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Feature April 2010

April 25th, 2010 · No Comments · Featured Musings, Home

An Inspiring Woman

Often times, our inspirations come from influences that resonate with our sense of self. My inspiration for writing this April Feature comes from Kate Douglas Wiggins and the letter she wrote to The Girl Scouts of America where she points out that The Girl Scouts is a training school for womanhood.

An Expose on Kate Douglas Wiggin (1856-1923)

Kate Douglas Wiggin was an American educator and author of children’s stories. She was born Kate Douglas Smith on September 28, 1856 in Philadelphia of Welsh descent and died August 24, 1923 (aged 66) in Harrow, Middlesex, England. A graduate of Abbot Academy, Class of 1873, she started the first free kindergarten in San Francisco in 1878 (the Silver Street Free Kindergarten). With her sister during the 1880s she also established a training school for kindergarten teachers.

Kate Wiggin devoted her adult life to the welfare of children in an era when children were commonly thought of as cheap labour. Born in 1856, Kate herself experienced a happy childhood, even though it was saddened by the American Civil War and her father’s death. Kate and her sister Nora were still quite young when their widowed mother moved her little family from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Portland, Maine, then, three years later, upon her remarriage, to the little village of Hollis. There Kate matured in rural surroundings, with her sister and her new baby brother, Philip. Her education was spotty, consisting of a short stint at a “dame’s school,” some home schooling under the “capable, slightly impatient, somewhat sporadic” instruction of Albion Bradbury (her stepfather), a brief spell at the district school, a year as a boarder at the Gorham Female Seminary, a winter term at Morison Academy in Baltimore, Maryland, and a few months’ stay at Abbot Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. Although rather casual, this was more education than most women received at the time.

During 1873, hoping to ease Albion Bradbury’s lung disease, Kate’s family relocated to Santa Barbara, California, where Kate’s stepfather died three years later. A kindergarten training class was opening in Los Angeles, and Kate enrolled. After graduation, in 1878, she headed the first free kindergarten in California, on Silver Street in the slums of San Francisco. The children were “street Arabs of the wildest type”, but Kate had a loving personality and dramatic flair. By 1880 she was forming a teacher-training school in conjunction with the Silver Street kindergarten. However, according to the customs of the time, when Kate married Bradley Wiggin in 1881, she was required to resign her teaching job. Still devoted to her school, she began to raise money for it through writing, first The Story of Patsy (1883), then The Birds’s Christmas Carol (1887). Both privately printed books were issued commercially by Houghton Mifflin in 1889, with enormous success.

Ironically, considering her intense love of children, Kate Wiggin had none. Her husband died suddenly during 1889, and Kate relocated to Maine. For the rest of her life she grieved, but she also traveled as frequently as she could, dividing her time between writing, visits to Europe, and giving public reading for the benefit of various children’s charities. Her literary output included popular books for adults, scholarly work on the educational principles of Friedrich Froebel, and of course the classic children’s novel Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1903), as well as the 1905 best-seller Rose o’ the River. Wiggin’s home was in the Salmon Falls section of Hollis, Maine. During 1895, Kate Wiggin married a New York City businessman, George Christopher Riggs, who became her staunch supporter as her success increased. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm became an immediate bestseller; both it and Mother Carey’s Chickens (1911) were adapted to drama. Houghton Mifflin collected her writings in ten volumes in 1917.

For a time, she lived at Quillcote, her summer home in Hollis, Maine. Quillcote is now the town’s library. Wiggin founded the Dorcas Society of Hollis & Buxton, Maine in 1897. The Tory Hill Meeting House in the adjacent town of Buxton inspired her book (and later play), The Old Peabody Pew (1907). During 1921, Wiggin and her sister Nora Archibald Smith edited an edition of Jane Porter’s 1809 novel of William Wallace, The Scottish Chiefs, for the Scribner’s Illustrated Classics series, which was illustrated by N. C. Wyeth. During the spring of 1923, Kate Wiggin traveled to England as a New York delegate to the Dickens Fellowship. There she became ill and died, at age 66, of bronchial pneumonia. At her request, her ashes were brought home to Maine and scattered over to the Saco River. Her autobiography, “My Garden of Memory”, was published after her death. Wiggin was also a songwriter and composer of music. For “Kindergarten Chimes” (1885) she created some of the lyrics, music, and arrangements. For “Nine Love Songs and a Carol” (1896) she created all of the music.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A Training School for

189 Lexington Avenue
New York City
A Training School for

I am heartily interested in the Girl Scouts of America. The fact is, I think I was always a Girl Scout myself (although the name was unknown); yes, from the very beginning. Even my first youthful story was “scouty” in tone, if I may invent a word. Then for a few years afterward, when I was “scoutingly” busy educating little street Arabs in San Francisco, I wrote books, too, for and about younger children, but there came a time when “Polly Oliver’s Problem” brought me a girl public. It was not an oppressively large one; that is, I never was mobbed in the streets by Polly’s admirers, but they existed, and Heavens! how many letters they wrote!

I see now that “Polly” was a real girl scout, but faithful as she unconsciously was to the then unwritten laws of the sisterhood, she faded into insignificance when my absolutely true-to-type Scout appeared in the guise of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. Rebecca did not reform, convert or uplift her seniors, her parents, grandparents, neighbors and constituents, but she could never keep her hands off things that needed to be done, and whatever enterprise was on hand there was Rebecca to be found—sometimes on the outskirts, frequently, I fear, in its storm centre.

Do you remember that it was Rebecca and her twelve-year-old friends who sewed the white stars on the Riverboro home-made flag, just as the Roosevelt High School girls have been doing for their great leader these last weeks?

My summer home lies between two Maine villages on opposite sides of the Saco River. There are Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts in each of the villages; but off the main roads, almost on the fringe of the pine forests, are boys and girls too far away from one another to reach any group. One little chap said to me: “My brother Tim wants to be a Scout, but there isn’t anybody to be a leader and the boys live too far apart. Tim’s got all the circulars and books and instructions and he can be a lone scout, but he doesn’t want to be a lone scout—Tim doesn’t; he wants to be with other boys.”

The very words “A lone scout” suggested a story to me that I have never written, but wish that these words might reach the eye of a girl who would like to practise the scout virtues, even if she cannot belong to the great band. It is hard, without the companionship and inspiration of a large friendly company, to follow a secret ideal and an imaginary leader, to be a lone scout yet to be working with thousands of unknown little sisters. All the while that the “lone scout” is learning to be a woman—true, brave, busy, thrifty, cheerful, she can say to herself: “To help a little is to do the work of the world.” That is the real slogan of the Girl Scouts since for the most part they do little duties, assume small responsibilities, carry the lighter burdens. Above all, they learn to “Carry on!” doing a woman’s work in a woman’s way, doing small things that women have always done as well as the new things that have opened to women, either by their own pluck or because men have at least given women a chance, and doing them patiently, self-forgettingly, with the old-fashioned touch of a woman’s hand. The world isn’t in need of women who are duplicates of men. A girl should try to be the best scout in the world, if it is in her to go so far, but she must remember that after all she is a Girl, not a Boy Scout.

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.net.

How are you inspired to be a woman and how are you inspiring as a woman?


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