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Wed, 09.26.1906

Ellen Tarry, Writer, and Journalist born

Ellen Tarry

*Ellen Tarry was born on this date in 1906.  She was a Black journalist and author.  

Ellen Tarry was born in Birmingham, Alabama. Although raised in the Congregational Church, she converted to Roman Catholicism in 1922, after years of attending the St Francis de Sales school for girls on the former Belmead plantation property in Virginia. She was taught there by the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.  She thereafter attended Alabama State Normal School, now Alabama State University, and became a teacher in Birmingham.

At the same time, she began writing a column for the local Black newspaper entitled "Negroes of Note", focusing on racial injustice and racial pride.  In 1929, she moved to New York City, hoping to become a writer. There she befriended such Harlem Renaissance literary figures as Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, and Countee Cullen. She was the first "Negro Scholarship" recipient at the Bank Street College of Education in New York City, where she met and became friends with Margaret Wise Brown and was influenced by the "here and now" theory of picture book composition.  

Tarry published four picture books: Janie Belle (1940), illustrated by Myrtle Sheldon), 1942's Hezekiah Horton (illustrated by Oliver Harrington), and 1946's My Dog Rinty in collaboration with Caldecott Medal winner Marie Hall Ets (photographs by Alexander and Alexandra Alland), concerning a Harlem family and their mischievous pet, and 1950's The Runaway Elephant (again illustrated by Harrington), which continued the relationships started in Hezekiah Horton.  Tarry's The Third Door: The Autobiography of an American Negro Woman (from 1955) tells of her life in the South (including her time at the SBS school in Virginia), her migration to New York City, her friendship with McKay and her deep commitment to Catholicism.

In 1942, Tarry was one of the first two co-directors, along with Ann Harrigan Makletzoff, at the request of Catherine de Hueck Doherty of the Chicago branch of Friendship House, a Catholic outreach movement promoting interracial friendship.  Tarry's biographies include Katherine Drexel: Friend of the Neglected, Pierre Toussaint: Apostle of Old New York, The Other Toussaint: A Post-Revolutionary Black, and Martin de Porres, Saint of the New World.  Ellen Tarry, whose work included literature for children and the first Black picture book, died on September 23, 2008, three days before her 102nd birthday. She had one daughter, Elizabeth Tarry Patton, from a brief marriage.  

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