Kate Douglas Wiggin

Kate Douglas Wiggin

Kate Douglas Wiggin (September 28, 1856 – August 24, 1923) was an American author best known for children’s stories. She was also active as an educator; aside from having founded the first kindergarten in San Francisco, she and her sister established a school for training kindergarten teachers. Born in Philadelphia, she and her sister moved to Portland, Maine with their widowed mother. Her education was sporadic and did not include college, though this wasn’t unusual for girls in her era. Her mother’s second husband had a health condition that took the family to the warmer climate of the west coast, and she found her milieu in California.

She trained to be a kindergarten teacher in Southern California, and upon completing her training, headed to San Francisco. There it was that she was inspired to start the first free kindergarten in 1878, focusing on street children and the generally underserved. She is considered one of the first and most active proponents of the kindergarten movement in the U.S.

In 1881, when Kate Douglas married Samuel Bradley Wiggin, an attorney, she was compelled by the custom of the time to quit her teaching job. It was then that she began writing stories for children. She used the proceeds from her writing to support the school she started. When she was widowed a few years later, she relocated back to Maine. Her second husband, a businessman, was most enthused about her writing career and became her staunchest supporter.

Kate Douglas Wiggin’s books were all very popular in their time; Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm is her most enduring; it became a stage play as well as a much-altered film starring Shirley Temple. Mother Carey’s Chickens became a well-received play as well as a 1933 film starring Anne Shirley (the eponymous actress who starred as Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery in one of its several film adaptations). Despite her great love for children, Wiggin never had any of her own.

Unfortunately, Wiggin was not as progressive on the subject of women’s rights as she was on the idea of universal education. She stood firmly against suffrage, or women’s right to vote, and even supplied a letter to that effect when the female leaders of the anti-suffrage movement met with the judiciary committee of the U.S. senate in 1913. “I cannot believe that the ballot is the first, or the next best thing to work for,” she wrote. “It is even more difficult to be an inspiring woman than a good citizen and an honest voter.”

As a child, Wiggin had a serendipitous meeting with Charles Dickens on a train in the eastern U.S.; she published a memoir of this encounter and their conversation in A Child’s Journey with Dickens. Many years later, in 1923, she traveled to England to attend a Dickens conference, became ill with bronchial pneumonia, and died there, at age sixty-six.

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Quotes by Kate Douglas Wiggin

Kate douglas wiggin and her sister Nora
Kate Douglas Wiggin and her sister Nora

“Most of all the other beautiful things in life come by twos and threes, by dozens and hundreds. Plenty of roses, stars, sunsets, rainbows, brothers, and sisters, aunts and cousins, but only one mother in the whole world.”

“There is a kind of magicness about going far away and then coming back all changed.”  (New Chronicles of Rebecca)

“The soul grows into lovely habits as easily as into ugly ones, and the moment a life begins to blossom into beautiful words and deeds, that moment a new standard of conduct is established, and your eager neighbors look to you for a continuous manifestation of the good cheer, the sympathy, the ready wit, the comradeship, or the inspiration, you once showed yourself capable of.” (Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm)

“Maternal love, like an orange tree, buds and blossoms and bears at once. When a woman puts her finger for the first time into the tiny hand of her baby and feels that helpless clutch which tightens her very heartstrings, she is born again with her newborn child.”

“It is very funny, but you do not always have to see people to love them. Just think about it, and see if it isn’t so.”  (The Bird’s Christmas Carol)

“Never miss a joy in this world of trouble — that’s my theory! Happiness, like mercy, is twice blest: it blesses those most intimately associated with it and it blesses all those who see it, hear it, touch it or breathe the same atmosphere.”

Kate Douglas Wiggin quote

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