We know a lot about Edward Bellamy’s worldview from his published works. But what about his personal life?
Family was an important influence on Bellamy and his writing. For example, his parents—a Baptist minister and the daughter of a Baptist minister—set the moral examples that he followed throughout his life.1 However, it was a different pair of relatives that had a more immediate impact on his best-known work. In an essay published in the Ladies’ Home Journal, Bellamy explained what drove him to take the ideas he’d been writing about for years and turn them into Looking Backward: “Possibly I never should have mustered up courage for an undertaking so difficult, and indeed so presumptuous, but for events which gave the problem of life a new and more solemn meaning to me. I refer to the birth of my children.”2
Written at a time when raising children was generally the responsibility of mothers, it is easy to assume that Bellamy’s words were just rhetoric meant to appeal to the women he was writing for. But two pieces of evidence, his son’s baby book and his daughter’s unpublished reminiscences, suggest otherwise. The notes in one and memories in the other paint a picture of a man who was not only devoted to his writing but was also interested in raising his children.
Edward and his wife, Emma, welcomed their son, Paul, on December 26, 1884. Edward showed interest in his son from the beginning. In Paul’s baby book, which Emma treated as more of a diary than a log of childhood milestones, she wrote: “Ed seems very fond of the little thing [and] is very willing to do anything he can for him.”
Toward the end of the book, when the handwriting switches from Emma’s to Edward’s, the closeness between father and son is evident. At about fifteen months old, Edward writes, Paul began referring to himself as “Pa bye” (for “Papa’s boy”). In January of 1887, while Emma was sleeping in another room with the infant Marion, Paul slept in a crib alongside Edward, making it “a trick of his to possess himself of my hand and make a pillow of it.” And throughout the pages, Edward continually demonstrates a fascination with the words and phrases that Paul uses, documenting his names for a horse (“goo-goo”), his sister (“titta”), and printed or written documents (“durdy”), among others.3
The Bellamys’ daughter, Marion (born March 4, 1886), echoes the sense of closeness that Paul’s baby book conveys in the first paragraph of her reminiscences: “When I was a little girl I loved to climb up into my father’s lap as he sat reading in the spacious plush chair by the living room window. He never pushed me aside, but opened his arms wide and made me comfortable.”4 Edward spent hours talking to his children and telling them stories. He also encouraged their educations and reading habits, although he didn’t understand his daughter’s taste in fairy tales and other “girlie” books. Indeed, she describes him as being unlike the typical Victorian father, taking “parenthood seriously and cooperat[ing] with [her] mother in every department of baby tending, except diapering and feeding.”5
Marion goes on to provide anecdotes about her father’s successes and failures as a parent, the monthly records he kept of her and Paul’s heights, and their shared outdoor adventures.6 She describes how he scolded them for selfishness, was impatient with their carelessness, chastised them for not standing up for themselves, and disapproved of affectation.7 He also taught them how to grow vegetables, welcomed their playmates, and cancelled a speaking engagement to be with his family when Marion was seriously ill.8
Although he didn’t live long enough to see his children grow to adulthood, Edward Bellamy made a lasting impression on them both. His son, Paul, followed in his footsteps and became a newspaper editor; his daughter, Marion, spent much of her life speaking and writing about his ideas.9 While certainly not perfect, Bellamy seems to have been an engaged and caring parent who not only wrote about the importance of loving others but worked to live by this standard as well.
- Sylvia Bowman, The Year 2000 (New York: Bookman Associates, 1958) 16.
- Edward Bellamy, “How I Wrote ‘Looking Backward’,” Ladies’ Home Journal, April 1894, 2.
- Paul Bellamy’s baby book, Edward Bellamy Memorial Archives.
- Bowman, 70; Marion Earnshaw, “The Light of Other Days,” n.d., Marion Bellamy Earnshaw Collection, 1.
- Earnshaw, 10, 12.
- Ibid., 14, 15.
- Ibid., 16, 17, 28, 34, 47.
- Ibid., 27, 30, 41.
- Arthur E. Morgan, Edward Bellamy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1944) 72.