Kate Douglas Wiggin

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Kate Douglas Wiggin
Kate Douglas Wiggin - Project Gutenberg eText 15630.jpg
Kate Douglas Wiggin
Born Kate Douglas Smith
(1856-09-28)September 28, 1856
Philadelphia
Died August 24, 1923(1923-08-24) (aged 66)
Harrow, Middlesex, England
Nationality American
Alma mater Gorham Female Seminary
Morison Academy (Baltimore)
Occupation Author
Spouse(s) Bradley Wiggin, George Christopher Riggs

Kate Douglas Wiggin (September 28, 1856 – August 24, 1923) was an American educator and author of children's stories, most notably the classic children's novel Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. She started the first free kindergarten in San Francisco in 1878 (the Silver Street Free Kindergarten). With her sister during the 1880s, she also established a training school for kindergarten teachers. Kate Wiggin devoted her adult life to the welfare of children in an era when children were commonly thought of as cheap labour.

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

Kate Douglas Smith Wiggin was born in Philadelphia, the daughter of lawyer Robert N. Smith, and of Welsh descent.[1][2] Kate herself experienced a happy childhood, even though it was coloured by the American Civil War and her father's death. Kate and her sister Nora were still quite young when their widowed mother moved her little family from Philadelphia to Portland, Maine, then, three years later, upon her remarriage, to the little village of Hollis. There Kate matured in rural surroundings, with her sister and her new baby brother, Philip.

From a literary point of view her childhood was most distinctive for her encounter with the novelist Charles Dickens. Her mother and another relative had gone to hear Dickens read in Portland, but Wiggin, aged 11, was thought to be too young to warrant an expensive ticket. The following day, however, she found herself on the same train as Dickens and engaged him in a lively conversation for the course of the journey, an experience which she later detailed in a short memoir, A Child's Journey with Dickens (1912).

Education[edit]

Kate Douglas Wiggin in her early career

Her education was spotty, consisting of a short stint at a "dame school", some home schooling under the "capable, slightly impatient, somewhat sporadic" instruction of Albion Bradbury (her stepfather), a brief spell at the district school, a year as a boarder at the Gorham Female Seminary, a winter term at Morison Academy in Baltimore, Maryland, and a few months' stay at Abbot Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, where she graduated with the class of 1873. Although rather casual, this was more education than most women received at the time.

Early career[edit]

In 1873, hoping to ease Albion Bradbury's lung disease, Kate's family moved to Santa Barbara, California, where Kate's stepfather died three years later. A kindergarten training class was opening in Los Angeles under Emma Marwedel (1818–1893),[2][3] and Kate enrolled. After graduation, in 1878, she headed the first free kindergarten in California, on Silver Street in the slums of San Francisco. The children were "street Arabs of the wildest type", but Kate had a loving personality and dramatic flair. By 1880 she was forming a teacher-training school in conjunction with the Silver Street kindergarten.

Marriage and first writings[edit]

Cover of The Romance of a Christmas Card (1916)

In 1881, Kate married (Samuel) Bradley Wiggin, a San Francisco lawyer.[2] According to the customs of the time, she was required to resign her teaching job.[4] Still devoted to her school, she began to raise money for it through writing, first The Story of Patsy (1883), then The Birds' Christmas Carol (1887). Both privately printed books were issued commercially by Houghton Mifflin in 1889, with enormous success.

Ironically, considering her intense love of children, Kate Wiggin had none. She moved to New York City in 1888.[2] When her husband died suddenly in 1889, Kate relocated to Maine. For the rest of her life she grieved, but she also traveled as frequently as she could, dividing her time between writing, visits to Europe, and giving public reading for the benefit of various children's charities.

Second marriage, scholarly works, and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm[edit]

Kate Douglas Wiggin House in the Salmon Falls section of Hollis, Maine

In 1895, Kate Wiggin married a New York City businessman, George Christopher Riggs, who became her staunch supporter as her success grew. Her literary output included popular books for adults; with her sister, Nora A. Smith, she published scholarly work on the educational principles of Friedrich Fröbel: Froebel's Gifts (1895), Froebel's Occupations (1896), and Kindergarten Principles and Practice (1896);[2] and she wrote the classic children's novel Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1903), as well as the 1905 best-seller Rose o' the River. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm became an immediate bestseller; both it and Mother Carey's Chickens (1911) were adapted to the stage. Houghton Mifflin collected her writings in ten volumes in 1917.

For a time, she lived at Quillcote, her summer home in Hollis, Maine. Quillcote is around the corner from the town's library, the Salmon Falls Library, which Wiggin founded in 1911.[5] Wiggin founded the Dorcas Society of Hollis & Buxton, Maine in 1897. The Tory Hill Meeting House in the adjacent town of Buxton inspired her book (and later play), The Old Peabody Pew (1907).

Later life and death[edit]

Wiggin was an active and popular hostess in New York and in the community of Upper Largo, Scotland, where she had a summer home and where she organized theatricals for many years, as detailed in her memoir My Garden of Memory.

In 1921, Wiggin and her sister Nora Archibald Smith edited an edition of Jane Porter's 1809 novel of William Wallace, The Scottish Chiefs, for the Scribner's Illustrated Classics series, which was illustrated by N. C. Wyeth.[6] During the spring of 1923 Kate Wiggin traveled to England as a New York delegate to the Dickens Fellowship. There she became ill and died, at age 66, of bronchial pneumonia. At her request, her ashes were brought home to Maine and scattered over the Saco River. Her autobiography, My Garden of Memory, was published after her death. In sorting through material for her autobiography, she put many items in a box she and her sister labelled "Posthumous." Her sister Nora A. Smith later published her own reminiscences, Kate Douglas Wiggin as her Sister Knew Her, from these materials.

Wiggin was also a songwriter and composer of music. For "Kindergarten Chimes" (1885) she created some of the lyrics, music, and arrangements. For "Nine Love Songs and a Carol" (1896) she created all of the music.

Selected works[edit]

With Nora A. Smith:

About Kate Douglas Wiggin:

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Welsh Americans at www.everyculture.com
  2. ^ a b c d e Wikisource-logo.svg "Wiggin, Kate Douglas". New International Encyclopedia. 1905. 
  3. ^ "Emma Marwedel, 1818-1893 : pioneer of the kindergarten in California". worldcat.org. Retrieved 24 March 2011. 
  4. ^ http://library.bowdoin.edu/arch/mss/kdwg.shtml
  5. ^ My Garden of Memory, pp.365–366
  6. ^ Porter, Jane. The Scottish Chiefs, Scribner's Illustrated Classic series, reissued 1991, ISBN 0-684-19340-X, dust jacket copy
  7. ^ http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1701/1701-h/1701-h.htm

External links[edit]