Elizabeth Williams Champney

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Elizabeth Williams Champney
Born Elizabeth J. Williams
(1850-02-06)February 6, 1850
Springfield, Ohio, U.S.
Died October 13, 1922(1922-10-13) (aged 72)
Seattle, Washington
Occupation Novelist
Nationality American
Alma mater Vassar College
Period 1876–1921
Spouse James Wells Champney (1873–1903)
Children 2

Elizabeth "Lizzie" Williams Champney (February 6, 1850 – October 13, 1922)[1] was an American writer of numerous articles and novels, most of which featured foreign locations. Her novels were originally directed mainly at young girls, including the "Witch Winnie" series and the "Vassar Girls Abroad" series, but she later wrote romantic semi-fictional fables of castles, such as The Romance of the Feudal Chäteaux (1899). She was the wife of artist James Wells Champney.

Early years[edit]

Champney was born Elizabeth Johnson Williams in Springfield, Ohio, on February 6, 1850.[2][3] Her parents, who were abolitionists, moved the family to Kansas Territory in her youth, to join the fight against the spread of slavery to Kansas.[2] After the Civil War, she attended the Seminary for Young Ladies in Lexington, Massachusetts, where the artist James Wells Champney was her drawing instructor.[2][3] She completed her education at Vassar College, where she received her A.B. in 1869, a member of the second class of Vassar graduates.

After graduation she returned to Kansas, to Kansas State Agricultural College in Manhattan, Kansas, where she served as Secretary for the college and the first instructor of drawing at the school.[4][5]

While living in Kansas, she was engaged to be married to a farmer.[2] However, the marriage apparently never took place, and in May 1873, she instead married James Wells Champney – her former drawing instructor – who happened to be traveling through Manhattan, Kansas, as part of a trip through the Louisiana Purchase to illustrate an article entitled The Great South by Edward King for Scribner’s Monthly.[2][6][7] For the next three years, the new couple traveled through the southern United States, and then Europe, before settling on the East Coast.[2][6] Her first published piece, a poem, was published six months after her marriage.[6]

Writing career[edit]

Cover of Champney's Three Vassar Girls Abroad

In 1876, Elizabeth and James Wells Champney returned to the United States and settled in Deerfield, Massachusetts. In addition to their house in Deerfield, the couple also acquired a home in New York City in 1879, where James Wells Champney opened a fashionable studio at 96 Fifth Avenue.[8] Elizabeth and James Wells Champney also continued to make frequent trips to Europe and other foreign locations, including North Africa, which provided material for both of their work.

Upon her return to the U.S. in 1876, Elizabeth began publishing travel fiction in Harper's Magazine.[9] In 1883, she published the first of her long-running "Three Vassar Girls Abroad" novels for young girls.[10] The "Vassar Girls" series eventually contained eleven novels, the last of which, Three Vassar Girls in the Holy Land, was published in 1892.[10] The books were published by Estes & Lauriat, a publishing house in Boston.

The first of her "Witch Winnie" books was published by White and Allen in 1889, entitled Witch Winnie: The Story of a "King's Daughter".[10][11] The subject of the series is not a practitioner of witchcraft, but rather a mischievous young school-girl, and the first book is dedicated to Champney's daughter ("My Little Witch Marie"). The "Witch Winnie" series eventually contained nine books, the last of which, Witch Winnie in Spain, was published in 1898.[10] Dodd, Mead and Company published an edition of the first book in 1891 and was the originally publisher of the rest of the series.

From 1899, Champney concentrated on more adult books, writing romantic, semi-fictional descriptions and stories of foreign locations, beginning with The Romance of the Feudal Chäteaux. She ultimately wrote nine books in this "Romance" series, the last of which, The Romance of Russia, from Rurik to Bolshevik, was published in 1921, one year before her death in 1922.[10] The books in this series were published by G. P. Putnam's Sons. In addition to her three main series of books, Champney also had several other books published.

Her husband James Wells Champney died in an elevator accident in New York City in 1903, after which Elizabeth moved to the West Coast, where she lived near her son Edouard until her death. The last of her "Romance" books were co-written with her son.[10]


Elizabeth and James Wells Champney had a son, Edouard Frère Champney, born in France on May 4, 1874, and a daughter, Maria Mitchell Champney, born in 1877.[12][13] Edouard was an architect and died childless in 1929.[12] Marie became an artist, married John S. Humphreys, and predeceased Elizabeth on December 1, 1906, at the age of thirty. Marie's son, George H. Humphreys, born in 1903, was a noted surgeon in New York City.[14][15]


  1. ^ "Mrs. Elizabeth Champney, Author". "Obituary". The New York Times. October 14, 1922. Retrieved 2016-12-31. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Vassar Encyclopedia: Elizabeth Williams Champney". Retrieved 2011-01-27. 
  3. ^ a b "Five College Museums: Bio of James Wells Champney". Retrieved 2011-01-31. 
  4. ^ College Symposium of the Kansas State Agricultural College. The Hall & O'Donald Litho Co. 1891. Retrieved 2011-01-27. 
  5. ^ Willard, Julius (1940). History of Kansas State College of Agriculture and Applied Science. Kansas State College Press. pp. 220, 224. 
  6. ^ a b c "Bio: Elizabeth Williams Champney". Retrieved 2011-01-27. 
  7. ^ "His Friends Called Him Champ". Retrieved 2011-02-03. 
  8. ^ "Mr. Champney's Pictures". The New York Times. February 21, 1897. 
     Bibliographic data and first paragraph. The entire article is available to subscribers only.
  9. ^ "Works published in Harper's by Elizabeth W. Champney". Harper's (harpers.org). Archived from the original on 2010-08-08. Retrieved 2011-01-31. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f "Girls' Series by Elizabeth Champney". Retrieved 2011-01-31. 
  11. ^ 'Witch Winnie, the story of a "king's daughter" '. LCCN Permalink (lccn.loc.gov). Library of Congress Online Catalog. Retrieved 2016-12-31.
  12. ^ a b "Bio: Edouard Champney". Pacific Coast Architecture Database. Retrieved 2011-01-28. 
  13. ^ "Champney Papers Finding Aid" (PDF). Historic Deerfield. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-12-04. Retrieved 2011-01-28. 
  14. ^ "Obituary: Dr. George H. Humphrey, 98, A Pioneer in Pediatric Surgery". The New York Times. December 29, 2001. 
  15. ^ http://www.columbiasurgery.org/news/john/jjss_su02.pdf
Other sources

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