meaning and origin of ‘Pollyanna’


Pollyanna - Pittsburgh Daily Post - 20 December 1913

May your Christmas be
                                                            A Pollyanna Christmas
A day of gladness and good cheer, and if you have in mind to send a gift to gladden the heart of some good friend, young or old, let it be a copy of
                                 Pollyanna                              The Glad Book (Trade Mark)
                                        By Eleanor H. Porter                    125th Thousand
“Pollyanna is more than a book, you know.”—The Optimist.
“She is a sunshine maker and will delight and charm all who meet her.”—Mr. John Wanamaker.
Pollyanna The Glad Book In special silk cloth binding in three colors:—Rose-pink, Delft-blue, Reseda-green. Net $1.25; postpaid $1.40.

from an advertisement for books published by L. C. Page & Company
The Pittsburgh Post (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) – 20th December 1913



Pollyanna Whittier is a fictional character created by the American novelist Eleanor Hodgman Porter (1868-1920). The author thus characterised the orphan little girl in Pollyanna (L. C. Page & Company, Boston, 1913):

“Who is she?”
For one brief moment the doctor hesitated.
“She’s the niece of one of our best known residents. Her name is Pollyanna Whittier. I—I don’t happen to enjoy a very extensive personal acquaintance with the little lady as yet; but lots of my patients do—I’m thankful to say!”
The nurse smiled.
“Indeed! And what are the special ingredients of this wonder-working—tonic of hers?”
The doctor shook his head.
“I don’t know. As near as I can find out it is an overwhelming, unquenchable gladness for everything that has happened or is going to happen. At any rate, her quaint speeches are constantly being repeated to me, and, as near as I can make out, ‘just being glad’ is the tenor of most of them.”

The following, titled A Family of Optimists, published in the Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York) of 11th May 1913, is a sign of the success and influence of Eleanor H. Porter’s book:

We live in the flood district of Dayton. The water came in our house—about three feet on the first floor; though in other parts of the city it came that high and higher on the second floors. But we are so glad that it came no higher and during the flood we played Pollyanna, and kept being glad it was no worse and that we had taken some food and water with us when the flood forced us to go upstairs. And when the waters went away and we came down and saw that all of our things were ruined, we just said how glad we were that it was no worse and that we were all alive!

The New York Times (New York, New York) of 18th January 1914 had:

It is not easy in Boston to detract one’s mind from the Unitarian and Episcopal Churches. The Rev. Dr. Mann of Trinity told the children and everybody else at his Christmas festival to read “Pollyanna,” saying that the Public Library should have a thousand copies, so Trinity is to march under Pollyanna’s banner.

The popularity of the character led in particular to the creation of Pollyanna clubs. For example, The Topeka Daily Capital (Topeka, Kansas) of 16th January 1915 reported the following about the local YWCA branch:

Work among the younger girls was started with the organization of a club in Branner school which since has been divided. One is known as the Girls’ Guardians and the other the Pollyanna club.

Likewise, The Boston Daily Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) of 29th January 1915 reported that the junior employees of Conrad & Co

formed a social organization, choosing for a name the Pollyanna Club.

The earliest instances of Pollyanna used as an adjective meaning cheerful and optimistic that I have found is in a text written by the American merchant and philanthropist John Wanamaker (1838-1922) which accompanied the advertisement for his department store in The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) of 27th August 1913:

                                                  To Mothers and Step-mothers
The early home of Abraham Lincoln, according to Hay and Nicolay, though only a one-roomed cabin, was the abode of peace and gladness.
His step-mother was a singular union of Christian sweetness and firmness. It was a happy and united household, brothers and sisters and cousins, living peacefully under the gentle rule of the good, Godly step-mother.
                                    The home must have been a “Pollyanna” home
Sure as anything, this is a better Store because it has always been a “Pollyanna” store family, beginning long before Eleanor H. Porter wrote her charming book,
                                          “What’s a ‘Pollyanna’ Home and Store?”
Well, now, just read “Pollyanna,” and you will be able to make your home and store to feel the thrill of it.
It is strange that there are not more “Pollyanna” Sundays and sermons and schools.
The “Pollyanna” bells are ringing loud and clear all through our store life and its work.

Another early instance of Pollyanna used as an adjective is from an advertisement for D. H. Holmes Co. shoes, published in The Times-Democrat (New Orleans, Louisiana) of 18th October 1913:

                                                  The “Glad” Shoes for Girls
Surely you have read “Pollyanna” the Glad Book, or will do so at the earliest opportunity, and just as surely the Girls will want to wear our “Pollyanna” Shoes.
All unconsciously the book teaches a simple, wholesome lesson, which, if followed, would quickly transform this old world as a place to live in—read “Pollyanna” and Be Glad, and, likewise, if the Girls will wear our “Pollyanna” Shoes they will be glad.
These Shoes are the best-fitting, most comfortable and yet dressy Shoes that we know of for growing Girls.
Sizes 6 to 8……………2.00
Sizes 8½ to 11………..2.50
Sizes 11½ to 2………..3.00 and 3.50
Size 2½ to 6………….3.50 and 4.00
All Leathers.

Derived from Pollyanna are the adjectives Pollyanna-like and Pollyannaish, and the noun Pollyannaism. For example, the following, from the Independence Daily Reporter (Independence, Kansas) of 31st May 1915, mentions Pollyanna Grows Up (1915), the only sequel to Pollyanna that Eleanor H. Porter wrote:

“I’ve been trying my best to play Pollyanna about this weather, but unless the sun shines soon I’ll be unable to convince myself that it ever will,” said a good natured woman today. Speaking of Pollyannaism, those who have read the book just published “Pollyanna Grown [sic] Up,” say she has a much harder time applying the just be glad philosophy during her grown up years than she did when she was growing up.

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