Saturday, December 10, 2011

Jean Brown Wagoner--Noted Irvington Author

Jean Brown Wagoner (1896-1996), the daughter of Hilton U. and Jennie Brown, grew up in the Brown mansion at the southwest corner of East Washington Street and Emerson Avenue. Her storied childhood was documented in 1980 and 1981 when she was interviewed by Lois Lemon at the then called Hilton U. Brown Library in Irvington. The tape and transcript of the interview may now be heard or read online in the digital collections of the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library website.

One of ten children and a twin, Ms. Wagoner was a highly creative child who could recall playing in the Pleasant Run stream, sledding down her family's hill along with every other neighborhood child, and running through the family's orchard and lush gardens in the summers and autumns of her youth.

She attended School 57, Shortridge High School, and eventually graduated from Butler University, where her father was a member of the Board of Directors. She tried her hand at teaching and as a clerk for the Marion County Probate Court. In 1925, she married Clifford E. Wagoner. Her sister Jessica, an editor for the Bobbs-Merrill Printing Company in Indianapolis, encouraged Ms. Wagoner to write.

In 1943, Bobbs-Merrill published her first book, Louisa Alcott, Girl of Old Boston. It was the first of eight biographies written for children. Her books sold well to school libraries all over the country. She mainly wrote profiles of famous young women, but in the 1950s she deviated from her successful genre by writing biblical biographies for young people. Her books are still highly sought out today and many are still checked out from libraries all across the country. Other books by Ms. Wagoner include: Jane Addams, Little Lame Girl (1944); Martha Washington, Girl of Old Virginia (1947); Abigail Adams, A Girl of Colonial Days (1949); The Shepherd Lad, A Story of David of Bethlehem (1953); The Captive Lad, The Story of Daniel, the Lionhearted (1954); Jessie Fremont, A Girl of Capitol Hill (1960); and Julia Ward Howe, Girl of Old New York (1962).

The historic image shows Ms. Wagoner (upper far left) sitting on her son's (Philip Wagoner) front porch with numerous neighborhood children, including her own grandchildren at 221 South Butler Avenue. She dwelled next door at 215 South Butler Avenue. Several of John and Anna Cannaday's children from 223 South Butler and the Wood children from 234 South Butler pose with "Gray Granny" as the neighborhood affectionally called her. Ms. Wagoner's daughter-in-law, Mary, may be seen (upper right) holding one of the Wagoner children.

Sherri Wood Emmons, now an author herself (Prayers and Lies-2011), is in the front row and next to her sisters. The photo was likely taken in 1963 and perfectly captures Ms. Wagoner's love of children. Ms. Emmons reports that Ms. Wagoner frequently hosted teas for the young ladies along the avenue and used real silver. She was a highly creative person and turned a fallen tree into a pirate ship for the neighborhood children to play on and pretend. Ms.Emmons recalled that on each birthday, Ms. Wagoner gave her one of her books.

To learn more about Jean Brown Wagoner be sure to visit the public library's website and listen to her interviews. She tells much about the early history of Irvington. The historic image is courtesy of Sherri Wood Emmons. The contemporary photos show the same house today at 221 South Butler Avenue and Ms. Wagoner's home at 215 South Butler Avenue.


  1. I would really like to read the transcripts of her interview about her family's history. Do you know where I can access a transcription online or through interlibrary loan? Thank you for sharing this. It is really fascinating.

  2. You may find it on the Indianapolis Public Library website. I have linked this specific interview for you!

  3. Actually, Marie...I made it a live link in the actual blog post. Enjoy!