“Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride”
by Katharine Lee Bates
While Falmouth native Katharine Lee Bates is best known for her poem “America the Beautiful,” she also popularized the concept of Mrs. Claus in another poem “Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride,” published in 1889. (She did not do the illustrations,).
This poem was not the first literary reference to Mrs. Claus, but it was the first time that any author described the character in such depth. Her portrayal influenced all later concepts of Mrs. Claus—especially the idea that Mrs. Claus is a hardworking housewife who wants to help Santa deliver gifts.
The title for our current virtual exhibit about women’s suffrage, “Why Not? Women Gain the Right to Vote,” comes from a letter Bates wrote to the Lewiston Journal in 1917. She argued:
“Why not? Women are tax-payers, patriots, workers for every national cause,—why not citizens? Women may and do express their opinions freely on public questions, in home and school, from the platform and in the press,–why not through the ballot?”
“Goody Santa Claus” echoes these ideas of women empowerment.
On page 12 of the booklet (above, left), Goody is making her pitch to accompany Santa on his trip. She asks, “Home to womankind is suited? Nonsense, Goodman!” This notion of women belonging at home comes up often in the suffrage debate, right up until (and through) 1920.
On page 26 (above, right), while on the trip with Santa, Goody saves the day by mending a poor child’s stocking so the presents won’t fall through the holes. She says to Santa, “Take the reins and let me show you what a woman’s wit can do.”
On page 30 (right), Goody says, “Goody’s gladdest of the glad. I’ve had my own sweet will.” Female empowerment, indeed!
In case you’re wondering, “Goody” is a title with old English origins. It’s a shorter version of “Goodwife,” the title given to the wife of a “Goodman.” A “Goodman” was not high enough on the social scale to be called “Mister” (therefore, his wife couldn’t be called “Mistress” or “Mrs.”). A “Goodman” was a yeoman farmer type, somebody perhaps with a little land. He worked with his hands and was honest and reliable and a good citizen. Bates is implying that Santa and his wife are just plain folks with no pretensions.
Learn more about Katharine Lee Bates here.