Beatrix Potter – the creator of the classic childhood characters of Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny, Tom Kitten, and others – has long been one of my favorite authors. I grew up reading her whimsical tales of rabbits, cats, hedgehogs, and other charming creatures. Now, in adulthood, I’ve researched the woman behind the stories I’ve loved so much, and learned that Beatrix was so much more than just a writer and painter (although that’s nothing to be ashamed of!)
So in celebration of Beatrix Potter’s 150th birthday (she was born July 28th, 1866), I’m sharing a few little facts that you may not have known about the famous children’s author:
Beatrix didn’t get married till she was 47. Miss Potter was pushing 50 before she became Mrs. Heelis – her first and only marriage. So if you’re over 35 and still single, don’t despair – there’s still time!
Beatrix brought the threatened breed of Herdwick sheep back to a thriving population. Herdwick sheep – a rare breed native to the high, inhospitable fells of the Lake District in Scotland – were a severely threatened breed in the early 20th century. Beatrix not only helped to breed the sheep back into a stable and thriving population, but she was also instrumental in helping to preserve the traditional way of life of the native shepherds of the region.
Before publishing children’s books, Beatrix was a highly respected mycologist. A what? Mycology is the study of fungi. Beatrix spent much of her childhood and young adult life studying the fungus and plant life of the Lake District, where her family had their summer home. She wrote papers and recreated different species of fungus in detailed drawings; she was never able to get scientific papers published, however, because she was a woman. However, many scholars in the field of mycology respected her work, and her drawings and paintings are so accurate and detailed that they are still studied by students today.
She invented a secret code. Her code was nothing as complex as a created language, and she never used it in her stories. She used the code for her personal journals, and the code wasn’t cracked until 1958.
Peter Rabbit started out as a letter to a friend’s child. As an adult, Beatrix remained friends with one of her governesses who had tutored her as a child. Her former governess had several children, and Beatrix would write them letters, which she would illustrate with little pencil drawings of animals. In one letter, she informed the child that she’d run out of things to tell him, so she was going to tell him a story instead. That story was the first draft of The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
As we’re celebrating Beatrix Potter’s 150th birthday this year, I hope you’ll take the time to enjoy her stories!