Alger, Leclaire

(Sorche Nic Leodhas)

Born: May 20, 1898
Died: November 14, 1969

Ohio connection: Birth

Youngstown

Born Leclaire Gowans on May 20, 1898, in Youngstown, Ohio, Alger wrote most of her books under the Gaelic pen-name Sorche Nic Leodhas (pronounced “Sore-ka Nik Le-oh-das”), which means “Claire, daughter of Louis.” Writing under the Gaelic pseudonym provided realism to her Gaelic tales and gave her the anonymity her shyness required. As a child she was tutored at home by her father and not only learned history and geography, but also acquired the ability to both read and write Latin, German, Italian, Spanish, and French. A fan of reading since her early years, Alger passed many hours caught up in a favorite book in the afternoons after her lessons. Her father and sister wrote freelance for fun, and Alger followed their lead from the time she was six. She sold her first piece of writing at age twelve, receiving in pay a check for eight dollars. Collecting Scottish folklore also ran in the family, going back generations on both her mother’s side and her father’s, according to Alger. The story “All in the Morning Early” was said to have been handed down for at least three generations in the Gowans family. The family preferred stories that were previously unpublished, and they found them at clan gatherings and Gaelic Club meetings. At the age of nineteen, Alger married Amos Risser Hoffman in 1916. Hoffman died two years later in the great influenza epidemic, leaving his widow and a son, Louis. Alger remarried several years later.

In addition to being a writer, Alger was also a librarian, having started at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh as a page in 1915. She worked from 1921 to 1925 at the New York Public Library, then returned to Pittsburgh and attended the Carnegie Library School, earning her certification as a librarian in 1929. From 1929 to 1966 she worked as an itinerant librarian, doing the “Story Hour” one day a week at the central Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and going to school libraries on the other days, mostly in the city’s underprivileged areas. According to her great-niece, Jennifer Jill Digby, Alger lost her shyness among children and was able to converse easily with them. In 1966 Alger retired from library work so that she could write full-time. Some of Alger’s books include: (editor) Heather and Broom: Tales of the Scottish Highland illustrated by Consuelo Joerns (1961); Jan and the Wonderful Mouth Organ (1939); Dougal’s Wish (1942) and The Golden Summer (1942). Writing as Sorche Nic Leodhas: (editor) Thistle and Thyme: Tales and Legends from Scotland (1962); All in the Morning Early, illustrated by Evaline Ness (1963); Ghost Go Haunting (1965); By Loch and By Lin: Tales from Scottish Ballads (1969); (editor) A Scottish Song Book, illustrated by Evaline Ness (1969).

Leclaire Alger died on November 14, 1969, leaving her great-niece, Jennifer Jill Digby, to finish the last stories for her final book, the posthumously published Twelve Great Black Cats, and Other Eerie Scottish Tales, illustrated by Vera Bock (1971).

Awards:

Heather and Broom was selected by American Library Association as a notable book of 1960; runner-up for Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, 1962, and for Newbery Medal, 1963, both for Thistle and Thyme; Caldecott Medal, American Library Association, 1966, for Always Room for One More.

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