Dorothy Canfield Fisher

Dorothy Canfield Fisher

Dorothy Canfield Fisher (February 17, 1879 – November 9, 1958) was an American author, educational reformer, and social activist based in New England. Her ancestors settled in Vermont in 1764 and owned land there ever since. Her father, James Hulme Canfield, was a college professor and president of several universities, and so the family valued education.

Hers was rather cosmopolitan, as she moved among several midwest university towns and traveled to France and Italy to broaden her scope. She spoke five languages and earned a doctorate in Romance languages and studied at the Sorbonne and at Columbia University.

Vermont and Europe, and a cause

She married John R. Fisher in 1907 and they lived on one of her family’s farms in Vermont. She continued to travel to Europe frequently but did most of her writing on the family homestead. Both Dorothy Fisher and her husband were closely affiliated with French issues, so upon the outbreak of World War I, they took their children and embarked for France to participate with relief work.

She established the Bidart Home for Children for young refugees, and organized an effort to print books in Braille for blinded combat veterans. In February of 1919, Red Cross Magazine described her wartime activities: “She took a family of refugee children under her charge to the Pyrenees; she helped establish two hospitals for children under the Red Cross, one specially devoted to tuberculous children. Her ardent activities included a home for the children of munition workers near Paris.”

A social and educational activist

Immensely involved in social activism, Dorothy Canfield Fisher was also an advocate of women’s rights at a time when those causes were resisted by the mainstream.She also helped create channels for assistance to Jewish immigrants in the 1920s, a time when quotas were strict. She was also instrumental in bringing Montessori education to the U.S., and helped popularize adult education.

An international reputation

Fisher gradually gained an international reputation. Her books were published not only in the U.S. but also in France, England, the Netherlands, and several Scandinavian countries. She also continued to be involved in education, and in 1921 became the only woman to be a member of the State Board of Education of Vermont.

She wrote literary criticism and worked on the board of judges of Book-of-the-Month Club for a time. Her fiction and nonfiction held progressive views of parenting at a time when motherhood was still sentimentalized. Unfortunately, her work is no longer widely read today.


As an author, she was considered a consummate woman of letters. Her body of work included 22 novels and some 18 works of nonfiction. Some of her best known novels included The Brimming Cup, Rough-Hewn, Raw Material, Her Son’s Wife, The Deepening Stream, and Understood Betsy. She was also a prolific author of nonfiction titles.

The Manchester Guardian said of her, “She is one of the few American authors who. while profoundly influenced by her European experiences … retains a full-blooded Americanism of the best kind.” In addition, her legacy has come under scrutiny; some allege that she was involved in Vermont’s eugenics movement. The jury is still out on this one; read more about this controversy.

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