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 1922 novel Stella Dallas and her pioneering consideration of psychotherapy in her 1941 novel Now, Voyager. Olive Higgins, who was born and raised in Worcester, Massachusetts, was a 1904 graduate of Smith College and married Louis Prouty in 1907, at which time the couple 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.[1]

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 as Between the Barnacles and Bayberries: and Other Poems in 1997 after it was released for publication by her children Richard and Jane.[2]

Prouty is also known for her philanthropic works, and for her resulting association with the 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[who?] 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.[citation needed] 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.[3][4]

Guidestar.Org lists an Olive Higgins Prouty Foundation, Inc.

Stella Dallas was adapted into a stage play in 1924, movies in 1925 and most notably 1937 as a melodrama of the same title 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). Now, Voyager was made into a film of the same name in 1942,[5] directed by Irving Rapper and starring Bette Davis, and a radio drama,[6] starring Ida Lupino and produced by Cecil B. de Mille on the Lux Radio Theater.


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]

Prouty's best-remembered writings are the five Vale novels, particularly 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[citation needed] in her friendships, her charitable work, and the Unitarian church, First Parish in Brookline, which the Proutys had joined in the early 1920s.


In 1956 Prouty provided the funding for the Prouty Memorial Garden and Terrace at Children's Hospital in Boston, created by the 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 may be undergoing changes as the hospital is considering developing more buildings in the area currently occupied by the garden.[8]



  • Bobbie, General Manager (1913) [9]
  • The Fifth Wheel (1916) [10]
  • The Star in the Window (1918) [11]
  • 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)

Theatrical adaptations[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." [12]


  1. ^ Clark University Archives and Special Collections
  2. ^ Worcester Area Writers Olive Higgins Prouty
  3. ^ http://www.wpi.edu/Academics/Library/Archives/WAuthors/prouty/bio.html
  4. ^ http://uudb.org/articles/olivehigginsprouty.html
  5. ^ Now, Voyager Film, IMDb Olive Higgins Prouty
  6. ^ Lux Radio Theater at OTR.Network Library (BETA)
  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. ^ Bobbie, General Manager
  10. ^ The Fifth Wheel
  11. ^ The Star in the Window
  12. ^ Stella Dallas Play in New Haven, CT.

External links[edit]