Susan Fenimore Cooper

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Susan Fenimore Cooper
Susan Fenimore Cooper.jpg
Cooper in the 1850s
Born Susan Augusta Fenimore Cooper
(1813-04-17)April 17, 1813
Scarsdale, New York, United States
Died December 31, 1894(1894-12-31) (aged 81)
Cooperstown, New York, United States
Occupation Writer, founder of orphanage
Language English
Period 19th century
Genre Fiction and natural history
Relatives

James Fenimore Cooper (father)

William Cooper (grandfather)

Susan Augusta Fenimore Cooper (April 17, 1813 – December 31, 1894) was an American writer and amateur naturalist. She founded an orphanage in Cooperstown, New York and made it a successful charity. The daughter of writer James Fenimore Cooper, she served as his secretary and amanuensis late in his life.

Early life, education and charity work[edit]

Susan Fenimore Cooper was born in 1813 in Scarsdale, New York, the daughter of the novelist James Fenimore Cooper and his wife Susan Augusta DeLancey. She was his second child, and the eldest to survive her youth. Cooper also studied under her father, traveling with him on many journeys and assisted in documenting and organizing his notes. Most of her life was devoted to him, and he encouraged her practice of art and writing.[1]

In 1868, Cooper was one of the founding members of Thanksgiving Hospital[2]

In 1873, she founded an orphanage in Cooperstown, New York, the town founded by her paternal grandfather William Cooper and where her father had lived for some time. Under her superintendence the orphanage became a prosperous charitable institution. It was begun in a modest house in a small way with five pupils; in 1900 the building, which was erected in 1883, sheltered ninety boys and girls. The orphans were taken when quite young, were fed, clothed, and given a basic education. When they were old enough, they were helped to find positions in “good Christian families.” Some of them before leaving were taught to earn their own living.[3]

In 1886 Cooper established The Friendly Society. Every woman on becoming a member of the Society chose one of the girls in the orphanage to give individual attention.[3]

During the later years of her father's life, she became his secretary and amanuensis, and but for her father's prohibition would probably have become his biographer.[3][4]

Authorship[edit]

Watercolor of golden oriole by Susan Fenimore Cooper, from Rural Hours, 1851.

Cooper was a writer who published on diverse subjects, but especially on country life. She kept a diary that formed the basis of her first book, Rural Hours (1850), published anonymously as "by a lady". A sharp-eyed account of rural life in New York, it was illustrated with Cooper's own finely detailed watercolors of local flora and fauna. Cooper wrote two more volumes on country life, but Rural Hours was the most successful, going through six editions over the course of nearly forty years.[1] Rural Hours was a remarkable accomplishment for Cooper because when it was published not many women wrote about natural history. It wasn’t until the late 19th century when women’s natural history writing took off. What set Rural Hours apart from the previous books written by her father and grandfather was Susan’s remarkable attention to detail and accuracy in natural historical observations, and explicit call for preservation of the Ostego forests.[5] Its noteworthy that this prescient call for forest preservation was published four years prior to Walden, 14 years prior to George Perkins Marsh’s man and nature;[5] or Physical geography as modified by human action(1864), two books recognized as among the earliest call for the preservation of American forests. Cooper also wrote an essay in the form of a letter about women's suffrage and a novel, Elinor Wyllys.

In recent years, beginning with the 1998 republication of Rural Hours, Cooper has begun to achieve recognition as a significant writer in her own right.[6] Rural Hours in particular has been called the "first major work of environmental literary nonfiction by an American woman writer, both a source and a rival of Thoreau's Walden."[6] This book went through six editions and the last one was published in 1887; it was formed through a daily diary kept by Cooper and included lengthy discussions of nature, drawings of birds native to her dwelling area as well as flowers and other plants. Both Susan and her works were unique for their time; this book was nearly scientific with its descriptive details of the specimens she studied, both visually and lingually. She had a basic knowledge of botany and spent a significant amount of her life in charitable pursuits.[1]

Although Cooper was considered an amateur Rural Hours caught the eye of world–renowned scientist Charles Darwin and famous author Henry David Thoreau. In a letter to Asa Gray, Darwin wrote “Talking of books, I am in middle of one which pleases me…’Miss Cooper’s Journal of a Naturalist.’ Who is she? She seems a very clever woman & gives a capital account of the battle between our & your weeds”.

According to a journal kept by Henry David Thoreau he read part of Rural hours and circumstantial evidence suggests that some of the most memorable passages from Thoreau’s 1845 novel Walden may have been suggested by several of Cooper’s own passages on loons, wild berries, the perceived bottomlessness of the lake and the seasonal breaking of the ice.[5]

Personal life[edit]

Her home was built mainly with bricks and materials from the ruins of Otsego Hall in Cooperstown, which her paternal grandfather had built and where her parents had also lived.[3] Cooper never married or raised a family of her own but was able to become an accomplished naturalist of her time, despite the lack of opportunity for women to publish written works or art pieces during this time.[1] She died in her sleep,[2] age 81, in Cooperstown.[3]

Artworks[edit]

Susan showed a great interest in art yet today her work is heavily eclipsed by her own father’s written works; she was able to create over one dozen full colored plates in a lifetime. This process Her work showed an exemplary snippet of what an American woman of mid-nineteenth century experienced. This was when women were just beginning to be able to enter the world of science, botany, and art. For these reasons she is recognized as a successful pioneer of her time.[1]

Works[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  • Daniel Patterson: Susan Fenimore Cooper. In: Daniel Patterson (ed.), Roger Thompson (ed.), J. Scott Bryson (ed.): Early American Nature Writers: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Greenwood,2008, ISBN 9780313346804, pp. 89–95
  • Branch, Michael P. "5 Generations of Literacy Coopers: Intergenerational Valuations of the American Frontier." Susan Fenimore Cooper: New Essays on Rural Hours and Other Works. Georgia: U of Georgia, 2001. 60-79. Print.
  • Kramer, Jack. Women of Flowers: a Tribute to Victorian Women Illustrators. Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1996.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Kramer, Jack. Women of Flowers. New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1996, pp. 86–89.
  2. ^ a b "Susan Fenimore Cooper (1813–1894)". www.sierracollege.edu. Retrieved 2018-04-07. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Wikisource-logo.svg Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1900). "Cooper, James Fenimore". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton. 
  4. ^ Daniel Patterson: Susan Fenimore Cooper. In: Daniel Patterson (ed.), Roger Thompson (ed.), J. Scott Bryson (ed.): Early American Nature Writers: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Greenwood,2008, ISBN 9780313346804, pp. 89-95
  5. ^ a b c Branch, Michael (2001). "5 Generations of Literacy Coopers" Susan Fenimore Cooper: New Essays on Rural Hours and Other Works". Intergenerational Valuations of the American Frontier.: 60–79. 
  6. ^ a b Johnson, Rochelle, and Daniel Patterson, eds. Susan Fenimore Cooper: New Essays on Rural Hours and Other Works. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2001.

External links[edit]