On May 23, 1938, former first-grade teacher Elizabeth Rider Montgomery (1902-1985) signs a contract with educational publisher Scott, Foresman and Company to produce reading materials for primary grades. The contract guarantees Montgomery a $75 per month retainer and does not constrain her from publishing other writing. In addition to the retainer, Montgomery is to be paid for her work on each book. Montgomery soon begins work on her first contribution to the early-reading primers commonly known as the "Dick and Jane" series.
A Determined Author
Montgomery and her family were living in Los Angeles at the time she signed her writing contract. In 1946, they moved to West Seattle. Montgomery, who was born in Peru (where her father was serving as a missionary) and grew up in Missouri, had lived in Washington previously. She earned a degree from Washington State Normal School (now Western Washington University) and had taught in grade schools in several communities around the state before moving to California, where she met and married Norman A. Montgomery (1900-1990).
She retired from teaching after the birth of her first child in 1934, but continued the writing efforts that she had begun while teaching. Dissatisfied with the basic-reading books available when she was a first-grade teacher, she saw a need for simple books aimed at children who were just beginning to master reading on their own.
Montgomery's initial contact with the Chicago-based publishing firm of Scott, Foresman came in 1936, when she sent the publisher an unsolicited submission of three children's stories. Harry Johnston (ca. 1890-1955), an editor with the firm, rejected the manuscripts but offered encouragement for Montgomery's future efforts. In 1937, Montgomery sent Johnston a manuscript for supplementary reading material for children who were in the second half of the first grade -- a point, she explained, when many children are beginning to read independently. Johnston corresponded with Montgomery over the next year and helped her develop her ideas in ways that dovetailed with the publisher's specific needs.
Dick and Jane
All of the Dick and Jane reading books were co-written. The series pre-dated Montgomery's involvement, but she made many contributions to storylines and shaped the books significantly. She was a co-author of the Dick and Jane books We Look and See, We Work and Play, We Come and Go, Happy Days with Our Friends, and Good Times with Our Friends. She also wrote children's health textbooks and elementary developmental textbooks for the publisher. Montgomery eventually published many fiction and nonfiction works for children, including several with Northwest themes, as well as one book for adults and several plays.
In 1970, Scott Foresman replaced the Basic Readers (the formal name of the Dick and Jane series) with a new series, the Scott Foresman Reading Systems. For budgetary reasons, the Dick and Jane books were still used in many school districts for years after they ceased publication.