Born: September 20, 1831, Allegheny City, Pennsylvania.
Died: May 29, 1917, Ft. Madison, Iowa.
Buried: Farmington Cemetery, Farmington, Iowa.
Rebecca was the daughter of Professor N. R. Smith, a playwright and authority on Shakespeare, and wife of James Pollard.
A teacher, writer and poet, she spent her most productive years in Iowa. She was the anonymous author of Emma Bartlett, or Prejudice and Fanaticism, a fictional reply to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, intended to expose the hypocrisy of Know-Nothingism.
Pollard’s family moved to Ohio, then Kentucky, where she worked as a teacher. Later, she taught in Chicago, Illinois.
She lived in various Iowa cities, including Farmington, Keosauqua, Burlington, Ft. Madison and Keokuk.
She began her writing career with the Louisville Journal, whose editor opposed secession and was an important influence in keeping Kentucky in the Union.
In her Letters from a Prairie Cottage, Pollard included a children’s corner with tales about taming and raising animals and of a cat who adopted orphan chicks. She also wrote children’s books, including a primer and a speller.
Pollard’s work in the field of reading represented a pioneer effort to create a sequential reading program of intensive synthetic phonics, created, complete with a separate teacher’s manual and spelling and reading books, and moving into a broad based graded series of literature readers.
Her series is important for its high correlation of spelling and reading instruction, for its concern for the interests of children, for its incorporation of music into the process of learning to read, and as the forerunner for other phonics systems. Her readers were used in every state in America, and were used in Keokuk, Iowa, as late as 1937. Few women have single-handedly contributed so much to the field of reading.
In 1869, Pollard published a book of poems titled Maymie, as a tribute to her ten year old daughter who died that year. She followed up the next year with In Memoriam, Maymie, April 6th, 1869, a meditation on death and suffering.
Emma Bartlett received mixed reviews when it was published in 1856. The Ohio Statesman gave a very good review, but the Cincinnati Times said,
We have read this book. We pronounce the plot an excellent one and the style charming, but she has failed to fulfill the intended mission of the book. It accused her of also showing prejudice and fanaticism typical of the politicians she tried to defend.
In 1876, she published Centennial, and Other Poems to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the American Declaration of Independence, and the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the first official World’s Fair held in the United States. The volume included many poems about Iowa, selected poems of Pollard’s father, and illustrations of the Centennial grounds in Philadelphia.
Pollard was 79 years old when she produced the poem, Althea or Morning Glory, which relates to Iowa.
’Tis not death, but only gliding
Upward through the pearly gate,
Just to see that all is ready;
Just a little while to wait.
Just to fan the Eden bowers
With her new-tried angel wings,
And to sweep her snowy fingers
O’er her harp of golden strings.
’Tis not death, but only mingling
With those bright, angelic throngs,
That the blessed ones may teach her
All their grand, triumphant songs.
She will learn them of the angels;
She will know them when we come,
And, before we reach the portal,
We shall hear her,
’Tis not death, but only hastening
To the loved ones gone before,
Just to learn how love unmeasured
Shall be hers forevermore.
Just to feel her spirit folded
In a father’s warm embrace,
And to gaze, with joy and rapture,
On an angel sister’s face.
’Tis not death—the soul’s releasing—
Bursting of its prison bars—
Bounding back to God who gave it—
Mounting upward to the stars—
Is but life—’tis life eternal
Here to close the weary eyes
But to open them, with transport,
On the beams of Paradise.
’Tis not death: we have not lost her:
She has only gone before,
Just to hold a welcome ready
When we reach the shining shore.
Earthly ties are loosening round us,
Earthly hopes are laid aside;
Here in flesh, but there in spirit—
Heaven is home since Maymie died.
Rebecca Pollard (Kate Harrington)
In Memoriam. Maymie. April 6, 1869, 1870
If you know where to get a good photo of Pollard (head-and-shoulders, at least 200×300 pixels), would you ?