Olive Higgins Prouty

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Olive Higgins Prouty
Born(1882-01-10)January 10, 1882
DiedMarch 24, 1974(1974-03-24) (aged 92)
Burial placeWalnut Hills Cemetery
Brookline, Massachusetts
Alma materSmith College
OccupationNovelist, poet
Notable work
Stella Dallas
RelativesAldus Chapin Higgins

Olive Higgins Prouty (10 January 1882 – 24 March 1974) was an American novelist and poet, best known for her 1923 novel Stella Dallas and her pioneering consideration of psychotherapy in her 1941 novel Now, Voyager.

Life and influence[edit]

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] 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]

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: Plath's husband, Ted Hughes, would later refer in Birthday Letters to how “Prouty was there, tender and buoyant moon”.[5] Many, including Plath's mother Aurelia,[6] 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,[7] a figure who is described as supporting the protagonist because "at the peak of her career, she had been in an asylum as well",[8] and who arguably represents a role model to be ultimately rejected by the protagonist.[9]

Guidestar.Org lists an Olive Higgins Prouty Foundation, Inc.[clarification needed]

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. It was remade in 1990 starring Bette Midler, 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,[10] directed by Irving Rapper and starring Bette Davis - - as well as into a radio drama,[11] 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, Richard, Jane, Alice and Olivia; the latter two[12] predeceased their mother.

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, based on the fictionalization of Prouty's own therapy.[13] 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.[14]

Retirement and death[edit]

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.

She financed a scholarship to her alma mater, Smith College. The most famous recipient was the poet and novelist Sylvia Plath. Prouty nurtured Plath's talent despite her wealth and position.[whose?] When Plath was hospitalized for psychiatric treatment at McLean Hospital, Prouty generously covered her expenses. (See Heather Clark's biography, "Red Comet" Knopf, 2020). Prouty stood by Plath until the latter's death in February 1963. Prouty's novel, "Now, Voyager" was one of the models for Plath's "The Bell Jar".

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.[citation needed]

She died in Brookline.


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,[15] and was honored with a gold medal by the Massachusetts Horticulture Society.[16] The garden may be undergoing changes as the hospital is considering replacing the garden with more buildings in the area currently occupied by the garden.[17][18][19]



ca. 1896


  • Pencil Shavings (1961)

Theatrical adaptations[edit]

Belknap: "Stella Dallas : Book by Gertrude Purcell and Harry Wagstaff Gribble (from the novel by Olive Higgins 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."[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Clark University Archives and Special Collections
  2. ^ Worcester Area Writers Olive Higgins Prouty
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-12-23. Retrieved 2010-10-11.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ "Olive Higgins Prouty".
  5. ^ Ted Hughes, Birthday Letters (1998) p. 174
  6. ^ Janet Malcolm, The Silent Woman (1994) p. 32-3
  7. ^ Jacqueline Rose, The Haunting of Sylvia Plath (1991) p. 186-9
  8. ^ Quoted in E. Bronfen, Sylvia Plath (1998) p. 122
  9. ^ Jo Gill, The Cambridge Introduction to Sylvia Plath (2008) p. 81
  10. ^ Now, Voyager Film, IMDb Olive Higgins Prouty
  11. ^ Lux Radio Theater at OTR.Network Library (BETA)
  12. ^ "Olive Higgins Prouty's genre makeover". UU World Magazine. 2018-03-01. Retrieved 2018-04-02.
  13. ^ L. Berlant, The Female Complaint (2008) p. 181
  14. ^ "Vale Tales". www.ValeTales.info/index.php/now-voyager. Retrieved 2016-03-14.
  15. ^ "National Association for Olmsted Parks". www.olmsted.org. Retrieved 2016-02-11.
  16. ^ 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
  17. ^ "Prouty Garden, 'The Soul' Of Boston Children's Hospital, Is Slated For Demolition". commonhealth. Retrieved 2016-02-11.
  18. ^ "The battle over Prouty Garden is not over - The Boston Globe". BostonGlobe.com. Retrieved 2016-02-11.
  19. ^ McGrory, B. (2012). Children’s Hospital progress may mark end for Prouty Garden, Boston Globe August 3, 2012. Retrieved July 26, 2013 from https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2012/08/02/children-hospital-plans-for-garden-are-step-ahead-and-two-steps-back/fxMEwlaU0N31sWPRhgsToL/story.html
  20. ^ Stella Dallas Play in New Haven, CT.

External links[edit]