Horatio's Top Matches
About Horatio Alger, Jr.
Horatio Alger, Jr. January 13, 1832 – July 18, 1899
Parents: Horatio Alger 1806-1881 and Olive Fenno
Horatio Alger was a prolific 19th-century American author, best known for his many formulaic juvenile novels about impoverished boys and their rise from humble backgrounds to lives of respectable middle-class security and comfort through hard work, determination, courage, and honesty. He initially wrote and published for adults, but a friendship with boys' author William Taylor Adams led him to writing for the young. He published for years in Adams's Student and Schoolmate, a boys' magazine of moral writings. His lifelong theme of "rags to respectability" had a profound impact on America in the Gilded Age. His works gained even greater popularity following his death, but gradually lost reader interest in the 1920s.Born in Chelsea, Massachusetts, Alger entered Harvard College at age sixteen and became a professional writer at seventeen with the sale of a few literary pieces to a Boston magazine. He worked briefly as an assistant editor for a Boston magazine before teaching in New England boys' schools for a few years. He graduated from Harvard Divinity School in 1860, wrote in support of the Union cause during the American Civil War, and accepted a ministerial post with a Unitarian church in Brewster, Massachusetts in 1864. He left the church in 1866 following an internal investigation regarding sexual misconduct allegations involving two teenage boys of the parish. He denied nothing and relocated to New York City. In 1864 he published Frank's Campaign, his first boys' book, and in 1865 his second boys' book Paul Prescott's Charge.
He continued to write and published a third boys' book Charlie Codman's Cruise. He found his literary niche in 1866 with his fourth boys' book Ragged Dick, the story of a poor bootblack's rise to middle-class respectability. His many boys' books that followed were essentially variations on Ragged Dick and featured a series of stock characters – the valiant youth, the noble mysterious stranger, the snobbish youth, and the evil squire. In the 1870s Alger took a trip to California to gather material for future books but the trip had little influence on his writing; he remained firmly fixed in his "rags to respectability" formula. The Puritan ethic had loosened its grip on America during these years, and Alger's moral tone coarsened. Violence, murder, and other sensational themes entered his works; public librarians questioned whether his books should be made available to the young. He published about 100 boys' books and died in 1899. A biography that eventually proved to be a hoax was published in 1928 and held great sway for many years. Since 1947, the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans has bestowed awards and scholarships on the deserving, and in 1982 Alger's works inspired a musical comedy called Shine!. One modern scholar has described his work as a male Cinderella myth noting similarities with the classic fairy tale.
Register said the ceremony was "one of peculiar and general interest," involving an "intelligent and animatedly interested congregation."
A couple weeks later, the Rev. Alger spoke at the Lyceum in Yarmouthport about his travel through Europe. There he demonstrated all the characteristics that made him an effective preacher and author. "It was a most admirable performance ... and was characterized by good sense, discriminating judgement and shrewd observations of the peculiarities of people," the Register wrote.
The Rev. Alger's popularity began to sour after he had been in the job for slightly more than a year. Whispers of improper conduct began to circulate around Brewster. On March 6, the Unitarian church's standing committee voted not to renew the Rev. Alger's contract. That action infuriated some members of the church who felt that if the horrible rumors were true and nothing was done, then the Rev. Alger would be free to continue his depravities at another parish. An investigation was called for, and it revealed what everyone feared: Horatio Alger, the minister and children's book author, was a pedophile. And he had been preying upon boys in the parish.
The church investigating committee confirmed that at least two boys had been molested. In a report to the American Unitarian Association in Boston, one of the investigators submitted a summary of their findings, which said in part:
"Horatio Alger Jr. who has officiated as our minister for about 15 months past has recently been charged with gross immorality and a most heinous crime, a crime of no less magnitude than the abominable and revolting crime of unnatural familiarity with boys, which is too revolting to think of in the most brutal of our race -- the commission of which under any circumstances is to a refined or Christian mind too utterly incomprehensible ..."
When confronted with these accusations, Alger did not deny them, nor did he confirm them except to say he had been "imprudent" with the boys in question. He left town that day, never to return.
The rest of the story, unfortunately, has become all too familiar in modern times. Alger never returned to the ministry, but continued to write articles on faith and morality for Unitarian journals aimed at youth. When outraged Unitarians from Brewster complained, the national organization claimed there was nothing it could do. The matter was effectively swept under the rug.
Alger went on to write his very successful series of novels for boys. There is no record that he continued molesting children, although he did move to New York City where one could indulge in such appetites with anonymity. When he died he was beloved all over America by millions of children and adults for his life-affirming tales of the courage of young boys in the face of adversity. Alger was loved everywhere except in the small, quiet village of Brewster which knew that no matter how many wonderful novels you write, it was not words, but deeds, by which we measure a man." Evan J. Albright, capecodconfidential.com, 2002