Olive Higgins Prouty

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Olive Higgins Prouty (10 January 1882 – 24 March 1974) was an American novelist and poet, best known for her pioneering consideration of psychotherapy in Now, Voyager (1941) (made into a movie Now, Voyager (1942) [1] directed by Irving Rapper and starring Bette Davis and a radio drama [2] starring Ida Lupino produced by Cecil B. de Mille on the Lux Radio Theater) and her novel (1922) Stella Dallas adapted into a stage play in 1924 and movies in 1925, 1937. The novel was used as the basis for the successful film — Stella Dallas (1937), a melodrama that starred Barbara Stanwyck and was nominated for two Academy Awards — and a radio serial which was broadcast daily for 18 years, despite Prouty's legal efforts (since she had not authorized the sale of the broadcast rights, and was displeased with her characters' portrayals). Olive Higgins, who was born and raised in Worcester, Massachusetts, was a 1904 graduate of Smith College and after she married Louis Prouty in 1907, they moved to Brookline, Massachusetts in 1908.

In 1894 Prouty was reported to have suffered from a nervous breakdown that lasted nearly two years according to the Clark University Archives and Special Collections.[3]

After the death of her daughter Olivia in 1923 Prouty suffered from another nervous breakdown in 1925. Her poetry collection was published posthumously by Friends of the Goddard Library, Clark University, Worcester, MA (1997) as Between the Barnacles and Bayberries: and Other Poems after it was released for publication in 1997 by her children Richard and Jane.[4]

Prouty is also known for her philanthropic works, and for her resulting association with the famous writer Sylvia Plath, whom she encountered as a result of endowing a Smith College scholarship for "promising young writers". She supported Plath financially in the wake of Plath's unsuccessful 1953 suicide attempt. Some have held the view that Plath employed her memories of Prouty as the basis of the character of "Philomena Guinea" in her 1963 novel, The Bell Jar. In 1961, Prouty wrote her memoirs but, as her public profile had diminished, could not find a publisher; she had them printed at her own expense.[5][6]

There are references to an Olive Higgins Prouty Foundation, Inc.


Olive married Lewis Prouty in 1907; they had four children, two of whom predeceased their mother. Her children included Olivia, Richard and Jane.

The Vale Novels[edit]

The crowning achievement of Prouty's writing career was writing the five Vale novels. Best remembered of these is the third in the series, Now, Voyager. Now, Voyager delves into the psychology of a woman, Charlotte Vale, who has lived too long under the thumb of an overbearing mother. An important character in the novel is Charlotte's psychiatrist, Dr. Jaquith. He urges her to live her life to the fullest, taking to heart the words of Walt Whitman, "Now, Voyager, sail thou forth, to seek and find." Thanks in part to the help of Dr. Jaquith, by the end of the book Charlotte is very much enjoying her life as a Vale of Boston.


Prouty wrote her last novel in 1951, the year of her husband's death. For the rest of her life she lived quietly in the house in Brookline, Massachusetts, where she had moved in 1913. In old age she found comfort in her friendships, her charitable work, and the Unitarian church, First Parish in Brookline, which the Proutys had joined in the early 1920s.


Prouty provided the funding for the Prouty Memorial Garden and Terrace at Children's Hospital in Boston in 1956 created by the well known Olmstead Brothers landscape architecture firm. The garden, in memory of her two deceased children, is a registered site with the National Association for Olmsted Parks, and was honored with a gold medal by the Massachusetts Horticulture Society.[7] The garden has been a source of comfort to many sick children and families as a place of respite and peace during a time of pain and suffering. The garden may be undergoing changes as the hospital is considering developing more buildings in the area currently occupied by the garden.[8]

Play Stella Dallas[edit]

Belknap: "Stella Dallas : Book by Gertrude Purcell and Harry Wagstaff Gribble (From the novel by Olive Higgens Prouty). Produced by the Selwyns in New Haven (No specific location listed - No date) starring Mrs. Leslie Carter (Caroline Louise Dudley - 'The American Sarah Bernhardt'), Edward G. Robinson, Kay Harrison, Albert Marsh, Philip Earle, Clara Moores, Ruth Darby, Beatrice Moreland, Almeda Fowler, Guy Milham, etc. Directed by Priestly Morrison." [9]


  • Bobbie, General Manager (1913) [10]
  • The Fifth Wheel (1916) [11]
  • The Star in the Window (1918) [12]
  • Stella Dallas (1923)
  • Conflict (1927)
  • The White Fawn (1931), Lisa Vale (1938), Now, Voyager (1941), Home Port (1947), and Fabia (1951), all focusing on the same fictional family
  • Pencil Shavings: Memoirs (1961)


  1. ^ Now, Voyager Film, IMDb Olive Higgins Prouty
  2. ^ Lux Radio Theater at OTR.Network Library (BETA)
  3. ^ Clark University Archives and Special Collections
  4. ^ Worcester Area Writers Olive Higgins Prouty
  5. ^ http://www.wpi.edu/Academics/Library/Archives/WAuthors/prouty/bio.html
  6. ^ http://uudb.org/articles/olivehigginsprouty.html
  7. ^ Children's Hospital News, The History Trail: A Walking Tour of Children's Hospital Boston, August 2007. http://www.childrenshospital.org/chnews/08-03-07/images/cn0807.pdf
  8. ^ McGrory, B. (2012). Children’s Hospital progress may mark end for Prouty Garden, Boston Globe August 3, 2012. Retrieved July 26, 2013 from http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2012/08/02/children-hospital-plans-for-garden-are-step-ahead-and-two-steps-back/fxMEwlaU0N31sWPRhgsToL/story.html
  9. ^ Stella Dallas Play in New Haven, CT.
  10. ^ Bobbie, General Manager
  11. ^ The Fifth Wheel
  12. ^ The Star in the Window

External links[edit]