Elizabeth Payson Prentiss

portrait Like Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, her contemporary, Prentiss was the daughter of a Congregational minister whose New England ancestry dated back to the seventeenth century. Also like Phelps, unfortunately, she spent much of her life plagued by ill health, a condition exacerbated by several tragic losses during the early years of her married life.

She was born in Portland, Maine, on 26 October 1818, to Edward and Ann Payson, and grew up in Portland as part of a large family. She began writing stories during her childhood and in 1834, when only sixteen, had a story published in Youth's Companion.

In 1856, Prentiss published the first volume in her Little Susy series, Little Susy's Six Birthdays. Its preface alludes to childhood death, noting "Sometimes little children don't live to spend six birthdays in this world. They go to heaven and spend them there; and they are better and happier days than any little Susy ever knew." This was apparently not the only connection with Prentiss's loss, for the NCAB notes that Eddy is "immortalized in [the] 'Susy-Books,'" as the younger brother of the title character.

Prentiss published two additional volumes in the series -- which also reflect her mixed experiences with motherhood. She continued writing, enjoying success with adult works as well as juvenile fiction. In 1869, her most popular adult novel, the semi-autobiographical Stepping Heavenward appeared; it sold approximately 150,000 copies and was translated into numerous languages. Prentiss also wrote a number of hymns, the best-known of which is probably "More Love to Thee, O Christ." [2] She died 13 August 1878.

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1. Quoted in "Prentiss, Elizabeth (Payson)." National Cyclopedia of American Biography.

2. The text and music for "More Love to Thee" can be found at The Cyber Hymnal.

"Elizabeth Payson Prentiss." American Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide from Colonial Times to the Present. Ed. Lina Mainero. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1981.
The Life and Letters of Elizabeth Payson Prentiss. New York: Anson D. F. Randolph & Co., 1882.
"Prentiss, Elizabeth Payson." Notable American Women 1607-1950. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard UP, 1971.
"Prentiss, Elizabeth (Payson)." National Cyclopedia of American Biography.

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