Throughout her life, Mary Augusta Dickerson had a youthful imagination. Born in New York City, New York in September of 1876, she was the daughter of Alfred James Dickerson and Nancy Augusta (Higgins). Mary would graduate as the valedictorian of her class at St. Mary’s School in New York City.
Her talent led her first to write stories for newspapers and magazines beginning in 1896. One of the earliest was for Munsey’s Magazine, the first mass-marketed magazine of its kind, filled with stories of good cheer and human interest. Dickerson’s articles, poems and children’s stories appeared in Good Housekeeping, Red Book, Smart Set, Judge, St. Nicholas, and Cosmopolitan. For a brief period in 1898 she was a reporter for the New York Journal before accepting a full-time positon as a writer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Mary wrote The Wonderful Wishes of Jacky and Jean, her first book for children in 1905. It was her success as an author of fairy tales, children’s stories and junior novels for more than 60 years for which she would be most remembered.
William Donahey graduated from the Cleveland School of Art in 1903 and joined the staff of the Cleveland Plain Dealer where his brother James Harrison “Hal” Donahey was its political cartoonist and Mary was on staff as a special writer for the Sunday issue and an author of juvenile fiction. William had another brother, Victor Donahey, who was the governor of Ohio from 1922-1929.
The artist and the writer began working together and Mary introduced the rather shy, reserved William to traditional children’s stories such as “Alice in Wonderland,” and “Mother Goose” rhymes, which helped to inspire him to become a comic strip writer and illustrator. The couple married on August 16, 1905. After her marriage Dickerson continued her writing career under the name Mary Dickerson Donahey.
When Joseph M. Patterson became the editor of The Chicago Tribune in 1912, he set out to hire cartoonist William Donahey away from the Plain Dealer, where he’d been doing a Sunday page for young children. Donahey was given a feature in Chicago aimed at a similar demographic. Donahey began “The Teenie Weenies” cartoon strip on June 14, 1914.
With the move to Chicago, Mary became associated with a variety of clubs and societies including the Society of Midland Authors, Writers Guild, Author’s League, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association. Dickerson joined the Association in 1921. She became its 16th president serving her term from 1925-1927.
By 1923, after writing 11 children’s books, Mary authored two cookbooks for adults: The Calorie Cook Book Menus for Reducing, for Upbuilding, for Maintenance and The Calorie Cook Book.
That same year, Donahey’s comic strip went into syndication. With its wide popularity Donahey was offered a contract by the Chicago firm of Reid Murdock and Company for which William created packaging and advertising for Monarch Foods with products including coffee, popcorn, vegetables and pickles. One of Monarch’s most popular products was its “Teenie Weenie Sweet Pickles” packaged and sold in a little oak cask. As a gift for his wife, Donahey, with the help of the Pioneer Cooperage Company of Chicago and Monarch Foods had an oversized pickle barrel constructed on the north shore of Grand Sable Lake, Michigan in 1926. The couple used the house as a summer cottage where they found inspiration to create and write their work. It also inspired crowds of tourists and the couple soon lost their privacy to the attraction. In 1937, the Donahey’s sold the house to a local business man who moved it to downtown Grand Marais, Michigan.
Mary was honored in 1953 for her long career as a newspaper woman and author of more than 20 books as the “Chicago Woman of Distinction” by a panel of judges in a program sponsored by the Women’s Advertising Club of Chicago. She died at the age of 85 after a long illness in 1962. William continued to create the “Teenie Weenies” comics until his retirement in 1969; he died in 1970.
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