Gazette Article by: Joan Evanich
Appeared in the Gazette: Fall 1997
Are you a “Bookhouse baby”? Thousands of Americans born in the first half of this century can enthusiastically answer, “Yes!”
The publishing company, The Bookhouse for Children, was the brainchild of Winnetka resident, author, and editor Olive Beaupre Miller. She created a collection of children’s literature that delighted both children and their parents.
Olive Beaupre was born September 11, 1883, in Aurora, Illinois. After graduating from Smith College in 1904, she returned to Aurora to teach English. There she met and married Harry Miller, a textbook salesman. The newlyweds moved to Streator, Illinois, where out of loneliness for her family, she began to write “a real American novel.”
In 1912 the Millers moved to Chicago when Harry became a member of the Board of Trade. During this same year their daughter Virginia was born, and Miller continued to work on her novel. She abandoned it abruptly, however, when one afternoon she became so absorbed in her writing that she missed the baby’s feeding by two hours. Horrified by her neglect, Miller burned her novel as a “noble sacrifice on the altar of motherhood.”
The family moved to Winnetka in 1917 and built a house at 671 Walden Road. Miller’s love of writing found a productive outlet when she composed rhymes and jingles to amuse Virginia. Three volumes of her poetry were published by the P. F. Vollard Company of Chicago.
Olive Beaupre Miller was constantly seeking appropriate children’s literature to read to her daughter. She considered stories proper if they fit three criteria: They had to be well written, make a positive ethical statement, and be graded to fit the developmental age of the child. If she was unable to find a story or poem that met all three requirements, she wrote one herself.
Encouraged by the success of her previously published books, the Millers founded a publishing company, The Bookhouse for Children, in 1919. The company printed popular children’s stories edited by Miller to meet her standards; they were sold by subscription door-to-door.
One of the most unusual aspects of The Bookhouse for Children was that it employed a predominantly female staff. In the 1920s job opportunities for women were fairly limited, but the Millers hired an all female sales force, and women managed its branch offices nationwide.
In 1920 the company’s first series, My Bookhouse, was published in six volumes. Volume One, In the Nursery, and the five volumes that followed, were beautifully decorated with full-color cover illustrations, endpapers, and pictures painted by famous artists. The books were sold in sets originally packaged in cardboard houses. Later, for special promotions, sets were presented in wooden houses. Today the houses are highly prized by collectors.
Another collection, My Travelship, was a three-volume set that introduced readers to children of other lands through folktales and literature.
Olive Beaupre Miller also was active in the community. She helped raise funds for the construction of The Skokie School and was an early proponent of sex education for children. In addition, she and her husband were two of the founding members of First Church of Christ, Scientist in Winnetka.
Miller is remembered fondly by her grandson, Winnetka resident Ted Read. In a recent interview he described how his grandmother taught him to read. He also recalled that Miller flew to Arizona where for several months he had been recuperating from rheumatic fever. She helped nurse him back to health. Later she took her grandson back to Arizona to enjoy some of the activities he had missed during his illness.
Olive Beaupre Miller brought high standards and quality literature to the children of America for over 50 years. She continued to revise her books until her retirement in 1962. She died in Arizona on March 25, 1968.
Editor’s Note: The Winnetka Historical Society is actively collecting Olive Beaupre Miller’s books and memorabilia.