The James Otis Kaler Collection

James Otis Kaler

James Otis Kaler

After an adventuresome few years in the southeastern states, James Otis Kaler returned to Maine in 1898 as the first superintendent of schools in the newly formed town of South Portland, Maine. In addition to his professional educational duties, Kaler continued to write. Many of his books during this period are easy-reading historical stories which were used as texts in the public schools.

He married Amy Scamman in 1898. Amy was a native of South Portland and lived at 137 Scamman Street with her parents, Stephen and Ellen Shea Dyer Scamman. James and Amy had two children, Stephen and Otis. James Otis Kaler died of uremia after a short illness in 1912.

In February 1973, James Otis Kaler’s widow Amy, and sons, Stephen and Otis generously donated to the South Portland Library a collection of Kaler’s manuscripts, books, and letters which became the James Otis Kaler Collection. The collection was dedicated during a ceremony marking South Portland’s 75th anniversary as a city in July 1973.

The collection is housed in a separate room and is available for use by scholars. To match James Otis’ prolific output, we collect other American children’s authors of the same era – Horatio Alger, Oliver Optic, Martha Finley. This collection produces opportunities for interesting social and historical research.

One of the most interesting items in the Kaler Collection is a sample collection of letters to James Otis from Civil War veterans who had won the Congressional Medal of Honor. These letters recount how the men won their honors. James Otis gathered these first-hand accounts into a book that was published anonymously in 1896 as The Story of American Heroism. While most of the correspondence consists of business letters between Kaler and the publishers, and between Kaler and the veterans, a few first-hand accounts remain in the Library’s collection. A subsequent volume of heretofore unpublished letters was collected and published by Joseph B. Mitchell, The Badge of Gallantry; Recollections of Civil War Congressional Medal of Honor Winners (1968). Copies of both books are available in the Library’s collection.