Amelia Bedelia, Peggy Parish’s bumbling but beloved housekeeper, has been delighting children and adults alike since she debuted in 1963, and is now one of the most treasured children’s book characters of all time. While you may be familiar with her creative take on household chores, here are a few things you may not know about Amelia Bedelia.
Parish was already a published author at that time when the first Amelia book was released in 1963. Her first book, Let’s Be Indians, was issued in 1962 by Harper and Row, under the guidance of editor Susan Hirschman. Throughout her career Parish would go on to write over 30 books12 of which featured Miss Bedelia—but apparently, not all of her ideas were home runs.
“She came in and she had sorts of terrible manuscripts about sweet little pussycats—talking pussycats, as I remember. Nothing very interesting at all,” Hirschman said in a 2013 interview“[but] she was fascinating, so it was clear that there was something more to come … and Peggy knew how funny she was.” The creation and subsequent success of Amelia Bedelia was inevitable with a mind like Peggy’s.
Parish taught third grade at New York’s progressive Dalton School for 15 years, during which she published the first Amelia Bedelia book. Amelia’s unique worldview was shaped by Parish’s interactions with her students—their youthful naiveté was demonstrated in their approach to language and their understanding of the concept of idioms. She realized that a person who took everything at face value and the various hijinks that could ensue would make for an interesting story.
Years later, her nephew—and future author of the series—Herman Parish heard a tale from one of his late aunt’s cousins about a young inept housekeeper who used to work for their grandparents. “[Their grandmother] told her to ‘sweep around the room’ … she did just what she was told: She swept the edges of the room clean, but left the center of the room untouched,” Herman said in a 2013 interview. “I asked this cousin if he had ever reminded Peggy about this maid. He said that when he did, Peggy did not say anything—she just smiled.”
Herman also believed that a bit of his aunt herself was present in the character: “[She] would often take things literally, not continually as Amelia Bedelia does, but enough times that one could understand how she could have come up with the character naturally,” he said. He even dedicated his first book in the series, Good Driving, Amelia Bedelia, to “Peggy Parish, the real Amelia.”
“I wanted a double name, it had to be a double name,” Parish once said. She wrote names down as they came to her, but knew in her heart that they weren’t the right fit. When the name “Amelia Bedelia” came to her “out of the blue,” however, she didn’t have to write it down—she knew she had finally found her name.
After Peggy Parish’s sudden death in 1988, Amelia Bedelia took a break from new adventures for a while. But Amelia’s popularity did not take a break, and the Parish family continued to receive requests from children of all ages to publish more of her stories. Various other children’s book authors reached out to the family with offers to continue the series, but Herman Parish, Peggy’s nephew, felt uneasy about her leaving the family. A working copywriter, he thought he might be a good choice to continue Amelia’s legacy, but he insisted that he wasn’t going to be published “just because [he’s] a Parish.” He studied his aunt’s books for over a year before he felt qualified to pick up a pen himself. Things definitely worked out; after the success of his first book, Good Driving, Amelia Bedelia, Herman has gone on to publish more than 30 Amelia books of his own.
Inundated with inquiries from kids about whether Amelia had “always been like that,” Herman was inspired to start writing about her childhood and wacky misadventures. His first young Amelia book, Amelia Bedelia’s First Day of School, was published in 2009 and became a New York Times bestseller. He has continued to write about her childhood, and has even started to write chapter books about young Amelia for slightly older readers as well.
Parish, who was originally from Manning, South Carolina, moved back to the state after spending a number of years in New York. The town of Manning decided to honor her by commissioning a statue of Amelia from sculptor James Peter Chaconas. Erected in 1999, the bronze statue of Amelia proudly stands in front of the Harvin Clarendon County Library in Manning as a touching tribute to one of the small town’s most cherished former residents.
NPR’s This American Life podcast solicited writer Hallie Cantor to envision Amelia’s response to COVID-19 lockdowns and the work-from-home life. Take a listen while Amelia literally “hops on a Zoom call” and visits a baseball field to “touch base with HR.”