Author Frances Boyd Calhoun was born in Mecklenburg County, Virginia, in 1867, one of five children of a newspaper editor and publisher. In 1880 the family moved to Covington, Tennessee, where Frances Boyd attended Tipton Female Academy. She displayed her intelligence early by winning a scholarship awarded to the Tipton County female who graduated with the highest honors. After graduation, she taught school and wrote for her father's newspaper. In 1903 she married George Barret Calhoun, who died a year later.
As a lingering illness made continuing to teach impossible, Calhoun, from her lawn chair swing, turned to writing and regaling friends (youths and adults, alike) with her remarkable skill for storytelling.
Calhoun was best known as the bright and talented author of the 1909 best-selling children's book, Miss Minerva and William Green Hill, in which Calhoun portrays friends and town youths from Covington. She submitted her manuscript to Messrs. Reilly and Britton (now Henry Regnery Publishing Company) and awaited a response. When she received no answer, Calhoun penned the following rhymed letter:
On the seventh of March, nineteen hundred and eight,
Mr. Reilly, I sent you my book,
And sure since that date for a letter from you
Each day, I've continued to look.
Is it pigeon-holed now where the bookworm alone
May laugh and grow fat on each joke,
Where canker and rust will eat out the hearts
Of my dear little, quaint little folk?
Or, alas, has it vanished from all human ken,
The hard work of two long, long years?
Will the public ne'er know of its merit and worth,
Its laughter, its sighs and its tears?
Or has it already been published in full
And the 'steenth printing given it fame?
And instead of the title I gave it myself
Is it christened with some other name?
If naught has befallen it, may I still hope
You'll send my lost child back to me?
And I'll start it anew on its difficult path
Please ship it at once C. O. D. (1)
The unique letter caught the publisher's eye. He read the manuscript and excitedly passed it to others, who also were enthralled with her story of the determined Miss Minerva to civilize William Green Hill. Through wit and vivid characterizations, Calhoun depicted the chasm between blithesome youthfulness and agonizingly responsible adulthood.
Still in print today, Miss Minerva and William Green Hill was published in February 1909, just a few months before Calhoun's death on June 8. She never realized the book's great commercial success, nor its multitudinous reprintings. The University of Tennessee Press has undertaken the most recent reprint.