The Lady of the Decoration finds healing in work

Postcard of street scene in Yokohama, Japan about 1900 shows cluttered sidewalks, rickshaws, telephone poles.
After her husband’s death in 1900, a Southern belle agrees to teach kindergarten in a mission school in Hiroshima.

She needs the money. She also needs to regain her equilibrium after a bad, seven-year marriage.


The Lady of the Decoration by Frances Little¹
1907 bestseller #1. Project Gutenberg ebook #7523. My grade: B.

The kindergartners salute her, thinking the enameled watch pinned to her bodice is a medal from the Emperor. They call her The Lady of the Decoration.

She, in turn, is fascinated by Japan’s scenery and people, especially the children. She longs to “take the whole lot of them to my heart and love them into an education.”

The Lady records her experiences in letters to her cousin back in Kentucky.

A vivacious blonde, the Lady causes a stir among the Japanese adults as well as the children.

When the Russo-Japanese War breaks out, she’s vocally pro-Japan, helping care for wounded soldiers.

Thanks to the Lady’s buoyant humor, despite the poverty and suffering she sees and the homesickness and unhappiness she often feels, the novel makes cheerful bedtime reading

Readers never learn the letter writer’s name, but they learn to know her. She sums up the years 1901–1905 in a letter:

I don’t care a rap for the struggle and the heart aches, if I have only made good. When I came out there were two kindergartens, now there are nine besides a big training class. Anybody else could have done as much for the work but one thing is certain, the work couldn’t have done for anyone else what it has done for me.


¹Frances Little is the pseudonym of American author Fannie Caldwell Macaulay. The Lady of the Decoration was her first, and most successful novel.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Linda Aragoni

I read. I write. I think. I make big ideas simple. I help teachers teach expository writing to teens and adults. In my free time, I read and review old novels.

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