Amelia Bedelia, Peggy Parish’s clumsy but beloved housekeeper, has been delighting children and adults alike ever since she debuted in 1963, and is now one of the most beloved children’s book characters of all time. Although you may be familiar with it creative take on housework, here are some things you might not know Amelia Bedelia.
Parish was already a published author at the time when the first Amelia book was released in 1963. His first book, let’s be indians, It was published in 1962 by Harper and Row, under the editorship of Susan Hirschman. Throughout her career, Parish would continue to write more than 30 books12 of which featured Miss Bedelia—but apparently, not all of his ideas were home runs.
“She came in and she had some kind of terrible manuscripts about sweet little kittens, talking kittens, as I recall. Nothing very interesting at all. Hirschman said in a 2013 interview“[but] it was fascinating, so there was clearly more to come…and Peggy knew how funny it was.” The creation and subsequent success of Amelia Bedelia was inevitable with a mind like Peggy’s.
Parish taught third grade at New York’s progressive Dalton School for 15 years, during which she published the first Amelia Bedelia book. Amelia’s unique worldview was shaped by Parish’s interactions with her students; her youthful naivety was demonstrated in her approach to language and her understanding of the concept of idioms. She realized that a person who took everything at face value and the various shenanigans that could ensue would make for an interesting story.
Years later, his nephew—and future author of the series“Herman Parish heard a story from one of his late aunt’s cousins about a bumbling young housekeeper who used to work for his grandparents. “[Their grandmother] told her to ‘sweep the room’… she did exactly as she was told: she swept the edges of the room, but left the center of the room untouched.” Herman said in a 2013 interview. “I asked this cousin if he had ever reminded Peggy about this maid. He said that when he did, Peggy didn’t say anything, she just smiled.”
Herman also believed that a bit of his own aunt was present in the character: “[She] she often took things literally, not continuously like Amelia Bedelia does, but often enough that one could understand how she could have come up with the character naturally,” she said. She even dedicated her first book in the series, Good driving, Amelia Bedelia, to “Peggy Parish, the real Amelia.”
“I wanted a double name, it had to be a double name”, parish once said. He wrote down the names as they occurred to him, but he knew in his heart that they didn’t quite fit. However, when the name “Amelia Bedelia” came to her “out of the blue”, she didn’t have to write it down, she knew that she had finally found her name.
After the sudden death of Peggy Parish in 1988, Amelia Bedelia took a break from new adventures for a while. But Amelia’s popularity did not stop and the Parish family continued to receive requests from children of all ages to publish more of her stories. Several other children’s book authors approached the family with offers to continue the series, but Herman Parish, Peggy’s nephew, i felt restless about leaving the family. A working editor, he thought it might be a good fit to carry on Amelia’s legacy, but insisted it wasn’t going to be published “just because.” [he’s] a parish.” He studied his aunt’s books for over a year before feeling qualified to pick up a pen himself. Things definitely worked out; after the success of his first book, Good driving, Amelia Bedelia, Herman has published more than 30 Amelia books of her own.
Inundated with questions from children about whether Amelia had “always been like this”, Herman was inspired to begin writing about his childhood and his outlandish misadventures. His first book of young Amelia, Amelia Bedelia’s first day of school, was published in 2009 and turned into a New York Times best seller. He continued to write about her childhood and even began writing chapter books on young Amelia for slightly older readers.
Parish, originally from Manning, South Carolina, returned to the state after spending several years in New York. The town of Manning decided to honor her with commission a statue of Amelia by sculptor James Peter Chaconne. Erected in 1999, the bronze statue of Amelia stands proudly in front of the Harvin Clarendon County Library in Manning as a moving tribute to one of the small town’s most beloved former residents.
NPR this american life podcast asked writer Hallie Cantor to imagine Amelia’s response to COVID-19 lockdowns and work-from-home life. listen while Amelia literally “jumps into a Zoom call” and visits a baseball field to “touch HR.”