She lived with her extended family: her grandmother, two aunties, and two cousins as well as her mother, father, two brothers and three sisters. This large household inspired her when she wrote Gritli's Children.
Her only education was her village school in Hirzel. She wrote poetry as a child.
She married Bernhard Spyri, a town clerk, when she was 25. They met when they were children. They lived in Zurich, Switzerland and had only one child, a son, Berhard Diethelm Spyri, in 1855. In Zurich, they were friends with the musician Richard Wagner and poet Conrad Ferdinand Meyer. Both her husband and son died of tuberculosis in 1884.
Her first stories were very popular, so she wrote another story about another orphan, Heidi. She published the first part of Heidi anonymously in 1881. It became popular, so she wrote the second part in 1882 using her own name. She became very famous, but preferred a quiet, private life.
She wrote more than forty stories for children in German. Most of these stories have been translated into English. Heidi is still her most popular book, with new editions still published today.
She died in Berlin on July 7, 1901, but is buried with her family Zurich.
- Anna Urlich, Recollections of Johanna Spyri's Childhood, translated by Helen B. Dole, 1925
- "Johanna Spyri" Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale. 2003. Books & Authors. Gale. Gale Internal User, accessed 11 Apr 2009 http://bna.galegroup.com/bna/start.do?p=BNA&u=gale
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