Early Life

(19th-Century Biographies)

Horatio Alger, Jr., traced his ancestry to Puritans who came to Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1621. His father, Horatio Alger, Sr., was a graduate of the Harvard Theological School and the minister at the First Congregational Church in Chelsea, Massachusetts. His mother, Olive Augusta Fenno, had married his father just ten months before the birth of Horatio, Jr. The ministerial stipend was not large; thus, the family was usually in debt. In 1844, when Horatio, Jr., was twelve, his father went bankrupt. For a time his father turned to farming but eventually went back into the ministry and later served in the Massachusetts state legislature.

Alger was a sickly child; he was nearsighted and had asthma. In 1848, at the age of sixteen, he was admitted to Harvard College. The first publication for which he received payment came in 1849 when a Boston magazine bought a poem he had penned. During his senior year, he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and he graduated in 1852. Although he immediately planned to enter the Harvard Divinity School, a writing job arose, and he decided to become a journalist—a career he was to follow for five years. In the fall of 1857, he entered the Harvard Divinity School, from which he graduated in 1860. Alger was soon named to the pulpit of the Unitarian Church in Brewster, Massachusetts. Because his church duties were often light, he spent a great deal of time writing stories for children, which was not a popular sideline in the eyes of his parishioners.

Unfortunately, Alger apparently had a homosexual relationship with one or more of the young boys in his church. Once this came to light in 1866, he was forced not only to resign his church but also to resign the ministry. The Unitarians agreed to keep the situation quiet if Alger agreed to never again serve as a minister. He then moved to New York, where he became a full-time writer. His personal relations with boys never again came into question. Many authors, however, have speculated that Alger’s love for boys was a vicarious motivation that surfaced in his writing. From the event, Alger learned discretion and was never again accused of a homosexual relationship, but he also never allowed himself to be in the public eye. His books and short stories were all that people ever really knew about the man during the remainder of his lifetime.