Ernestine Cobern Beyer
Ernestine Cobern Beyer (August 4, 1893 – December 13, 1972) was an American poet and children’s author.
Beyer was born in Meadville, Pennsylvania to Ernestine Craft Cobern, and Camden McCormack Cobern, a Methodist minister, archaeologist, and author of many articles and books on his explorations in Palestine. Gifted with a coloratura soprano voice, Ernestine progressed, with her mother as teacher and accompanist, from simple songs in English to operatic arias in French, Italian, and German. As a teenager, Ms. Beyer began studying with the best teachers available. At the age of 21, she obtained a contract with the Metropolitan Opera Company.
In 1912, at age 18, Ernestine married David Stewart Beyer, a safety engineer at Liberty Mutual Insurance Company in Boston, Massachusetts. They had three children, Richard (1915), Barbara (1921) and Janeth (1924-2013). At the time of Ernestine’s debut on January 15, 1918, America was at war with Germany. Because the name Beyer had a Germanic sound, she was advised to adopt a stage name. She chose the simplest one she could find from a list of possibilities. As Maria Conde, she sang the role of Gilda in the opera Rigoletto, opposite Enrico Caruso, the Italian tenor, who played the Duke. The reviewers were lavish in their praise. "Maria Conde," declared the New York Journal American, "took the public by surprise when she soared into tonal altitudes beyond the normal range of coloratura sopranos." The Evening Sun was likewise impressed. "If she can support it with physical stamina, hers will develop into the voice of a generation." (Decades later, Child Life editor Ernest Frawley would make a similar comment about her poetry: “I believe you stand a good chance of becoming the greatest children's poet of the day.") Managed by impresario Aaron Richmond, Ernestine realized that the combination of the demands of family life and frequent colds made pursuit of her operatic career untenable. Ernestine then turned to the art of writing poetry.
For 25 years, Ernestine submitted poems and stories to children’s magazines, and often had the pleasure of seeing them in print. Widowed in 1937 in the middle of the Depression, Ernestine struggled to support her children on too slim a budget. Her published poems were not income inflating at two dollars a line. A major breakthrough in her writing career came one sunny afternoon when she watched three toddlers playing on a beach. Inspired by the sight, Ernestine wrote the following poem:
One wears a bonnet of organdy rose
That hides her adorable bangs,
And one wears a bonnet that shadows her nose,
And one wears a bonnet that hangs.
The first wears a pinafore (not very white!)
The second, a dress that is tidy.
But the belle of the beach is the third little mite
With the slightly inadequate didy!— Ernestine Cobern Beyer, Sunbonnet Babies
The publication of "Sunbonnet Babies" in the Ladies' Home Journal (April 1949) marked a change in Beyer's fortunes.The 1950s and 1960s were busy and productive years. She wrote several books for children, continued to appear in children's magazines, (e.g. Child Life, Jack and Jill, Wee Wisdom, Highlights for Children), and gave talks in schools and libraries on the power of the subconscious mind. She received several awards from The National League of American Pen Women, and in April 1972 was invited to Washington to be honored by the league for the best religious poem. Beyer died eight months later on December 13, 1972.
The letters and essays of Ernestine Cobern Beyer. The Congressional Record, April 13, 1972, Remarks by Representative James A. Burke.