Claudia Olson ’22 | Assistant Features Editor
Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of meeting Smith College alumna Ann Martin ’77, well-known for writing “The Baby-Sitters Club.” I was invited to a dinner with Martin, her editors and members of the Friends of the Smith College Libraries.
The alumnae at the table talked about their memories of Smith and the traditions they most fondly recalled. Martin and former classmate, Dean Susan Etheredge, reminisced their experiences at Smith in the ’70s. As I listened to the conversations, I was reminded of how much Smith has changed over the past few decades, but at the same time keeping its founding spirit intact. An ’04 alumna talked about how the population of LGBT students has risen since she graduated and how this phenomenon is evidence of Smith’s continued focus on accepting marginalized groups. The college was founded to give women an education of comparable quality to that of which was provided to men, and now this view has been adapted to today’s society. I was the only current student at the table, and listening to these accomplished alumnae speak of their love for Smith and their hopes for the future of the college inspired me.
After dinner, our dinner party proceeded to Weinstein Auditorium where Martin and her two editors at the time of “The Baby-Sitters Club” participated on a panel with Dean Etheredge. Martin’s editor, Jean Feiwel, who originally came up with the idea for “The Baby-Sitters Club” series, spoke about breaking down barriers between books meant for boys and girls. Though this series was intended for a female audience, Feiwel hopes that the gender binary won’t matter in the world of publishing. A child should be able to choose the stories they want to read about regardless of what books are marketed towards them.
Martin reflected on her success and how “The Baby-Sitters Club” grew to be much more than she originally imagined. Feiwel and Martin planned to only publish a four book series, but because of how successful the initial entries to the series were, Martin kept writing stories. At one point, she was writing a new installment every month. Over 100 books were written and about 180 million copies of “The Baby-Sitters Club” were sold during its 15-year run.
As the series grew in popularity, Martin incorporated important issues into her stories — issues that affected the kids who read these books, such as mental illness, divorce and death of loved ones. “The Baby-Sitters Club” amassed a huge fan base, with letters pouring in from avid young readers. Even today, Martin still receives letters, mainly from adults who grew up reading this series. Originally, Martin wanted the characters to age naturally as the series progressed, but when she dropped characters from the story as they grew up, fans wrote in and convinced Martin to keep the beloved baby-sitters frozen in time as perpetually young teenage girls that generations of readers could continue to connect to.
I am so grateful to Ann Martin and her team for inviting to me to this event. I learned not only about children’s literature but also about the history of Smith and the importance of reading. Part of the panel discussion focused on Martin’s involvement with Lisa Libraries, an organization she founded that provides books to disadvantaged children, such as those with incarcerated parents or those who are living in poverty. Martin inspires me in many ways through her charity work, her literary success and her desire to make the world a better, kinder place for children.