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Alger, Horatio

Page history last edited by PBworks 16 years ago


Horatio Alger Jr.





Quick Facts

Birth January 13, 1832
Hometown Marlborough, MA
Occupation Dime Novelist
Death July 18, 1899

A Rags to Riches Story


An Important Father Figure

Horatio Alger Sr. was a typical man of the mid-nineteenth century.  He was a Harvard graduate who had hit a rough spot in land speculating.  Because of this financial trouble, he was forced to raise his family in a fairly poor household.  Alger Sr. was also an ordained Unitarian minister who preached against slavery prior to the Civil War.  He was even a part of the state legislature as a representative of Marlborough Massachussetts.  Alger Sr. was described as an all around good citizen by a local newspaper based in Marlborough, and as Horatio Alger Jr.'s tutor and parent, much of his personal history directly relates to the story of his son's life. 


The Rags of a Rags to Riches Story

Horatio Alger Jr. grew up in a near poverty level household.  Despite this, his education was of importance to his father, who tutored him until age ten and then sent him to the Gates Academy in Marlborough, which he attended until he was fifteen years old.  During his schooling era he published several essays in local newspapers, setting the base for his future writings.  After attending and graduating from his father's old school, Harvard, he then became a teacher and a journalist.  During this time period Alger wrote his first two books: Bertha's Christmas Vision and Nothing to Do (published between 1856 and 1857 resepectively). After realizing that he hated teaching, Alger was forced to return to Harvard in order to become a Unitarian minister so he could earn enough money to make a living.  After his second stay at Harvard he went on a ten month visit to Europe and returned to find his nation divided.  As a strong patriot, he was found to have too many physical hindrances to join the Union Army.  Therefore, he wrote patriotic stories, and one of these led to his future historical importance.  This particular piece was entitled Frank's Campaign, and he published it in 1964.  It was intended to be read by boys as opposed to adults, and upon finishing this work he realized  that he would find more success in writing for boys.  However, it would take a terrible turn of events before Horatio Alger Jr. could continue with his new style of writing.



Everyone has problems.  Unfortunately for Horatio Alger Jr., he was no exception.  In fact, his problems far outweighed the issues of  many others of the time period, as he was a homosexual in an age where the term sexual orientation was not included in any proper vocabulary.  In that day and age, homosexuality was rarely heard of and always condemned.  So, when Alger Jr. became a minister at a church in Brewster, Massachussetts, his sexual preferences were a secret and should have remained that way.  Sadly, however, they did not.  When rumors began surfacing that Alger Jr. had behaved inappropriately around young boys in the parish, an investigation was started and proved the rumors to be true.  Alger fled town before he could be charged with pedophelia, and the entire issue was later dropped.  Apparently Horatio Alger Sr. talked the Unitarian Ministry and the parents of the kids into forgetting the problem and Alger Jr. would leave the ministry and never minister to another church.  All parties grudgingly agreed.  The silver lining of this story is that Alger Jr. found more free time to write and he was able to move to New York, which greatly influenced his writing in a beneficial way.  Recently this accusation has been re-stated against Horatio Alger Jr. and his reputation has suffered from it.  See CBS News: Horatio Alger Accused for more information on the more recent investigation into Horatio Alger's shady past.




Now that Alger Jr. was living in New York, he was able to study its diversity of citizens in order to find characters for his new works.  Shortly after settling into his new home, Alger wrote his most successful book, Ragged Dick, which was published in 1868.  This book set the precedent for the rest of his novels, which numbered over one hundred by the end of his writing days.  For the most part his plot lines follow a general trend: A boy who is a good kid is born into a situation with no hope for a prosperous future, but he works hard to make a better life for hiself.  In the end, however, it usually takes help from an outside source, usually a generous adult, for the boy to escape his current situation.  These stories were not based off of Alger's own life, however, for he never achieved great amounts of financial success and stayed at pretty much the same level in society.  Because he dipped into the scandolous side of novels, many of his books were condemned and banned in certain places.  As a result, he was forced to teach writing to others and to write pieces in other genres in order to make a living.  As is the case with many writers, his works became popular after his death, mostly in the early twentieth century when progressive ideals were felt amongst many Americans.  His rags to riches stories epitomized the type of success that people in that time period wished to achieve, so Alger finally became like his original character Ragged Dick and achieved his higher spot in society, though it was after Alger would have been able to celebrate his success.


Horatio Alger Jr.'s Life's Works



Most of Horatio Alger's Fiction was of the "rags to riches" style that he became famous for.  He published his first in 1868 and then continued with over one hundred more titles before his death.  A more extensive list of Alger's popular works has been compiled, but as all but three of his novels had fallen out of print by the 1940's, a full list of his works is more difficult to compile.


Non-Fiction Biographies   http://www.mrlincolnandfriends.org/content_inside.asp?pageID=35&subjectID=2

Of the other genres that Horatio Alger Jr. experimented with in order to make a living, his biographies are the most notable.  This is because the biographies he wrote ended up following the general plot lines of his fictional "rags to riches" stories.  The first of these was From Canal Boy to President also known as The Boyhood and Manhood of James A. Garfield, which he published in 1881.  He continued with his trend of writing presidential biographies when he published How a Young Rail Splitter Became President or Abraham Lincoln: the Backwoods Boy in 1883. These fictional biographies depict President Garfield and President Lincoln much like Ragged Dick, his original character.  As Alger tells it, they were young boys with good hearts who found themselves at a low level in society.  Through hard work, they managed to become president.  These two men were living examples of the "Horatio Alger story."


Why Horatio Alger Jr. Matters


Historical Impact

Horatio Alger Jr. was an important progressive mind far before the progressive time.  He began writing his rags to riches stories in the late 1860's: nearly 3 decades before Americans began to believe in bettering their places in the world.  This progressive movement was headed by leaders such as President Theodore Roosevelt and secretary of state Elihu Root, and Alger's novels were important reading material for this time period, even though he focused mainly on shaping the minds of the youth of the nation.  His books were widely popular during the early 1900's, and Ragged Dick is still considered by many to be one of the best American novels published before the turn of the 20th century.


How We Remember Horatio Alger Jr.


    • There is a Horatio Alger Society that gives out ten Horatio Alger Awards yearly to those who have overcome adversity to achieve success and they can now give back to society.
    • The Horatio Alger Society also gives out scholarships to high schoolers and military veterans around the nation for their various successes despite adversity.
    • To learn more about the Horatio Alger Society, visit the Horatio Alger Award webpage for this year's award recipients. 






Horatio Alger Worksheet




Back to List of Prominent Individuals



Page created by:  Jim R.

Avon High School, Avon, Indiana

Date created: April 6, 2008 




Comments (4)

Anonymous said

at 3:57 pm on Apr 6, 2008

Jim, nicely done! You've done a nice job showing Alger's personal life and the correllation between that and his books.

Anonymous said

at 7:11 am on Apr 7, 2008

I like the accuracy of your chronology and how it connects to his book rags to riches. It seems like you used that theme throughout your whole wikki.

Anonymous said

at 7:14 am on Apr 7, 2008

The extra information about the "rags-to-riches" stories was beneficial to my overall understanding of Horatio Alger in literature. It's ironic that Alger never got to the riches part until after his death, as you pointed out. You did a good job at keeping me interested.

Anonymous said

at 6:56 am on Apr 10, 2008

Jim, great information! I wish you had put in a few more links, though. Other than that, great work! I learned a lot about Alger and his controversial life.

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