Biography

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 526

Born in Vevay, Indiana, on December 10, 1837, Edward Eggleston (EHG-uhl-stuhn) was the oldest child of lawyer Joseph Cary Eggleston and Mary Jane Craig, daughter of a prominent Indiana farmer. Plagued by serious illnesses through childhood, Eggleston attended only two years of public school; the rest of his early education came from reading. Eggleston joined the Methodist church in 1849. While spending the summer of 1850 in Decatur County, Indiana, he heard the distinct Hoosier dialect he would later use in his fiction. His mother remarried in 1850 (Joseph Eggleston had died in 1846) to Methodist pastor Williamson Terrell, who moved the family first to New Albany, then Madison, Indiana.

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From 1854 to 1855, Eggleston visited his father’s family and studied at the Amelia Academy in Virginia. Returning to Indiana, he taught for a few weeks at a Madison primary school, but he resigned due to ill health. Attempting to regain his health in 1856, he went to the rural regions of Minnesota and became a Methodist circuit rider. He was soon regarded as the leading Methodist minister in Minnesota.

Eggleston married Lizzie Snyder of Baltimore on March 18, 1858, and they had four children. From 1859 to 1863, he worked in various pastorates and businesses. While living in Winona, Minnesota, from 1864 to 1866, he published his first stories in a magazine, The Little Corporal. In June, 1866, he moved to Chicago to become associate editor of The Little Corporal. He also wrote weekly columns for the Chicago Evening Journal and edited The Sunday School Teacher from 1867 to 1869.

Eggleston began writing for The Independent in 1867, and in 1870 he moved to New York City to become its literary editor; he was later its superintending editor for a few months in 1871. In August, 1871, he became editor of Hearth and Home, the magazine that serialized The Hoosier Schoolmaster from September 30 to December 30, 1871. Appearing in book form that same December, the novel sold over twenty thousand copies in its first year of publication and was translated into several languages. Establishing Eggleston’s fame as a fiction writer, The Hoosier Schoolmaster was read throughout the twentieth century as an example of Indiana local-color writing. His other seven novels have been largely forgotten. Throughout his life, Eggleston turned to literature only when health forced him away from ministerial duties. Moral and didactic purposes often governed the structure and tone of his fiction.

He joined the Century Club in 1883 and cofounded the Authors’ Club and the American Copyright League, a group which fought to protect international copyright. After his wife Lizzie died on January 27, 1890, Eggleston married his cousin Frances Goode on September 14, 1891. Allegheny College awarded him a doctor of humane letters degree in 1893.

Eggleston began writing American history in 1880 and shifted away from fiction later in his career. In 1900, he served as president of the American Historical Association, a group he had helped organize in 1884. Too sick to travel to Detroit for the group’s annual meeting, Eggleston had his presidential address read for him. It stressed the need for “The New History”—a social history based on the lives of normal people rather than great individuals and events. Retiring to Lake George, New York, Eggleston built “Owl’s Nest,” the home where he died on September 2, 1902.

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