning to give talks in the Milwaukee area. 

One of the most remarkable Wisconsin stories I learned while researching Marguerite, Misty and Me, my Marguerite Henry biography, was during her days as a magazine reporter, she had a chance to tour the Blatz Brewing Company (the buildings today are a condo complex). Along the way of her tour, as she wrote of the process of making beer, each foreman offered her a sample. By the end of the tour she was so thrilled by all that she was seeing, she took scores of photos beyond what her limit should have been (back in the day when developing film was a costly proposition). Her editor overlooked her too-enthusiastic photo session. And continue to write she did. 

To learn more about the life story of Marguerite Henry, read Marguerite, Misty and Me: a Horse Lover's Hunt for the Hidden History of Marguerite Henry and her Chincoteague Pony.

 

 

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