The author, great-granddaughter of Utopian Socialist, Robert Owen, was born Cara Dale Parke in New Harmony, Indiana in 1871. The Parkes were a musical family, frequently giving impromptu performances for family and friends, and Mrs. Snedeker assumed that she would become a full-fledged musician. It was after her marriage in 1903 to Charles H. Snedeker, dean of the Cathedral in Cincinnati, that she began the serious study leading to the writing of her first book. A biographical note in The Horn Book Magazine by her sister, Nina Parke Stilwell, relates:
“She was happiest while writing, for her characters were companions whom she missed when she finished her books. Before actually writing a story, she would steep herself in the background of her characters; then, as she wrote, they acted of themselves. The author could not force them to act contrary to their way of life. She studied Greek art, literature, religion, and philosophy for six years in preparation for her first book, The Spartan , which was laid in ancient Greece. She was a student all her life, even during the latter part when she was bedridden; at 82 she published A Triumph for Flavius .”
Raised in a family steeped in progressive ideas of education, the author says that as a child she only received encouragement and admiration; it was her husband who “criticized me wisely and sharply, often making me work months on a single chapter. He also directed my historical studies so I became accurate and sure.” (The Junior Book of Authors)
Ruth Hill Viguers, in A Critical History of Children’s Literature, shows how, even in his death, Mr. Snedeker’s positive influence was felt. She writes, “It is hard to believe that Downright Dencey, with all its vitality, was written in great sorrow. Mrs. Snedeker’s husband, who had been her inspiration for her writing, the critic who insisted only on her best, had died, but his faith in her was justified. She created in Dencey the most zestful of all her vivid characters and told a story full of atmosphere and humanity that has been a source of continued pleasure throughout the years.”
She has written warmly about her first visit to Nantucket Island—in her later years she lived there part of each year—when she first caught a sense of a book waiting to be written. “I went to Nantucket for a summer visit. As I walked up Fair Street I had a strange feeling: ‘There is a story in Fair Street.’ It was not at all definite. I did not know that it would be Dencey and Jetsam, and the old whaling captains and the Quakers, but I could feel it there as one senses a perfume one can not see.” She goes on to relate about her writing: “I am often asked how I came to write for children. I reply that I do not. I write for myself. I write the story in the best words I know to express the story. If it is simple the words are simple; if it is a complicated subject—and I do write these—I use complicated accurate words. I am never afraid children and young people will not understand me.” (The Junior Book of Authors)
Though Mrs. Snedeker wrote a number of books that dealt with American history, including three in which figured the New Harmony utopian experiment, her love and preference for the ancient world is clear. Between her first three books about Ancient Greece (The Spartan, The Perilous Seat , Theras and His Town ) and her last two (A Triumph for Flavius, Lysis Goes to the Play ), the author wrote one about a Greek slave in Rome (The Forgotten Daughter ), a book about St. Luke (Luke’s Quest ) and another about early Christianity in Britain (The White Isle ).
Caroline Dale Snedeker died in 1957, leaving a legacy of literature still as fresh and accessible for young people of the twenty-first century as it was for those of the century past.
Ilustrator Maginel Wright Barney, whose chapter heading drawings capture so well the flavor of Nantucket Island in its whaling days, was the mother of Elizabeth Enright, noted author of Thimble Summer and many other fine books.