Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (Wiggin)

Author Bio
Birth—September 28, 1856
 Where—Philadelphia, Pennnsylvania, USA
Death—August 24, 1923
Where—Harrow, Middlesex, England, UK
Education—Gorham Female Seminary; Morrison Academy   
  (Baltimore, Maryland)


Kate Douglas Smith Wiggin, born in 1856 in Philadelphia, was of Welsh descent. A 1873 graduate of Abbot Academy (New England's first girls' school founded in 1929), she started the first free kindergarten in San Francisco in 1878 (the Silver Street Free Kindergarten). With her sister in the 1880s she also established a training school for kindergarten teachers.

Kate Wiggin devoted her entire adult life to the welfare of children in an era when children were commonly thought of as cheap labour. Kate herself experienced a happy childhood, even though it was colored by the American Civil War and her father's death. Kate and her sister Nora were still quite young when their widowed moved her little family from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Portland, Maine. Then three years later, upon her mother's remarriage, to the little village of Hollis. There Kate grew up 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 Brabury (her step father), 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 Abbott Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. Although rather by-the-way, this was more education than most women received at the time.

In 1873, hoping to ease Albion Bradbury's lung disease, Kate's family moved to Santa Barbara, California, where Kate's stepfather died three years later. The circumstance of this move put Kate at the forefront of the kindergarten movement in America. 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 they were no match for Kate's warm 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 give up 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 Houghtom Mifflin in 1889, with enormous success.

Ironically, considering her intense love of children, Kate Wiggin had none. Her husband died suddenly in 1889, and Kate took her grief home to Maine. For the rest of her life she struggled with depression, and in order to combat it she travelled as frequently as she could, dividing her time between writing, trips 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).

In 1895 Kate Wiggin married a New York City business-man, George Christopher Riggs, who became her staunch supporter as her success grew. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm became an immediate bestseller; both it and Mother Carey's Chickens (1911) were adapted to the stage. 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).

In 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 (father of Andrew)..

In the spring of 1923 Kate Wiggin travelled 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.

Kate was also a composer of music, including "Nine Love Songs and a Carol" (1896) for voice and piano. (From Wikipedia.)

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