WKU professor McDaniel finds many lessons in Johnston’s novels
She will present a program on the author March 29
PEWEE VALLEY, Ky. (March 2017) – Sue Lynn McDaniel can spot a Little Colonel fan a mile away. All she has to do is notice the twinkle in their eyes to know they have experienced what previous generations came to cherish by reading The Little Colonel series of books by Annie Fellows Johnston.
Many times, fans and readers of The Little Colonel books “have shared stories with me about the impact the 12 novels had on their lives,” said McDaniel. She has been Associate Professor at Western Kentucky University since 1992 and Special Collections Librarian since 2007.
McDaniel will bring her expertise in the form of a presentation about Johnston’s life to Pewee Valley on Wednesday, March 29, at 314 Exchange, 314 Mt. Mercy Dr. A Celebration Lunch will be held at noon with McDaniel’s presentation following the meal.
Prior to the lunch and program at 314 Exchange,
Johnston will be honored with an historical marker dedication at the site of her former home in Pewee Valley, The Beeches, at 125 Central Ave. Beginning at 11:15 a.m., the marker unveiling is free and open to the public. The event is being organized by the Oldham County Historical Society.
Sue Lynn McDaniel
McDaniel first discovered The Little Colonel books and Johnston “through the letters written between Kentucky teenagers who couldn’t resist writing to learn their friends’ impressions of the latest novel,” said McDaniel, a Bowling Green, Ky., native.
She has worked as University Archivist at Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tenn., Archival Assistant at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Assistant Professor at Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Tenn.
“In particular, one girl, upon reading ‘The Little Colonel’s Knight Comes Riding,’ enclosed an envelope ‘to be read after the letter’ where she writes her opinion of the knight.”
In her novels, of which Johnston wrote more than 40, she “teaches etiquette, courage and morals to her readers, primarily children, through her stories addressing social issues of the time. She gives us a window into the thoughts and actions of her generation. Her fan mail at the Willard Library in Evansville, Ind., (only half of which survived the 1937 flood) provides an outstanding set of children’s letters.”
Johnston, born during the Civil War, lived through the Victorian era, the turn of the century and World War I. Her works reflect a peaceful, romantic, quaint atmosphere in Lloydsboro Valley (modeled after Pewee Valley, Ky.) where the sun always seems to shine and there is always hope for tomorrow. They transport the reader to another era – a time when all was right with the world.
McDaniel has lectured for many years about Johnston. She completed a master’s degree in history at WKU, focusing her research on 19th century social and cultural history. She also earned a master’s degree in Library and Information Science at the University of Kentucky.
“In 1988, for Women’s History Month, I prepared my first talk for a Lunchtime Learning Series,” said McDaniel. “Since then, I’ve done three major exhibits and numerous talks. And my article was published in the Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, I’ve written professional papers and collected many items for WKU Library Special Collections. You might say Annie Fellows Johnston has been my dear friend for 29 years.”
McDaniel said Johnston “is an outstanding female Kentucky writer who wrote for all generations.”
One of the qualities that made her such a good writer was that she “corresponded with her readers and sought their suggestions from their life experiences,” McDaniel said.
“American historian Anne Firor Scott wrote that reading Johnston’s books as a child made her long to live in the Old South.”
Although some of the language and attitudes in her books are outdated, most of the life lessons taught “are important to developing a caring, generous spirit,” she said. “Johnston modernized sayings and proverbs to make them relevant to her readers.”
McDaniel cited an example this Johnston saying; “I only mark the hours that shine.”
Translated into modern day times, McDaniel noted, “Oprah Winfrey revived Annie Fellows Johnston’s ‘Good Times’ book by recommending that her viewers keep a journal of their happy experiences to get them through their bad times.”
Johnston was a Kentuckian (by longtime residency) who relied upon her writing talents to support her stepchildren after the untimely death of her husband, William, in 1892. McDaniel said she has “met so many wonderful women loyal to Annie Fellows Johnston over the years (often in unexpected places). When I have done my talks and impersonations, I can immediately spot The Little Colonel fans as their eyes begin to twinkle.”
McDaniel said that at one time Johnston addressed the members of the American Library Association in Louisville who “thought her books had too much “heart interest” and were pulling them from their shelves. She said that little girls with only adult fiction and fairy tales do not recognize the boy with the apple. She filled a need in American popular literature that spread worldwide for multiple generations.”
In 1935, The Little Colonel was brought to the big screen starring America’s sweetheart, Shirley Temple. “The Shirley Temple movie success lead to the marketing by Little Colonel, Inc. of all types of items and clothing,” said McDaniel, thus spreading The Little Colonels’ fame worldwide.
From 1987 to 1992, McDaniel served as Manuscripts Librarian and Assistant Professor at WKU. While there she has held the position of University Archivist and Records Manager as well.
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