Margaret Marshall Saunders –The Storyteller and a Woman ahead of her time.
Margaret Marshall Saunders, a woman ahead of her time, was born on May 13, 1861 in Milton, Queen's County, Nova Scotia. Her father Edward Manning Saunders who was a Baptist minister, could trace their lineage to being a direct descendent, to one of the ministers who arrived with the Pilgrims that sailed on the Mayflower and landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620.
Her mother Maria Kisborough Freeman, along with her husband, passed on the importance of reading and education to Margaret and her siblings. Margaret was an apt pupil and after having been taught Latin by her father, it was decided that at the age of 15 she would attend a private boarding school in Edinburgh Scotland, to be followed by another year of education in France.
She finally returned to Canada, where she became a teacher and taught for several years.
It was during this period that she was encouraged by a family friend to try her hand at writing. Dr. Theodore Rand (who later became the Chancellor of McMaster University) had a hunch that Margaret's true calling would be as a writer. Margaret decided to try a few short stories, but nothing truly came of it.
In 1892 while she was visiting her brother in Meaford, Ontario, she heard the story of a dog that was rescued by Mr. Walter Moore (the father of her sister-in-law, Louise Moore). This event inspired her to write the story of Beautiful Joe, a canine autobiography of a Meaford area dog, rescued from a brutal owner who had chopped off his ears and tail. She decided to enter the story in a literary contest sponsored by the American Humane Education Society. In her book the Moore family became the Morris Family, and she relocated the story to a small town in Maine, USA as per the contest rules. Also, because female authors were not popular at the time, she disguised her sex by not using her first name Margaret, instead using her middle name Marshall. Beautiful Joe written by Marshall Saunders was finally submitted... and won!
The book was first published in 1893 and quickly became the first Canadian book to sell more than a million copies. By 1900, over 800,000 copies had sold in the U.S., 40,000 in Canada and 100,000 in the United Kingdom. And by the 1930's worldwide sales were over 7 million copies.
Beautiful Joe was chosen as one of the 10 best children's books in Canada, and for more than a century Margaret Marshall has been one of Canada's best known writers of children's stories. In fact, the book has been distributed to children in many cities throughout North America with the hope that children will show the same compassion towards one another as they would towards animals. The book was also the first Canadian novel to be published in the universal language of Esperanto and later translated into 14 languages which include: French, English, Spanish, Dutch, Japanese and Chinese. Beautiful Joe's story has been part of the curriculum at notable Canadian universities such as Toronto, Guelph and Simon Fraser University.
Margaret was indeed a trailblazer who championed the rights of women and animals. She helped co-found the Maritime Branch of the Canadian Women's Press Club with Lucy Maude Montgomery, and continued to speak out on many other social problems as well. As a result in 1911, she received an Honorary M.A. from Arcadia University. All the while preaching kindness to animals, and working tirelessly with the many humane societies she belonged to.
In 1914, while in her 50's she moved into 66 St. George Street in downtown Toronto. She later moved in with her younger sister at 62 Glengowan Avenue. Margaret's house was always filled with pets including, at one time, 28 canaries. She liked to name her pets after the locations where they had been found. One pigeon was named 38 Front Street and a dog named Johnny Doorstep.
In 1934, at age 73, Margaret was awarded Commander of the Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.) at that time it was Canada's highest civilian honour. That same year she also received a medal from the Societe Protectice des Animaux in Paris, France.
Margaret died at her home in Toronto on February 15th, 1947. Later that same year, she was given the designation of "Person of National Historical Significance" by the Government of Canada.
Margaret is the reason our Society exists and moves forward. We feel that we owe it to her to keep her wonderful story alive. We pay tribute to this remarkable woman, who achieved so much in a time when women were not known for speaking out or taking up a cause that had such immense social implications.
Thank you Margaret.