Hesba Stretton was the nom de plume of Sarah Smith, born in Wellington, Shropshire, England, to Benjamin Smith, a bookseller, and his wife Anne Bakewell Smith. She devised the name from the initials of herself and her four siblings and a nearby village called All Stretton, where her sister Anne owned a house. She attended a local school but was largely self-educated. In 1859, she published her first short story, "The Lucky Leg," in the Charles Dickens publication Household Words. After that, she became a regular contributor to Household Words and its successor publication All the Year Round. She also wrote more than 40 novels, mainly moral or religious tales for young people. The most famous was Jessica's First Prayer (1867), which sold a staggering 1.5 million copies by the end of the century and influenced many other Victorian writers. Other bestsellers were Little Meg's Children and Alone in London. Her books were extremely popular and often given out to children as school and Sunday school prizes. At age 36, she left her family home to live on her own in Manchester, and later with her sister Elizabeth in London. She worked for better treatment for needy children and families, and was one of the co-founders in 1894 of the London Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.