Say it ain’t so, Horatio!

I’ve always been a big fan of those few (two, actually) Horatio Alger stories I could get my hands on — Ragged Dick and Mark, the Match Boy. They’re incredibly stilted novels, filled with heavy-handed moral messages, but they still have a wonderful innocent charm, a beautiful sense of a time long gone, and a good point about hard work and honesty. What I didn’t know is that, in his own lifetime, Horatio Alger was accused of assaulting two young boys in his town. Because history casts long shadows, those long dormant accusations are now being raised to put a stop to a Horatio Alger festival in Marlborough, Massachusetts, Alger’s home town:

A riches-to-rags story could be unfolding in Horatio Alger’s hometown. As this Boston suburb gets ready for its 11th annual Horatio Alger Street Fair, town leaders are considering dropping Alger’s name from the festival next year because of allegations of pedophilia against the 19th-century children’s author.

In the 1860s, Alger quietly resigned as a Unitarian minister at a church on Cape Cod after he was accused of assaulting two boys — an incident that is old news to literary scholars but came as a surprise to some civic leaders in Marlborough.

“This was an absolute shock to me,” said school board member Joe Delano. “That’s a sad world, goodness gracious.” Delano, the father of three girls, said: “I’m confident the city will change the name next year.”


Alger, who grew up in Marlborough, is remembered for more than 100 novels about boys who go from rags to riches by working hard, often under the tutelage of wealthy men. Alger also is credited with helping to improve working conditions for youngsters.

The festival is organized by the Marlborough Regional Chamber of Commerce in cooperation with city. Janet Bruno, chairwoman of the chamber’s fair committee, told The MetroWest Daily News that the panel looked into the allegations nearly a decade ago and found that they were never proved in a court of law.

Alger’s biography on the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Web site describes complaints lodged against him when he was a minister in Brewster in 1866. It said he did not contest them, and left town.

In letters now housed at the Harvard Divinity School, Brewster church officials wrote to church higher-ups in Boston, complaining of Alger’s “abominable and revolting crime of unnatural familiarity with boys,” according to Swarthmore College professor Carol Nackenoff, who has studied Alger. Alger’s father, himself a Unitarian minister, promised that his son would resign and never again work in the church.

“I believe the complaint was not baseless,” Nackenoff said.

Nackenoff said there is no known correspondence from Alger himself regarding the allegations, which were essentially hidden until about 1980 or so, when some Alger biographies came out.

She said Marlborough should not change the name of the fair.

“He was an important literary figure who I think we should celebrate,” Nackenoff said.

9 Responses

  1. It’s his morality tales they seek to denigrate. If he was selling leftwing claptrap, he’d be celebrated.

  2. Bingo!, erp……

  3. I’d think contemporary Unitarian-Universalists would adopt him as a victim of Victorian sexual repression, arguing that he was not a pedophile but a repressed gay and victim of the sexual mores of the time.

  4. Well, on second thought, perhaps they could replace Alger with a Sacco & Vanzetti Memorial Street Fair.

  5. What’s being celebrated is not him as a person, or the life he lived, but the message implicit – or in his case, explicit – in the stories. Saying that he was rather less than perfect doesn’t change a word he wrote.

    My personal belief is also that Pete Rose should be in the baseball hall of fame. He was a gambler, and so? That doesn’t take away a single one of his hits. If he was an axe murderer he’d still have more hits than anyone else, and that’s what he’d be in the hall for.

    Alger’s stories are being celebrated, not his life. Maybe he also beat his wife – doesn’t change a word of any of his novels, which are the point.

  6. Any one familiar with the lives of leftwing icons like Rousseau and Sartre would know their lives were far worse than Horatio Alger’s, especially in their treatment of women, yet they are celebrated in their entirety even by alleged liberated women.

    Why? It’s socialism uber-alles.

  7. Erp – try Paul Johnson’s book Intellectuals. Dissects all the intellectual exemplars of the left including Rousseau, Sartre, Brecht, Ibsen.

  8. Z – I’m way ahead of you. Read his history books as well. Eye-openers big time. Everything you thought you knew about history is wrong.

  9. The only philosopher I liked was Aristotle, out of the few classics I read.

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