Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field (1929)

Hitty-her first hundred years by Rachel Field illus by Dorothy P. Lathrop

Among the works Rachel Field (1894 – 1942) created for children, the most celebrated and enduring is Hitty: Her First Hundred Years, published in 1929. Written in the voice of a 100-year-old doll telling her life story, it gave Field the distinction of being the first woman to win a Newberry Medal (1930). It also received the acclaimed Lewis Carroll Shelf Award.

Hitty enjoyed a long life in print. The 1959 MacMillan Company edition, retaining the original illustrations by Dorothy P. Lathrop, describes the book as follows:

“Hitty is a doll of great charm and real character. It is a privilege to be able to publish her memoirs which, besides being full of the most thrilling adventures on land and sea, also reveal a personality which is delightful and forceful.

One glance at her portrait will show that she is no ordinary doll. Hitty, or Mehitable, as she was really named, was carved from a piece of white ash by a peddler who was spending the winter in Maine. Phoebe Preble, for whom Hitty was made, was very proud of her doll and took her everywhere, even on a long sailing trip in a whaler.

In this way, Hitty’s horizon was broadened and she acquired ample material to make her memoirs exciting and instructive. Hitty is a real doll, over one hundred years old, and now belongs to both Miss Field and Miss Lathrop. Recently she has done more traveling all over America in special exhibits to get acquainted with the young readers who love her story.”

How Rachel Field was inspired to write this book is a story in itself. She and her friend Dorothy Lathrop, an illustrator, had been eyeing a tiny wooden doll in a New York City antique shop. No larger than six inches, the calico-clad brown-skinned doll seemed to have so much character. At twenty-five dollars, quite a tidy sum back then, she was out of their budget. Finally, the two friends agreed to pool their money to purchase her, and at once, little Hitty stirred their imaginations.

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Hitty-Her first hundred years by rachel field
Hitty: Her First Hundred Years on Bookshop.org* and on Amazon*

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In The Field House, a biography of Rachel Field, Robin Clifford Wood writes of the book’s inception:

“The following summer Dorothy came to visit Rachel on Sutton Island, along with their friend Abbie Evans. Rachel wrote to her friend Prentiss: ‘Dorothy Lathrop, Abbie Evans and I had a grand week together, mapping out the adventures of Hitty, the wooden doll. That is to be a real book, if it ever gets on paper and it must.

After her week on Sutton, Rachel’s excitement about her Hitty book grew daily. ‘It was a real snowball of a book,’ she told one reporter, recounting how a great idea of her historical research and family recollections found their way in to Hitty’s story, the narrative account of the adventures of a one-hundred-year old doll.”

In 1999, Rosemary Wells and illustrator Susan Jeffers brought out an adaptation titled Rachel Field’s Hitty: Her First Hundred Years. Cathryn M. Mercier, a children’s literature scholar, wrote that “the adaptation removes some of the more archaic and problematic language found in Field’s novel, but that Hitty loses some of her distinct characterization.”

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Rachel Fields' Hitty doll

The original Hitty on display
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Today, the original Hitty doll is displayed in the Stockbridge Library Association in Stockbridge, MA, where Rachel spent the first ten years or so of her life. Following are two original reviews of Hitty: Her First Hundred Years from 1929, the year it was first published.

 

Adventures of Doll Carved by Sea Captain Are Told in Prize Book

From The Evening Express (Los Angeles), November 8, 1929: One of the most talked-about books for children this year is a doll story, published by the MacMillan Company of New York.

Hitty: Her First Hundred Years is the title of the story which began over 100 years ago when a sea captain in Maine really did carve a doll for his daughter out of good, stout mountain ash wood.

In 1928 Miss Rachel Field, the author, and Miss Dorothy Lathrop, the artist, found this doll in an antique shop In New York, her name plainly embroidered on her antiquated garments. She became their joint property, and they were so proud of her story as it developed in prose and pictures that at one time it looked as though only the old Anderson Galleries could contain and control the auctioning off of this manuscript among their many publishing friends.

Hitty, born in Maine, goes to sea on a whaling vessel, is lost in a temple on a South Sea Island, has poetry written to her In Philadelphia by Mr. Whittier, sees some exciting life on the Mississippi, and fills out her long career with periods of “going into camphor.”

She is the sort of biographer highly appreciated by elders who read aloud, and beloved by children who read to themselves. The book is beautifully bound and illustrated with color inserts and artistic black and whites.

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The Field House by Robin Clifford Wood
You might also enjoy:
The Field House by Robin Clifford Wood: Rediscovering Rachel Field
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Story of Hitty Interests Girls

From the Mansfield, Ohio News-Journal, November 17, 1929: Hitty, Her First Hundred Years is the engaging title of the new children’s book by a distinguished author and an equally distinguished artist, who have contributed many beautiful volumes to American publishing.

Rachel Field, author of Eliza and the Elves, Little Dog Toby, Polly Patch-work, and many other books successful with younger children, has written the adventures of Hitty.

Dorothy Lathrop, whose first illustrating success was with the beautiful de la Mare books and who has illustrated George MacDonald’s and other unusual fairy tales, has made the most beautiful pictures of her career for the story. The Macmillan Company, famous for its attractive children’s books, is the publisher.

Hitty is a doll of great charm and real character. One glance at her portrait will show that she is no ordinary doll. Hitty, or Mehitable. as she was really named, was carved from a piece of white ash by a peddler who was spending the winter in Maine. Phoebe Preble, for whom Hitty was made, was very proud of her doll and took her everywhere, even on a long sailing trip in a whaler.

In this way, Hitty’s horizon was broadened and she acquired ample material to make her memoirs exciting and instructive.

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Rachel Field, American author

21 Fascinating Facts About Rachel Field
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Time out of Mind by Rachel Field

You may also enjoy: Time Out of Mind by Rachel Field
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