Harriet Burn McKeever

Born 28 August 1807 in Philadelphia, Harriet Burn McKeever is another author whose life remains largely a mystery. Raised and educated in Philadelphia, she spent thirty-six years there as a teacher. Her entry in Appleton's Cyclopedia notes that "Necessity compelled her to engage in literary work late in life" and that she wrote forty Sunday-School books in thirteen years [1] (although, in actuality, her publications span almost thirty years). What appears to be her first book, Twilight Musings, and Other Poems, was published in 1857 with a preface by William Bacon Stevens, D. D., the rector of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church. One biographical sketch adds that she was associated with St. Andrew’s and even penned some hymns for the church. [2]

Although McKeever's entry in the 1860 census lists her occupation as "School Teacher," she had already begun to publish works of fiction, with at least two works copyrighted in 1859 and issued by Philadelphia-based publishers, Jessie Morrison, (Presbyterian Board of Publication) and Sunshine; or, Kate Vinton (Lindsay & Blakiston); the following year saw additional works, including Edith's Ministry. Her three volume Birthday series was published in 1867.

The 1860 census also showed that McKeever possessed real estate valued at $1800 and personal property at $500. At that time, the 52-year-old McKeever was living with John McKeever, age 76, whose occupation is listed only as "Gentleman" (no assets listed) and Elizabeth C. McKeever, 28 (no occupation or assets listed). She (or they) may have been in or running a boarding house, for three other teachers (Rebecca Watson and Elizabeth and Caroline Roberts) and an "authoress" (Lydia H. Crippin) shared the same household. By 1880, Harriet and Elizabeth McKeever had left Philadelphia and were living in Chester, Pennsylvania, with a widowed cousin, Susan McKeever, and her family. Harriet McKeever's occupation was still listed as "school teacher"; Elizabeth still remained unemployed outside the home.

McKeever died 7 February 1886 and is buried in the Chester Rural Cemetery next to Elizabeth McKeever. [3]


[1] This information also appears in the online edition of Appleton's.

[2] A biographical sketch is at Cyberhymnal, which also has lyrics for one of her hymns, "Jesus, High in Glory."

[3] Information from Chester Rural Cemetery Index.

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