How did the Beautiful Joe story become so famous you ask?
I met a very kind woman from Milton, Nova Scotia who had come to Meaford by train and was visiting my rescuers. Her name was Margaret Marshall Saunders, and her brother John (his friends called him Jack) was marrying Louise Moore, the daughter of the man who rescued me.
Miss Saunders was very curious about me and I could tell she really liked animals – all animals!
When she returned to her home in Nova Scotia, she heard about a literary competition sponsored by the American Humane Education Society in Boston looking for submissions of stories to teach children about the humane and kind treatment of animals. She had already had a book published, so she wrote a story about me, called it Beautiful Joe, and it was told as if it was me speaking.
She wrote it under the name Marshall Saunders and sent it to Boston … and my story WON! My friend Miss Saunders received $200 U.S. and decided on the advice of her father, to retain the publishing rights. Beautiful Joe was originally published in 1894 by the American Baptist Publication Society.
Because it was an American competition, my home town was changed from Meaford, Ontario to a fictitious community of Fairport in Maine. Also, my beloved Moore family became the Morris family.
Her book about me, geared towards children ages 9 – 13, was the first Canadian novel to sell more than a million copies. By the late 1930’s, Beautiful Joe had sold 7 million copies world-wide! It has been translated into over a dozen languages – and even Braille, and was in the school curriculum at one time.
Margaret Marshall Saunders
My good friends at the Beautiful Joe Heritage Society compiled this information about author, Margaret Marshall Saunders:
- Born in Milton, Nova Scotia on April 13, 1861
- Died February 15, 1947 and is buried in Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto, ON. Her grave is unmarked
The Early Years / Family Tree
Her father, Edward Manning Saunders, was a Baptist minister. His lineage can be traced back directly to one of the ministers that arrived at Plymouth Rock on the Mayflower back in 1620 with the Pilgrims. Her mother was Maria Kisborough Freeman.
As a child, she lived in Milton, N.S., then the family moved to Berwick for 6 years and later Halifax.
At the age of 15, Margaret was sent to boarding school in Edinburgh, Scotland (1876), followed by another year in Orleans, France (1877).
Upon her return to Nova Scotia, she taught school for several years. It was recognized by a family friend, Dr. Theodore Rand who later became the Chancellor of McMaster University, that she had an aptitude for writing. She published her first novel, My Spanish Sailor in 1889, although it was not very successful.
Her second novel, Beautiful Joe was a resounding success however!
In total, she wrote 24 books, including a sequel Beautiful Joe’s Paradise – written in 1902.
In 1914, she moved to 66 St. George St. in Toronto, and later to 62 Glengowan Rd. While living there with her sister Grace, their home was always filled with lots of animals, and birds, as their family home had been when they were children in Nova Scotia. The neighbourhood children would often bring her injured birds and animals to nurse back to health.
She wrote several essays and short stories and also was on a lecture circuit. Her topics still concentrated on proper treatment of animals and all creatures, but also environmental issues, vegetarianism, women and children’s welfare and education to name a few.
- Honourary degree from Acadia University in 1911
- Recognition from the Institut Litteraire et Artistique de France
- CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) from King George in 1934
- Advocate for animal welfare and women’s rights
- She helped co-found the Maritime Branch of the Canadian Women’s Press Club with Lucy Maude Montgomery (author of Anne of Green Gables series of books)