What if I told you there was a woman from Albany who brought joy to thousands of children across the world for almost 100 years and will continue to do so?
Her name is Dorothy Pulis Lathrop and she was an award-winning illustrator and writer of children’s books.
Dorothy was born before the turn of the last century in 1891. Her parents, Cyrus Lathrop and Ida Pulis Lathrop, came to Albany in 1888. Cyrus was originally from Connecticut, son of a bookseller. Ida was from Troy – the school teacher daughter of a carpenter. In the early days they lived at 230 Washington Ave. (just above Henry Johnson Blvd.), where Cyrus ran a thriving business that re-supplied restroom laundry in restaurants and other businesses. There were 2 daughters (Gertrude – whom we will discuss at another time) and Dorothy.
Meanwhile, Ida painted; she was a self-taught artist of great skill. (Her paintings are in the permanent collections of a number of museums) and the last time one of her pieces came up for auction – at Christie’s’ about 25 years ago, it went for $15,000. By the early 1900s Ida had nationwide fame.
Cyrus was a man of great faith and concern for the well-being of his fellow man, especially children. He’s said to have volunteered frequently at the City Mission when he first came to Albany. In 1892 he was one of the founders of the Albany Boys Club and soon became its president and executive director. This lead to a series of appointments in NYS government, overseeing charitable organizations – from orphan asylums to hospitals – across the State. He remained in state government for the rest of his life.
In the early 1900s the Lathrops moved to one of the new villas on South Allen St. in Pine Hills. The house was designed by Ida and included two rooms for her art studio. The large backyard was filled with the apple trees and the family’s petting zoo: porcupines, sheep, turtles, raccoons, goats, chipmunks and squirrels. While Cyrus traveled for work Ida and the girls stayed at home, painting and playing with the animals.
Dorothy graduated from Albany High School and went on to study art at Columbia in NYC. She returned to Albany and taught art for a couple of years at Albany High School, getting some free-lance magazine work, but she was determined to have a career as an illustrator. She returned to art school in Philadelphia and New York and then started pounding the pavements in New York City, portfolio in hand. One of her stops was at the new and tiny publishing firm, Alfred Knopf. Knopf was a year younger than Dorothy, eager to try new talent and snapping up European authors to publish in America.
Knopf paired her with Walter de la Mare, an English poet and writer best known for his children’s books these days. Their first partnership was “The Three Mulla Muggars (a/k/a – “The Three Royal Monkeys”. He believed fervently in children’s natural inclination to live in a world of fantasy. Lathrop’s illustrations lead the reader into that realm and let them run wild. (Dorothy developed a close relationship with de la Mare; they collaborated on another 5 books.)
She was off and running – at the beginning of prolific award-winning career. She illustrated almost 50 children’s books (and wrote of many of them herself) that drew on her love of animals and nature. In 1929 she was the co-winner of the Newbery Medal (the Medal is awarded by the American Library Association for “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children” ) with writer Rachel Field for “Hitty, Her First Hundred Years”. It’s a wonderful story of a doll who travels the world for a century and writes her memoirs. (Hitty – the actual doll, owned by Rachel Fields and inspiration for the book, spent time on display in Harmanus Bleecker Library in Albany in 1930.)
Two years later Dorothy was a Newbery runner-up for “The Fairy Circus”, which she wrote and illustrated. (I inherited all the Lathrop books from my mother and uncles. This may be my favorite; a group of fairies who put together a circus with all the little woodland creatures in their world, but I’m positively mad for all Lathrop’s books.)
In 1938 she was the first winner of the Caldecott Medal (awarded by the American Library Association) for the “most distinguished American picture book for children” for ”Animals in the Bible”. She said in her acceptance speech, “I can’t help wishing that just now all of you were animals. Of course technically you are, but if only I could look down into a sea of furry faces, I would know better what to say.”
Dorothy continued to work in the realm of children’s lit into her 60s, but in the early 1950s she turned to non-fiction as well. In “Let them live” (1951) she was one the first to warn against the destruction of the natural habitats and eco-systems that support wildlife.
Dorothy called Albany home until the mid-1950s She was a founding member of the Albany Print Club (her specialty was wood block prints, although she was proficient in all media); her papers are in its permanent collection. Sometimes, she could be found reading her books at story hour in some of the local library branches. In 1954, Dorothy and Gertrude moved to the Falls Village, Ct., but still spent considerable time in Albany. Her work, and that of Gertrude, a sculptor, was displayed at the Institute and other venues. (The Institute has the work of Ida, Dorothy and Gertrude in their collection.)
I have a dim recollection of seeing Dorothy at the John Mistletoe book store (originally on Lark St. – subsequently it moved around the corner to Washington Ave.). The Mistletoe was first owned by her good friends Eleanor Foote and then Mary and Ed French. It had a great children’s section and from time to time Dorothy would appear at events. She was a tall, kind and soft-spoken woman who seemed more a home with kids than adults.
Dorothy died in 1980 at the age of 89 in Falls Village. She’s buried with her sister and parents in Section 27, Lot 46 of the Albany Rural Cemetery.
She once wrote: “How I came to write and draw for children I do not know. Perhaps it is simply that I am interested most of all in the things many of them like best–creatures of all kinds, whether they run, fly, hop, or crawl, and in fairies and all their kin, and in all the adventures that might happily befall one in a world which is so constantly surprising and wonderful.”
Here’s a list of the books Dorothy Lathrop illustrated:
- A Little Boy Lost. Hudson, W. H. (author), Knopf, 1929.
- An Angel in the Woods. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1947.
- Animals of the Bible. Lathrop, Dorothy (author), Lippincott, 1937.
- Balloon Moon. Cabot, Elsie (author), Henry Holt, 1927.
- Bells and Grass. De La Mare, Walter (author), Viking, 1965.
- Bouncing Betsy. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1936.
- Branches Green. Field, Rachel (author), Macmillan, 1934.
- Childcraft in 15 Volumes. Lathrop, Dorothy P. et al. (author), Field Educational Pub., 1954.
- Crossings: A Fairy Play. De La Mare, Walter (author), Knopf, 1923.
Devonshire Cream. Dean, Agnes L. (author), Unity Press, 1950.
- Down-Adown-Derry: A Book of Fairy Poems. De La Mare, Walter (author), Henry Holt, 1922.
- Fierce-Face: The Story of a Tiger. Mukerji, Dhan Gopal (author), Dutton, 1938.
- Follow the Brook. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1960.
- Grateful Elephant. Burlingame, Eugene W. (author), Yale University Press, 1923.
- Grim: The Story of a Pike. Fleuron, Svend (author), Knopf, 1921.
- Hide and Go Seek. Lathrop, Dorothy (author), E.M. Hale, 1931
- Hitty: Her First Hundred Years. Field, Rachel (author), Macmillan, 1947.
- Kaleidoscope. Farjeon, Eleanor (author), Stokes, 1929.
- Japanese Prints. Fletcher (author), Four Seas Press, Boston, 1918.
- Let Them Live. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1961.
- Made-To-Order Stories. Canfield, Dorothy (author), Harcourt Brace, 1953.
- Mopsa the Fairy. Jean, Ingelow (author), Harper & Brothers, 1927.
- Mr. Bumps and His Monkey. De La Mare, Walter (author), Winston, 1942.
- Presents for Lupe. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1940.
- Puffy and the Seven Leaf Clover. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1954.
- Puppies for Keeps. Lathrop, Dorothy (author), Macmillan, 1944.
- Silverhorn: The Hilda Conkling Book For Other Children. Conkling, Hilda (author), Stokes, 1924.
- Snow Image. Hawthorne, Nathaniel (author), Macmillan, 1930.
- Stars To-Night: Verses New and Old for Boys and Girls. Teasdale, Sara (author), Macmillan, 1930.
- Sung under the Silver Umbrella. Education Association For Childhood (author), Macmillan, 1935.
- Tales From The Enchanted Isles. Gate, Ethel May (author), Yale University Press, 1926.
- The Colt from Moon Mountain. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1941.
- The Dog in the Tapestry Garden. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1962.
- The Dutch Cheese. De La Mare, Walter (author), Knopf, 1931.
- The Fair of St. James. Farjeon, Eleanor (author), Stokes, 1932.
- The Fairy Circus. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1931.
- The Forgotten Daughter. Snedeker, Caroline Dale (author), Doubleday, 1933.
- The Happy Flute. Mandal, Sant Ram (author), Stokes, 1939.
- The Light Princess. Macdonald, George (author), Macmillan, 1952.
- The Little Mermaid. Andersen, Hans (author), Macmillan, 1939.
- The Little White Goat. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1935.
- The Littlest Mouse. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1955.
- The Long Bright Land. Howes, Edith (author), Little Brown, 1929.
- The Lost Merry-Go-Round. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1938.
- The Princess and Curdie. MacDonald, George (author), Macmillan, 1927.
- The Skittle Skattle Monkey. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1945.
- The Snail Who Ran. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Stokes, 1934.
- The Snow Image. Hawthorne, Nathaniel (author), Macmillan, 1930.
- The Three Mulla-Mulgars. De La Mare, Walter (author), Knopf, 1919.
- The Treasure of Carcassonne. Robida, A. (author), E.M. Hale, 1926.
- Who Goes There? Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1935