"Es ist mir, als könne ich nur noch loben und preisen und unserem Gott
im Himmel Dank sagen für alles, was er an uns getan hat."
Johanna Spyri in Heidi
1827 Johanna Louise Heusser was born on June 12th in Hirzel, Switzerland. Her dad's name was Johann Jacob Heusser, and she was named after him, but everybody called her "Hanni." Here is a picture of the house she was born in and grew up in.
When Johanna was born, there were already three kids in the family: Theodor, Christian, and Anna (who was called "Netti.") Netti and Hanni both had dark eyes, brown hair, and rosy cheeks. After Johanna was born, there were two younger sisters, named Ega and Meta. (Meta was named after Johanna's mother.) So altogether there were six kids in the Heusser house, and Johanna had two brothers and three sisters.
1833-1841 Johanna attended primary school in Hirzel, but was bored and didn't do very well. A Pastor named Salomon Tobler taught Johanna, her sister Netti, and his own daughters at his house, and she did much better learning here than she had at school. She liked to write poetry. Here is a picture of the schoolhouse in Hirzel.
1841-1843 When she was fourteen, Johanna left home to continue her education in Zurich, where she studied modern languages and piano. (She was very musical.)
1844-1845 Johanna lived in a town called Yverdon in the part of Switzerland where French is spoken.
1845-1852 Johanna returned to Hirzel and helped raise her younger sisters, Ega and Meta. She spent some summers in the area around Chur, which is where she would later set the book Heidi. Johanna's brother Theodor, who was a medical student, had a friend named Bernhard Spyri, a law student. Bernhard came up to Hirzel to visit Theodor on the weekends sometimes. Johanna ended up marrying Bernhard in 1852, when she was 25. They lived in Zurich, and Johanna was homesick for Hirzel and the countryside, and lonely in the city. She writes about this in Heidi a little bit when she talks about Heidi in Frankfurt, longing for fresh air and the sound of the wind in the trees.
1855 Johanna had a little son named Bernhard Diethelm. He was a very good violin player, and sometimes Johanna played along with him on the piano. Here is a picture of Johanna with her son.
1868 Johanna's husband got a job as the town clerk of Zurich, and they moved to a townhouse on the river, near the lake. Johanna started writing stories in that house, in a sitting room that looked out on the water.
1871 Johanna's first story, "A Leaf on Vrony's Grave," was published, but only said it was written by "J.S."
1872-1884 Johanna published stories for adults and children, often telling about things she remembered from her own childhood. Heidi was an immediate success when it came out.
1884 Sadly, Johanna's son, who had been sick a long time, died in 1884. Her husband died the same year.
1886 Johanna moved to the last house she would live in, the "Escherhäusern", at Zeltweg 9 in Zürich. She had a little niece live with her so she wouldn't be so lonely. Johanna did a lot of charity work, and wrote stories to please her little niece. Here's a picture of the stairs at that house.
1886-1901 Johanna published 48 more stories, and took vacations and visited spas in the Swiss mountains, northern Italy, and Lake Geneva.
1901 Johanna died on July 7th. She was buried at the family grave site at the Sihlfeld-A Cemetery in Zürich.
I know she looks a little stern in all her portraits, but that's how photos were back in those days. And she'd had some hard things happen in her life. But inside, I think she was always a lot like Heidi . . . a little girl playing in the Alps.
Switzerland is very proud of Johanna Spyri. Look, they even put her on some money!