Nelle Harper Lee was born in Monroeville, Alabama, on April 28, 1926. Her father, Amasa Coleman Lee, was the son of a Confederate veteran and a Florida legislator. A. C. Lee himself was a prominent citizen of Monroeville, a practicing lawyer who served in the Alabama legislature for twelve years. He was also involved in the management of the local newspaper. Harper Lee’s mother was Frances Finch Lee, whose family had moved from Virginia to Alabama, where they founded Finchburg.
With her sisters, Alice and Louise, and her brother, Edwin, Harper grew up in the quiet little town of Monroeville. In her childhood, like Jean Louise (Scout) Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), Harper used to go up to the courthouse balcony to watch her father appear in court. Like Scout, Harper and Edwin had a friend from the city, Truman Capote, who spent much of his childhood with elderly relatives in Monroeville and who was later to become a distinguished writer. Harper herself had begun writing by the time she was seven.
After attending the public schools in Monroeville, Lee went to Huntington College in Montgomery, Alabama, for one year, then in 1945 transferred to the University of Alabama, where she remained from 1945 to 1950, except for one year spent as an exchange student at the University of Oxford. At the University of Alabama, Lee continued her writing, contributing to various campus publications. Then she made her decision. She must be a...
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In To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee not only captured the essence of what it was like to grow up in a small Southern town in the 1930’s, but she also showed what it was to grow up in such a society with a father who was a man of principle, who would risk his reputation and his life to defend a black man accused of a crime that violated the most sacred taboos of his society.
By making Tom Robinson’s story only one of a number of episodes in the novel, all with a similar pattern, Lee broadened the subject of her work and expanded its theme. What Atticus is endeavoring to give to his children and to his community is the power to empathize with others and the courage to defend them against injustice.
The third daughter and youngest child of Amasa Coleman Lee, an attorney and newspaper publisher, and Frances Finch Lee, reportedly a somewhat eccentric pianist, Nelle Harper Lee grew up in Monroeville, Alabama, where she was born on April 28, 1926. She attended public school there, then went to Huntington College for Women in Montgomery for a year, before transferring to the University of Alabama in 1945. Lee edited the college newspaper, the Rammer Jammer, and spent a year as an exchange student at Oxford University.
In 1950, Lee entered law school, no doubt with the intention of following in her father’s footsteps. However, after one year she decided to abandon the study of law and go to New York City to pursue a career in writing. Throughout the early 1950’s, Lee worked by day as a reservation clerk for Eastern Airlines and British Overseas Airways, living in a cramped apartment with no hot water and writing in her free time. During this period she also made many trips to Monroeville to be with her ailing father, who died in 1962. Happily, Amasa Lee did live long enough to see To Kill a Mockingbird become a hugely successful book.
In a short article published in McCall’s in December, 1961, called “Christmas to Me,” Lee recounts how she missed her home and family, contrasting New York City with memories of Monroeville during the Christmas season. However, she made some very close friends in her adopted home, and she spent Christmas with one of these families, who surprised her with a monetary gift. On the accompanying card were the words, “You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas.” She was overwhelmed, but her benefactors felt that their faith...
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