One of the most respected and well-loved children’s authors in America, Madeleine L’Engle was a long-time resident of Goshen, Conn. In 1963, she received the Newberry Medal for her most famous novel, A Wrinkle in Time. The Crosswicks Foundation, which she started with her husband, continues to make grants to support arts and community-based organizations in New York and northwestern Connecticut.
Madeleine L’Engle Camp was born in New York City in 1918. Her father, Charles Wadsworth Camp, was a critic, writer and foreign correspondent; her mother, also named Madeleine L’Engle, was a gifted pianist. After graduating from a boarding school in Charleston, S.C., L’Engle graduated from Smith College with honors in 1941. Upon graduation, she moved to Greenwich Village to act, ultimately meeting her husband, Hugh Franklin, while the two were performing in Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard. They married in 1946 and celebrated the arrival of their first daughter in 1947. In 1952, with a second child on the way, the family moved to Crosswicks, a 200-year-old farmhouse in Goshen, Conn., where they purchased a local General Store and settled into rural life. Her first novel, The Small Rain, had been published in 1945, but it was during her years at Crosswicks that she experienced the communal life that would inspire much of her later work, including The Austin Family Series, beginning with Meet the Austins, one of the American Library Association’s Notable Children’s Books of 1960.
It was with her next novel, A Wrinkle in Time, published in 1962, that L’Engle’s career as a writer really took off. The book quickly became a popular and critical success, winning both the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award and the Newberry Medal for the most distinguished contribution to children’s literature. Two companion novels completed the Time Trilogy, A Wind in the Door (1973) and A Swiftly Tilting Planet (1978). The series was heralded for its creative blend of fairy tale, science fiction, good old-fashioned story-telling and serious themes of family love, spirituality and moral responsibility. In the 1970s, even as she continued to write children’s books, L’Engle began a series of autobiographical works that have come to be known as the “Crosswicks Journals,” named after the family’s Connecticut farmhouse. The final volume, Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage (1988), is a heart-wrenching account of the devastating illness and subsequent death of her husband of 40 years, remembered most today for his portrayal of Dr. Charles Taylor on the TV soap opera All My Children.
L’Engle continued to write and receive honors for her work until the end of her life, including two National Religious Book Awards, numerous Newberry honors and nominations and several lifetime achievement awards. In the 1980s, she was ranked by Publisher’s Weekly as one of the five-to-ten most popular and best-selling children’s authors in the country. She served as the librarian and writer-in-residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City and received many honorary doctorates from colleges and universities including Trinity College in Hartford and St. Joseph’s College in West Hartford. L’Engle died of natural causes in September 2007 in Litchfield, Conn. Her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren continue to maintain her website and encourage new generations of readers to discover her works.
During This Time
1946 - 1965: Women’s Activism in Conservative Times
The Cold War in the 1950s between the Soviet Union and the United States produced fear of domestic subversion. The McCarthy Era purged suspected Communists from government, the entertainment industry, and universities, and labeled gays and lesbians as un-American security risks. General anxiety contributed to a popular conception of the family as a source of social stability, and reinforced traditional notions of women’s place at home. In 1963, Betty Friedan called this promise of fulfillment through the domestic arts the “feminine mystique,” and advocated instead that women seek personal careers.
For two decades, a burgeoning economy and a growing consumer culture had expanded the availability of jobs for women. Notable was the increase in the workforce of married women, especially middle-class white women and educated women, though they were viewed in the media as working less for a career than to assist their families with needed income or desirable amenities for the home.
Some working-class women in labor unions challenged traditional cultural norms, such as the United Electric, Radio and Machine Workers who achieved non-discrimination clauses in local contracts. Middle-class women moderated their interest in women’s issues, promoting instead advancement through the League of Women Voters, YWCA, and the American Association of University Women. More radical women in Women Strike for Peace demonstrated against the nuclear arms race and were summoned to the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1962. Many activists would join the Civil Rights Movement.
The movement against segregation following World War II dates from the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled that segregated schools are inherently unequal and thus a violation of the 14th amendment. African-Americans were given new hope, and in 1955 Rosa Parks, a black seamstress who refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, triggered a bus boycott of critical importance. Black women and white women took part in boycotts, sit-ins, demonstrations, and marches. A culminating achievement in 1965 was the Voting Rights Act pushed through by President Johnson.
Mexican-Americans in the southwest also fought to improve their life and work conditions. In 1962, Dolores Huerta, co-founder with Cesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers, played a leading role in organizing a national boycott of grapes that forced growers to sign a contract with the union.
Other ethnic groups were soon to come to America, enriching its diversity. The Immigrant and Nationality Act of 1965 established an immigration system based on family preference. Half of the new immigrants came from Mexico and Central and South America, while a quarter were from Asia. Two-thirds of the immigrants were women and children. While poverty and acculturation were issues, for many the time-honored American process of upward social mobility had begun.
Special thanks to Barbara E. Lacey, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of History, St. Joseph's College (Hartford, CT) for preparing these historical summaries.