An American Literary Legend Rested Awhile in Barrington
The Barrington countryside has long provided a haven for people who achieved distinction in diverse walks of life. Many have established enduring roots, and others have stayed only awhile until life has taken them onward. Among the latter was Olive Beaupré Miller, the visionary creator, author, and publisher of “My Book House for Children”—one of the 20th century’s most-beloved series of children’s stories.
Olive Kennon Beaupré was born in Aurora, Ill., in 1883, a descendant of two distinguished families, the Bradys and the Beauprés, early pioneers and prominent in banking and politics. From her earliest years, Olive was a prodigious reader and wanted to be a writer. She entered Smith College, where she received her B.A. in 1904. Returning to Aurora, she taught English at East Aurora High School. There she met Harry Edward Miller, a textbook salesman for D. Appleton & Company. From Wisconsin Rapids, Harry was attractive and ambitious, and charmed the young teacher.
After meeting Olive, Harry went to work for Lamson Bros., a brokerage in Chicago. He and Olive were married in October 1907. In 1908, they took the first of many trips abroad. Their daughter, Virginia, was born in 1912, and finding little that was pleasing to read to her child, Olive began writing rhymes and stories. Convinced of the exceptional quality of the stories, Harry took them to H.P. Volland Co., which first published “Sunny Rhymes for Happy Children” in 1917, the year that the Millers moved to Winnetka. More titles followed with Volland, and Olive also published stories and poetry in the Christian Science Monitor.
In 1919, the Millers took a huge step, which horrified Olive’s family as the road to ruin. Harry left his job at Lamson, and the couple founded My Book House for Children Publishing Co. with Olive as editor. The first volume was published in 1920, and with the next five volumes became the first collection of age-graded children’s literature.
Travels to Europe provided further inspiration for a series of books such as “My Travelship” and “Nursery Friends from France”. The Millers created a unique and successful company where all sales were undertaken by well-educated and meticulously trained young women. The Millers believed in equal opportunity. Offices to sell My Book House were opened across America, with an expanding headquarters at 360 N. Michigan Avenue.
Writing, editing, and publishing consumed the Miller’s lives, and by 1925 they looked for a country retreat. They found a property in Barrington that they called Green Meadow Farm. They remodeled the old farmhouse, built stables for Harry’s horses, and a tennis court for Virginia. Inspired from their travels in the Balkans, Olive brought in Hungarian craftsmen to build an authentic Hungarian-styled cottage overlooking the lake, which was to be her study for the 10 years that the family enjoyed these idyllic surroundings. Olive would row a boat across a small lake to get from the farmhouse to the cottage.
In 1935, when Harry and Olive were divorced, Olive gained total interest in the Book House company, and, brokenhearted, went to live in the city. Her daughter Virginia had married Edwin Read of Barrington, who was to join the Book House, and the Reads continued to live in Barrington. Green Meadow Farm passed into the Kemper family. Today, the Hungarian cottage remains in private ownership, preserved as testament to many hours spent writing joyfully, to inspire the imagination of millions of children.
Author’s note: The Winnetka Historical Society, Smith College, and Illinois historical journals are sources for the life and works of Olive Beaupré Miller.
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Barbara L. Benson grew up in Kent, England, and later moved to New York. She settled in Barrington and has walked with our history ever since she first arrived here in 1980.