MacGregor, Ellen May 15, 1906 Author, Librarian
Address: Chicago Illinois
Reprinted from Wilson Library Bulletin April 1954
Bulletin: Ellen MacGregor died on March 29, 1954
Ellen MacGregor has been recognized as the first writer of science fiction for younger children. Mention Miss MacGregor’s name to an eight year old or to his mother or father, and they beam and immediately talk about Miss Pickerell, whose name and experience they know as well as those of President Eisenhower.
The creator of the popular Miss Pickerell was born in Baltimore, Maryland. May 15, 1906 to the late Charlotte Genevieve Noble MacGregor and the late Dr. George Malcolm MacGregor. Her parents met when they became the faculty of two of the high schools in a small Wisconsin town, but did not marry until shortly before George MacGregor was graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School. During his years at Johns Hopkins, Charlotte Noble was traveling from one Wisconsin town to another, setting up libraries.
After living in Baltimore, the MacGregors returned briefly to Wisconsin, then moved with their three children (the younger two were boys) to the state of Washington. Here, they lived first in Garfield, then in Kent, where Ellen MacGregor went to high school. The many happy summers of her childhood were spent at Woodmont Beach on Puget Sound. She majored in science at the University of Washington, earned a B.S. in Library Science in 1926 and in 1931 she did postgraduate work in science at the University of California.
Dr. and Mrs. MacGregor were influential in their daughter’s choice of careers both as a librarian and as a writer. Her parents “had an exquisite sense of fun, with a lovely feeling for the ridiculous. There was much laughter in our house. Also there was much, much reading alound . . . Nevertheless it was with a slight lack of personal enthusiasm that I fell in with their plans for my career.” She felt that she would be a librarian until something more interesting came along. “What I didn’t know then, was that my training as a librarian was to be the key to many interesting jobs, to many enriching experiences, and to many happy associations.”
Some of these interesting jobs included serving as librarian for the elementary schools of the Central Hawaii School district and as cataloger in the Hilo (Hawaii) Library; supervising the people who compiled the Union Cataglog of Art in Chicago; serving as librarian of the Naval Operating Base in Key West; organizing and administering the library for the Naval Air Technical Trainin gCenter. She has done research in children’s literature for Scott, Foresman, and company; has served as serials librarian of the Chicago Undergraduate Division of the University of Illinois; and as editor of the Illinois Women’s Press Association’s monthly bulletin, Pen Points.
It was not until 1946 that Ellen MacGregor began to write. At that time a story that she submitted for a class at the Midwestern Writers Conference was published as the book Tommy and the Telephone. Miss Pickerell’s first appearance was in a short story, “Swept her into Space,” published in Liberty in 1950. This short story became in 1951 Miss Pickerell Goes to Mars, a science fiction book abourt Miss Pickerell, who in trying to protect her cow, was inadvertently whisked off on a history making flight to Mars. The critics loved this fantasy filled with correct scientific facts. Typical of the reviews was that of Virginia Kirkus, “ A lively novelty. Fact and fancyin a new ventrue for this age group.” It was recently named the initial selection of the new Weekly Reader Children’s Book Club.
Since these auspicious beginnings, Miss MacGregor has sold many stories to such magazines as Story World, The Instructor, Christian Home.
Miss Pickerell and the Geiger Counter was published in 1953. Critics again praised this story of Miss Pickerell, who on the way to get a checkup for her cow got into trouble with the owner of a steamboat and eventually discovered an unexpected source of uranium. Marjorie Fischer in the New York Times wrote: Once again Ellen MacGregor has written a fine, funny story, a combination of science and science fiction which remains integrated and entertaining throughout.”
In Miss Pickerell Goes Undersea (1953) her heroine dons the latest in underwater equipment and goes under the sea. Of this book, the Chicago Tribune said: Trust Miss Pickerell to find the wreckage, learn all about underseqa diving, atomic powered submarines, and under water photography before she brings the adventure to a conclusion highly satisfactory to her self and her youthful admirers, who are sure to increase with this newest exploit.”
Ellen MacGregor’s latest book in Miss Pickerell Goes to the Arctic, which will be aJunior Literary Guild selection in 1955.
Miss MacGregor is Protestant in religion and independent in polictics. She belongs to the Society of Midland Authors, Children’s Reading Round Table, and Authors League. She is brown haired and brown eyed; is five feet seven inches tall (she weighs 150 lbs). Her hobbies include tennis, swimming, sewing, and of course she likes all kinds of books, but her favorites are those in which the ridiculous is treated seriously, as in the Peterkin Papers.