Kate Douglas Wiggin
Kate Douglas Wiggin (September 28, 1856 – August 24, 1923) was an American author best known for children’s stories, particularly Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. 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 didn’t 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.
A kindergarten pioneer
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.
Beginning of a writing career
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.
A popular author
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.
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Against women’s suffrage
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.”
An encounter with Dickens
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.
Poster from the 1911 staged production of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
- Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1903)
- New Chronicles of Rebecca (1907)
- Mother Carey’s Chickens (1911)
- Timothy’s Quest (1890)
- Diary of a Goose Girl (1902)
- Rose o’ the River (1905)
- Ladies in Waiting (1919)
Read and listen online
- Read Kate Douglas Wiggin works at Project Gutenberg
- Listen to Kate Douglas Wiggin’s works on Librivox
Biographies and Autobiographies
- Kate Douglas Wiggin as her Sister Knew Her (1925)
- My Garden of Memory (1923)
- A Child’s Journey with Dickens (1912)
- Kate Douglas Wiggin on Wikipedia
- Reader discussion of Wiggin’s books on Goodreads
- Wiggin’s Amazon page
Film adaptation of Kate Douglas Wiggins’ works
- Mother Carey’s Chickens (1938)
- Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1917 silent film)
- Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938 film starring Shirley Temple,
much altered from the book, this is available to view in 5 parts)
- Kate Douglas Wiggin Collection, Bowdoin College, Maine
- Kate Douglas Wiggin Collection, University of New England, Maine
- Salmon Falls Public Library, Hollis, Maine (Wiggin founded this library in 1911,
which is around the corner from Quillcote, formerly her summer home)