Rebecca Sophia Clarke was born the third
daughter, and fourth of six children to Asa and Sophia (Bates) Clarke in
Norridgewock, Maine, where she was educated at the Female Academy of Norridgewock.
The intensity of her training and the quickness of her mind can be found in a diary she kept from age nine to eleven. She wrote of attending lectures on astronomy, phrenology and sermons for which she wrote text and comment. In one entry, she wrote that she "would not spend another day in idleness." An education in Greek and Latin was done at home with tutors. At the age of 18, she went to Evansville, Indiana, where one of her married sisters resided, and took a teaching position. Her growing deafness forced her to leave and return to Norridgewock, where she remained for the rest of her life.
Not intending to make it a career, she turned to writing. Her first published story appeared when she was 28. It had been written for a friend's newspaper, the Memphis Daily Appeal at his request. Under the pseudonym of "Sophie May," she soon began her "Prudy Parlin" stories to the Little Pilgrim, a children's magazine in Philadelphia, and then to the Congregationalist in Boston. The Boston publishing firm of Lee and Shepard collected and published her stories as the Little Purdy series in six volumes from 1863-1865. It was her next series of books, the Dotty Dimple series, for which she received a ten percent royalty on all sales. All together, she wrote over forty volumes for children, mostly in six volume sets which were very popular for her believable, mischievous characters, based on her own nieces and nephews. She tossed aside the starchy perfection that children are simply not in favor of realism and the everyday humor of life. She was one of the first to write for children as young as the age of six, and was once called "the Dickens of the nursery."
Norridgewock provided the locale for many of "Sophie May's" stories, as well as the names for a good portion of her characters. Actually told to her by many of the older people of the village, some of her tales were set in pioneer days, and a lot of her village life played a role in them. She also wrote two adult books --"Drone's Honey" in 1887, and "Pauline Wyman" in 1897, which met with little success.
The love of her hometown led her to many legacies including the presentation of a building to be used as the town library. In the later years of her life, she traveled much and wintered in Baltimore, Florida, and California. At the age of seventy-three, she died in Norridgewock and was buried in the Old Oak Cemetery there.