In Memorial: Margaret M. Hodges

Professor Emeritus Margaret Hodges died December 13, 2005, at her home in Pittsburgh. She was a University of Pittsburgh alumna, an awarding-winning children’s book author, a storyteller, and a member of the faculty of the Department of Library and Information Science at the University of Pittsburgh from 1964 until her retirement in 1976. She was 94 year old, and is survived by her husband, Fletcher Hodges, and by her three sons, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Sarah Margaret Hodges, Peggy to her friends, was born on July 26, 1911, in Indianapolis, Indiana. Her father, Arthur Carlisle, was a businessman; her mother, Anna Marie Moore, died six months after Peggy was born, so she was raised by her father and a cousin, Margaret Carlisle, who moved in with the family to care for the household. Peggy was a voracious reader. Her father would often read aloud and recite long poems at the fireplace, a talent that Peggy continued throughout her life.

Her first publication was a short story entitled “Miss Matty’s Library,” which was published in an elementary school magazine; it described a small, cozy neighborhood library where children were helped by a friendly librarian. She also sent a poem to St. Nicholas Magazine . Later she attended Tudor Hall, a private school for girls in Indianapolis, and during her sophomore year she met Fletcher Hodges, the brother of her best friend. She said of him, "He was in his senior year at Harvard and therefore the most exciting male creature I had as yet encountered.” They were engaged on December 31, 1928, but they would not marry until 1932, when she graduated from Vassar College, with honors. 

Fletcher Hodges’ life work was with a private collection of materials relating to the American composer Stephen Collins Foster. In 1937, the collection and the Hodges family came to Pittsburgh, where Fletcher became curator of the University of Pittsburgh's Stephen Foster Memorial. The couple lived in Shadyside, and had three sons, Fletcher III, Arthur Carlisle, and John Andrews.

Hodges’ library career began when she volunteered to work at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. She adapted and told Arthurian legends, and wrote scripts for a radio program called "The Children's Bookshelf."  In 1953, she began a radio program called "Let's Tell a Story." In 1964, the radio program became "Tell Me a Story", a nationally broadcast television program from Pittsburgh's WQED-TV and it was here that Hodges met Fred Rogers, then also beginning a career in television. Their friendship lasted until Rogers’ death in 2003. Hodges said of her storytelling experiences, "The art of storytelling thrilled me because I saw it as a way to lead children to good literature, to leap the boundaries between literacy and illiteracy, and to bring the marvelous old tales to listeners of all ages.”

Hodges later began graduate studies in library science at the Carnegie Institute of Technology where she took courses with Elizabeth Nesbitt, and earned her MLS in 1958. Hodges was instrumental in developing the Elizabeth Nesbitt Room in the School of Information Sciences Library at the University of Pittsburgh, which now contains more than 14,000 rare and historically important children’s books. She worked as a children’s literature specialist and storyteller at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh until 1964. The School of Library Science had by this time become part of the University of Pittsburgh, and Dean Harold Lancour asked Mrs. Hodges to teach a course in storytelling. Mrs. Hodges taught graduate courses on literature for children, the history of children’s literature, and storytelling, all historically strengths in the SIS master’s degree program. She was also an advisor for many who became children’s librarians, and she was a lively member of the faculty. Her Christmas plays, her artful introductions of the faculty at orientation sessions, and her storytelling at faculty social events were legendary. She continued as a full-time member of the faculty until her retirement in 1976 as Professor Emeritus; on that occasion Peggy was honored by the School with its 1976 Distinguished Alumna Award. Students from one of her last classes in storytelling formed a group known as “Storytellers Unlimited,” a group which lasted nearly twenty years.

Margaret Hodges’ career as a writer began with One Little Drum published by Follett Publishing Company in 1958. This was followed by novels and children’s books based on her on experiences and those of her sons. She and her husband loved to travel and many of her books reflect visits to special places, especially their summers in England. Travel, folklore, mythology and history became the focus of many of her books; her readers were delighted by titles such as The Gorgon's Head, Persephone and the Springtime, The Avenger, Lady Queen Anne, Hopkins of the Mayflower, The High Riders, and Knight Prisoner: The Story of Sir Thomas Malory and His King Arthur,The Other World, Myths of the Celts, Baldur and the Mistletoe, and The Little Humpbacked Horse, a Russian Tale, among others. In 1985, St. George and the Dragon, written by Hodges and illustrated by the late Trina Schart Hyman, won the American Library Association’s prestigious Caldecott Medal, given for "the most distinguished American picture book for children published in English in the United States during the preceding year." One of her most recent works was Merlin and the Making of the King also illustrated by Hyman.

At the time of her death, three more children’s books were in the process, with a book on Moses illustrated by Barry Moser already scheduled to be published in January, 2006. She once said of her work, "I don't see myself as a creator, but rather as a sort of midwife, simply bringing out life that existed in itself before I ever took pen in hand.” An extensive collection of her work now resides in the Elizabeth Nesbitt Room in the School of Information Sciences Library.

Her writing was always done by hand--no computers for her! In fact many of her manuscripts were stored in an old refrigerator in her home. "I need good ideas, and they don't come out of machines," she once said. Her life was a rich full one, centered on family, friends and students. She and her husband lived most recently in a retirement community in Oakmont, PA.

In 1976 speaking at the dedication of the Elizabeth Nesbit Room, Peggy spoke about an essay of Miss Nesbitt’s, calling it prophetic. The words now speak eloquently about that “goodly heritage” Peggy herself leaves. She said, “[Miss Nesbitt] saw the present "machine age" as one that brought material well-being, but a decrease in idealism, an increase in leisure time but no increase in the ability to use leisure, more artificial recreation but less ability to entertain ourselves, more emphasis on education of the individual to think for himself or herself, but increased dependence on predigested thought, demand for more, and better books for children but an apparent lessening of faith in the child's ability to appreciate these books."

Peggy Hodges was a wonderful and generous person with a lively sense of humor. Her life brought many honors, including recognition as a Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania. But most will remember her as an inspiring teacher and spell-binding storyteller. She always encouraged her students to tell a good tale, and she kept the spirit of the young child that she had once been alive and well: "I had been a child who could 'believe three impossible things before breakfast.' A sense of wonder is still alive in me."

A memorial service will be held at Calvary Episcopal Church, Pittsburgh, PA on January 14, 2006. Contributions can be made to the Margaret Hodges Scholarship Fund, School of Information Sciences, 135 North Bellefield, Pittsburgh, PA 15260 or to the Elizabeth Nesbitt Room, University Library System, University of Pittsburgh, 15260.

Margaret Mary Kimmel
Ellen Detlefsen

Works Cited

Bleier, Carol. Tradition in Transition: A History of the School of Information Sciences, University of Pittsburgh, 100 th Anniversary, 1901-2001. Lanham MD: University of Pittsburgh School of Information Sciences and Scarecrow Press, 2001.

Commire, Anne, ed. Something About the Author, Vol. 33. Detroit: Gale research, 1983, 96-98

Hodges, Margaret. Something About the Author: Autobiography Series, Vol. 9. Joyce Nakamura, ed. Detroit: Gale Research, 1990, 183-201.

Lavelle, Nichole. “Margaret Hodges.”

Peacock, Scott, ed. Something About the Author, Vol. 117. Detroit: Gale Research, 2000, 73-80.