Emma Gelders Sterne

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Emma Gelders Sterne in 1970

Emma Gelders Sterne (born May 13, 1894 in Birmingham; died August 29, 1971 in San Jose, California) was a notable author of historical fiction for children.

Sterne was the oldest of three children born to restauranteur Louis Gelders and his wife, the former Blanche Loeb of Mississippi. The family lived at the Opera House Hotel when she was born, but moved, in 1896, to a large house at 1525 Beech Street on the slope of Red Mountain, where she, her father, and her brothers, Joseph and Louis, Jr, rode horses in the nearby forests. The family attended Temple Emanu-El.

Emma took early to writing and penned plays for her and her friends to perform. She contributed to her high school and college literary magazines. She graduated from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts in 1916, then returned to Birmingham, applying herself to various social welfare causes. She joined the Birmingham Equal Suffrage Association and founded a school for delinquent children in 1917. She soon earned a newspaper column to cover women's interests.

Gelders married attorney Roy Sterne in 1917 and had two daughters, Ann and Barbara. The family moved to New York where Roy worked as general counsel and secretary to the Liggett Drug Company. Emma sold her first story to a publisher in 1923 and also enrolled that year in the writing program at Columbia University. Two years later she entered the New School for Social Research. She joined the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

For the next two decades, Sterne focused on adapting literary and historical subjects for young readers. She contributed to Cupples & Leon's series of "All About" books with titles on Peter Pan and Little Boy Blue. During World War II she was hired to write government pamphlets. Afterward she taught at the Thomas School in Rowayton, Connecticut and edited the "American Heritage" series of historical novels for Aladdin Books. The family moved to California in the 1950s.

She returned to writing her own books as well, going beyond the traditional children's literature to explore slavery, Native Americans, Civil Rights and other social topics. She authored biographies of Mary McLeod Bethune, Benito Juarez and W. E. B. DuBois. Her works were included in educational programs nationwide. Late in life she worked alongside her daughter, Barbara, writing a series of detective books with a young, female heroine, Kathy Martin. These were published under the joint pseudonym Josephine James.

Three of Sterne's books, No Surrender (1932), Amarantha Gay, M.D. (1933), and The Calico Ball (1934) are drawn from Birmingham's history.

Sterne was active throughout her life in promoting social justice. She was associated with the Communist Party in California and, with singer Joan Baez, led a sit-in at the Army Induction Center in Oakland California to protest American involvement in the Vietnam War. The 74-year-old was arrested and served ten days at the Santa Rita Rehabilitation Center.

Her pamphlet describing the injustices that led to the murder of a prison guard at San Quentin in 1971 motivated Angela Davis to take up the cause of defending the accused Soledad Brothers. Sterne fell sick that summer and stopped eating after learning of the prison riot that preceded the trial. She died on August 29.

Publications

  • Sterne, Emma Gelders (1928) White Swallow. Cadmus
  • Sterne, Emma Gelders (1929) Blue Pigeons. Duffield & Green
  • Sterne, Emma Gelders (1930) Loud Sing Cuckoo. Dodd, Mead & Co
  • Sterne, Emma Gelders (1932) No Surrender. Dodd, Mead & Co
  • Sterne, Emma Gelders (1933) Amarantha Gay, M.D. Dodd, Mead & Co
  • Sterne, Emma Gelders (1934) The Calico Ball. Dodd, Mead & Co
  • Sterne, Emma Gelders (1935) The Drums of Monmouth. Dodd, Mead & Co
  • Sterne, Emma Gelders (1936) Miranda Was a Princess. Dodd, Mead & Co
  • Sterne, Emma Gelders (1937) Some Plant Olive Trees. Dodd, Mead & Co
  • Sterne, Emma Gelders (1938) European Summer. Dodd, Mead & Co
  • Sterne, Emma Gelders (1939) The Pirate of Chatham Square. Dodd, Mead & Co
  • Sterne, Emma Gelders (1940) America Was Like This. Dodd, Mead & Co
  • Sterne, Emma Gelders (1942) We Live to Be Free. Farrar & Rinehart
  • Sterne, Emma Gelders (1943) Incident in Yorkville. Farrar & Rinehart
  • Sterne, Emma Gelders (1951) Printer's Devil. Aladdin
  • Sterne, Emma Gelders (1953) Long Black Schooner. Aladdin
  • Sterne, Emma Gelders (1954) Let the Moon Go By. Aladdin
  • Sterne, Emma Gelders, ed. (1954) Moby Dick. Golden Books
  • Sterne, Emma Gelders (1956) Mary McLeod Bethune. Knopf
  • Sterne, Emma Gelders, ed. (1957) Little Women. Golden Books
  • Sterne, Emma Gelders (1958) Blood Brothers. Knopf
  • Sterne, Emma Gelders and Barbara Lindsay (1958) The Sea. Golden Books
  • James, Josephine (1959) A Cap For Kathy. Kathy Martin series. Golden Press
  • James, Josephine (1960) Junior Nurse. Kathy Martin series. Golden Press
  • James, Josephine (1960) Senior Nurse. Kathy Martin series. Golden Press
  • Sterne, Emma Gelders (1960) Balboa. Knopf
  • James, Josephine (1961) The Patient in 202. Kathy Martin series. Golden Press
  • James, Josephine (1961) Assignment in Alaska. Kathy Martin series. Golden Press
  • James, Josephine (1962) Private Nurse. Kathy Martin series. Golden Press
  • Sterne, Emma Gelders and Barbara Lindsay (1962) King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Golden Books
  • James, Josephine (1963) Search for an Island. Kathy Martin series. Golden Press
  • James, Josephine (1964) Sierra Adventure. Kathy Martin series. Golden Press
  • James, Josephine (1964) Courage in Crisis. Kathy Martin series. Golden Press
  • James, Josephine (1964) Off-Duty Nurse. Kathy Martin series. Golden Press
  • James, Josephine (1965) An Affair of the Heart. Kathy Martin series. Golden Press
  • James, Josephine (1965) Peace Corps Nurse. Kathy Martin series. Golden Press
  • James, Josephine (1965) African Adventure. Kathy Martin series. Golden Press
  • Sterne, Emma Gelders (1965) I Have a Dream. Knopf
  • Sterne, Emma Gelders (1967) Benito Juarez: Builder of a Nation. Knopf
  • Sterne, Emma Gelders (1968) They Took Their Stand. Crowell
  • Sterne, Emma Gelders (1968) His Was the Voice: The Life of W. E. B. Dubois. Crowell

References

  • Mickenberg, Julia (Summer 2002) "Civil rights, history, and the left: inventing the juvenile black biography." MELUS. The Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States. Vol. 27, No. 2, pp. 65-93
  • Jolly, Peggy B. (July 23, 2010) "Emma Gelders Sterne" Encyclopedia of Alabama - accessed January 5, 2011

External links