John Greenleaf Whittier
This is a short poem that has long been a favorite of mine. So I couldn’t resist including it in Wondrous Light. It’s a book that I curated and designed this book, and it’s a collection of prose, poetry, reflections, and photography for Advent and Christmas (available now on Amazon.)
John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892) was an American Quaker poet and advocated for abolishing slavery in the United States. He was frequently listed as one of the fireside poets and was influenced by the Scottish poet Robert Burns. However, Whittier is remembered mainly for his anti-slavery writings and his 1866 long narrative poem Snow-Bound.
Quakerism’s doctrines on humanitarianism, compassion, and social responsibility influenced Whittier. In 1833, Whittier published the anti-slavery pamphlet Justice and Expediency. From there, he dedicated the next twenty years of his life to the abolitionist cause. Whittier was a founding member of the American Anti-Slavery Society. Unfortunately, he was unsuccessful in convincing Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to join the party. Nevertheless, he signed the Anti-Slavery Declaration of 1833, which he often considered the most significant action of his life.
Whittier was particularly supportive of women writers, including Sarah Orne Jewett. They shared a belief in the moral quality of literature and an interest in New England folklore. Jewett dedicated one of her books to him and modeled several of her characters after people in Whittier’s life.
But, did he write the poem?
“Somehow Not Only for Christmas” is attributed to John Greenleaf Whittier. However, I was unable to confirm his authorship. So, I contacted the Library of Congress for assistance. They said they didn’t think he was the author because the poem does not appear in Whittier’s works. Interestingly, the Library of Congress speculates that the author may be Margaret E. Sangster.
Margaret Elizabeth Sangster (1838–1912) was an American poet, author, and editor. Her poetry focused on family and church themes. Later, she worked in several fields, including book reviewing, story writing, and verse-writing. However, much of her writing did not include her name.
In 1858, twenty-year-old Margaret married widower George Sangster and became a full-time wife and stepmother. When he died in 1871, she turned to journalism to support her family for seventeen years. Sangster held editorial positions with several periodicals and eventually became an editor at Harper’s Bazaar in 1889 for ten years. She became acquainted with notable people of her era through her work, including Mark Twain and Hellen Keller.
Most of her writing after 1889 was for the newspapers and without her name. In speaking of her profession as a journalist, she said,
“I love it with all my heart, and would not exchange it with all its drudgery for any other position of which I can dream. Everything about it suits me and charms me. More, perhaps, than anything else, I value the opportunity it gives me to say helpful words and reach a cordial hand to the struggling of my sex.”Margaret E. Sangster
So, who wrote the poem?
Certainly, Whittier could have, especially with the influence of Robert Burn’s writings. But, on the other hand, it could have been Sangster as women often didn’t receive the credit at this time.
I’m rooting for Sangster.
Debora Ragland Buerk
The Write Stuff
Looking at life from a different POV.