May Massee (May 1, 1881 - Dec 24, 1966) was an American children's book editor. She was the founding head of the juvenile departments at Doubleday from 1922 and at Viking Press from 1932. Prior to working at Doubleday she had been the editor the American Library Association periodical Booklist.
May Massee was born the third of five children to Charlotte and Francis Massee in Chicago. When she was five, her family moved to Milwaukee where she attended the public schools. She graduated from high school at the age of sixteen and attended the state normal school there for two years before teaching elementary school for a year.
She worked with a librarian for some time in Wisconsin before attending the Wisconsin Library School in Madison. She worked in several libraries until she was encouraged to work in the children’s room while working for a public library in Buffalo. While she enjoyed this work, she accepted the tempting offer to become editor of The Booklist forcing her to move back to Chicago in 1913. As the magazine’s reputation grew, so did Massee’s.
In 1922, Doubleday invited her to help them open and run their children’s department, the second in the nation. Accepting the offer, she moved to New York. She remained with the publisher until 1933 when she helped found the children’s book department for Viking Press. She worked with Viking Press as editor and director until her retirement in 1960, twenty-seven years later. However, she continued working with Viking Press as an advisory editor until her death from a stroke at her home in New York.
Massee worked with many prominent writers and illustrators including the following:
- Marjorie Flack
- Ludwig Bemelmans
- Robert Lawson
- Elizabeth MacKinstry
- Robert McCloskey
- James Daugherty
- Boris Artzybasheff
- Munro Leaf
- Kurt Wiese
Many of the books Massee edited won prestigious children's literary awards. More than twenty were runner-up for the annual Caldecott Medal from the children's librarians, which recognizes the year's "most distinguished American picture book for children". Her motto was "Nothing too much, not even moderation." She often encouraged her authors to try new things and experiment with their stories and illustrations. Willing to take risks, she helped to establish high critical standards for children’s literature. She published books that were not considered popular: books with minority protagonists, stories set in Russia, Hungary, etc.
Critics acknowledged Massee’s ability regarding text, design, and illustration as well as her endorsement of new methods of production such as offset lithography. Several books published by Massee have since become classics, such as The Story About Ping (1933], The Story of Ferdinand(1936), and Make Way for Ducklings (1941).
In 1959, Massee was awarded the American Institute of Graphic Arts AIGA Medal for "exceptional achievements, services or other contributions to the field of graphic design and visual communication". She was the first woman to receive the award, as she had been the first to join the organization.
- Barbara Sicherman, ed. (1993). Notable American Women: the modern period; a biographical dictionary (6th ed.). Cambridge, Mass [u.a. ]: Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press. pp. 462–64. ISBN 0-674-62733-4.
- "May Massee and Marjorie Flack: A Classic Collaboration" (abstract). The fourth annual international conference on the book. October 20–22, 2006.
- New England Book Women.[dead link]
- ALA Conference in New Orleans (June 22-28, 2006) Report.[dead link]
- Bookwomen:Creating an Empire in Children's Book Publishing, 1919–1939.[dead link]
- May Massee Collection.[dead link]
- "AIGA Medal".
- Notes to May Massee.[dead link]