Saturday, February 27, 2016

Once Upon a Mother Goose: The Elusive Ms. Madge A. Bigham

Stories of Mother Goose Village. Madge Alford Bigham.
Rand, McNally & Company. 1927. 

Once again, as I bumble my book-lousy way through the endless quantities of old books (or what I consider endless, for practical purposes), I have stumbled on a person who seems to have been erased from history.

Not removed.

Not hidden precisely, but erased--erased in such a way that you have to look really hard at where she used to be in order to find her again.

Like when you erase something you wrote in pencil, but can still just manage to see the ghostly imprint of your words, still pressed into the paper long after the graphite has been rubbed away.

Madge Alford Bigham is one of these erased people.

Madge was born in LaGrange, Georgia in 1874. (2)  She was one of  ultimately 12 children of Rev. Robert William Bigham--Madge and her 7 brothers and sisters by their mother Charlotte, and then later joined by 4 younger siblings by their father and his second wife. (2)

This is pretty much the extent of what I could find out about Madge's early life, and the sources I was able to uncover pretty much all agreed--very little is known now about Madge Bigham.   I can't help but find this lack of information frustrating, for I always wonder how people's childhoods impact their adult choices.  This, I find, is especially true when I consider Madge.

By the age of 22 she had graduated from the Georgia Women's College, and within 5 or 6 years had become principal of the Atlanta Free Kindergarten--one of the first kindergartens in the United States. (2) From what I could piece together, this Kindergarten was likely located in an attached area in her own house, which she shared with her brother and 2 sisters--all of whom never married. (1) (2).

However Madge was not only a groundbreaking  educator,  introducing the Atlanta area to the concept of kindergarten programs.  Madge also followed in her father's publishing footsteps as a talented and savvy author in her own right. (2)

Which brings us to this book, Stories of Mother Goose Village, first published in 1903.

 This is not just another collection of Mother Goose rhymes, although Madge includes a pleasingly complete collection of Mother Goose rhymes in the back of the book.

This book most closely resembles a kind of text book, or skills book primarily focused on basic math skills and reading comprehension.  The entirety of it is couched in a surprisingly delightful storyline where the characters from Mother Goose rhymes and poems all live in Mother Goose Village.  The skills and/or lessons in the book are then couched in various stories involving these characters.

That Madge was a teacher and principal is obvious when one turns to the back of the book where she has added a section specifically for teachers that offers a brief summary of each chapter and skills objectives.

Ordinal numbers, sequential thinking and creating lists

Numbers, symmetry, geometry--using an activity that is still in use today

As so often happens when I start digging around in old books, I stumbled on a lovely small epiphany.  Most Early Childhood and Kindergarten teachers today are familiar with the apple-based story of the "The Little House with No Doors and No Windows and a Star Inside".  Many teachers bring out this story in various forms and levels of complexity during autumn months, when apples are seasonally plentiful.   In this story, the apple is the house, and when you slice the apple open horizontally, you find the seeds in their little pods in the shape of a 5 pointed star.   Usually this story is attributed to "unknown".

Not any more.

This story originally comes from none other than Madge Alford Bigham, in her book Overheard in Fairyland (1914).(2)   When I think of all the years I taught young children, and used this story, never knowing who first cut open an apple one day and saw, not a snack, but a story.

Which also reminds me of my original wistful consideration of how people get erased. Some, like Madge, get erased, but incompletely, so that a determined enough person could find her.

 Other people get erased from our collective consciousness so completely that no amount of determination could bring them to light.


Perhaps, in the end, our "nows" are as much eternity as we can hope for.




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