Category Archives: Henry Ward Beecher

April Fool: Signed His Name and Forgot to Write the Letter

Henry Ward Beecher? Apocryphal?

beecher08Dear Quote Investigator: Are you familiar with the amusing anecdote about an “April Fool” letter sent to the famous orator Henry Ward Beecher. Would you please examine the tale’s provenance?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence known to QI was published on April 27, 1870 in the “Daily Evening Traveller” of Boston, Massachusetts. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

SIGNING ONE’S NAME.—Mr. Beecher sends the following note to the N. Y. Ledger:

“MY DEAR MR. BONNER, —I have just received a curious letter from Michigan, and I give it to you verbatim:

“OWASSO CITY, Mich., 1870.

I have heard of men who wrote letters and forgot to sign their name, but never before met a case in which a man signed his name and forgot to write the letter. H.W.B.

Thanks to top researcher Barry Popik who located the citation above.

The text indicated that the tale was reprinted from “The New York Ledger”; hence, an earlier instance exists, but QI has not located it. The database GenealogyBank includes digital scans of “The New York Ledger” from 1856 to 1868. But the target date of 1870 lies outside of this range. Some future researcher may find an earlier instance.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1870 April 27, Daily Evening Traveller (Boston Traveler), Section: Supplement, Article: Signing One’s Name, Quote Page 2, Column 1, Boston, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank)

There Are Two Lasting Bequests We Can Give Our Children: Roots and Wings

Henry Ward Beecher? Jonas Salk? Hodding Carter? Wise Woman? Ronald Reagan? Jean W. Rindlaub? Anonymous?


Dear Quote Investigator: The goals of child rearing have sometimes been explicated using two vivid metaphors: roots and wings. This contrasting figurative language presents a powerful though oddly incongruous combination:

Parents should provide their children with roots and wings.

There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other wings.

Good parents give their children roots and wings: roots to know where home is, and wings to fly off and practice what has been taught them.

Expressions of this type have been linked to the clergyman Henry Ward Beecher, the scientist Jonas Salk, and the journalist Hodding Carter. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence of a strong match located by QI was published in 1953 in the book “Where Main Street Meets the River” by Hodding Carter who was a prominent newspaper editor. The expression was credited to an anonymous “wise woman”. Bold face has been added to excerpts: 1

A wise woman once said to me that there are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these she said is roots, the other, wings. And they can only be grown, these roots and these wings, in the home. We want our sons’ roots to go deep into the soil beneath them and into the past, not in arrogance but in confidence.

QI has found no substantive evidence that the well-known nineteenth-century minister Henry Ward Beecher used this expression. There is some evidence that the famous research scientist Jonas Salk employed a version of the saying, but citations occurred many years after Carter’s instance was already in circulation.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1953, Where Main Street Meets the River by Hodding Carter, Chapter 27: It’s How We like It, Quote Page 337, Published by Rinehart & Company, New York. (Verified on paper)