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, 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.


Kate douglas wiggin and her sister Nora

You might also like: Kate Douglas Wiggin: Quotes on Love and Happiness


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.


Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm theater poster 1911

Poster from the 1911 staged production of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm


Major works

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Biographies and Autobiographies 

More Information

Film adaptation of Kate Douglas Wiggins’ works

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