Beatrix Potter, I know her well, I grew up having her stories read to me, it’s actually where my love for rabbits came from, but I digress. It was my assumption that everyone knew who Beatrix Potter was, I mean I knew who she was so that must mean everyone else did too! Right? Wrong, the few people that I’ve asked actually had no clue. Well, let me shed some light on who Beatrix Potter was. A couple of weeks ago Banned Books Week happened and this month also happens to be American Archives Month. At my place of work we got to create displays that dealt with hearing the voices of the past… as well as the present and how the voices we chose to display were able to express themselves even when at some time it might have been difficult for them. I chose to display Beatrix Potter.
Beatrix Potter was a famous children’s author, illustrating and writing children’s books like my favorites: The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Mr. McGregor’s Garden, The Tale of Benjamin Bunny¸ and The Tale of the Flopsie Bunnies (commonly known as: Flopsy, Mopsy, & Cotton-Tail). You may have heard of them, you may have heard of her others, or you might not have heard of them at all. If you haven’t that’s okay because I’m sure that after reading this you can say you have!
Before Beatrix Potter was a famous children’s author, she was just a kid… well, a wealthy kid, brought up in Kensington, London, United Kingdom, but still, just a kid. Being of wealth was not all fun and games though, in fact it was quite the opposite for Beatrix Potter and her brother. Since her family was well off, her parents would not let her associate too much with others, this led to an immense amount of free time. She filled this free time drawing wildlife and landscapes and became very good at it. When Beatrix was old enough for higher education her parents had actually discouraged her from it. Reason being: They wanted her to be a maid/housekeeper for them! Who wants to work for their parents? But what was she to do, the money was her parents. Beatrix made the decision to pretty much do both, she worked for her parents, saving her money, but she also kept on studying on her own. Because Beatrix did not concede to her parents she ended up becoming one of the most, well-respected mycologists across the country! This is just one of the obstacles that Beatrix overcame in her life. She showed her parents, herself and everyone else that she could achieve her goals through perseverance. She decided to not let her voice be stifled by her parents and she accomplished what she set out to accomplish.
Now you might be wondering, how did all this lead to her becoming a children’s author and her voice being heard? Well, in a way it did not lead to that, it was just an obstacle in her life she overcame. However, I’ve learned in my time at the Archives that everything is connected. This is NOT an exaggeration, everything really is connected you just have to go back far enough. So how is this obstacle connected to Beatrix being a famous author? Let’s look at it this way, if she just gave up, stopped drawing, stopped pursuing her dreams; if she chose just to work for her parents for the rest of her life, well, she wouldn’t have become the author that she did, and we wouldn’t have her timeless tales. So, when Beatrix was a bit older she had written a letter to her governess’ son, which featured pictures and a story she created. When her governess saw this, she encouraged Beatrix to publish the letter as a children’s story. Beatrix thought about it and decided that it would be a good idea. She edited her story and sent it off to numerous publishers. Now, I bet you’re all thinking, “The end, she became famous and lived happily ever after.”
Wrong, these publishers all rejected her. They said that her pictures weren’t colourful enough. Instead of feeling defeated and giving up, she chose to let her voice be heard by publishing 250 copies of “The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Mr. McGregor’s Garden” by herself. Because she took it upon herself to do this and the books became pretty popular, a publishing company by the name of Frederick Warne & Co. contacted her a year later and ended up publishing 28,000 copies of the book. This made her successful enough to be independent from her parents.
And that my friends, is how Beatrix Potter became a famous children’s author and illustrator!
Beatrix never let people tell her she could not, and when they did, she chose to prove them wrong and do it anyways. Beatrix’s story shows people that the freedom to express yourself is important and that you shouldn’t let people try to dictate how your life should be. Her story expresses the nature of being your own person on your own terms, no one should ever be allowed to try and take that away! This is why I chose to showcase Beatrix Potter for Banned Books Week.
By: Samantha Weinkauf