University of New England - Innovation for a Healthier Planet

Dorothy Clarke Wilson papers, 1926-1989

Full finding aid (pdf)

Collection Scope and Content

This collection consists of articles about, and interviews with, Wilson; typescripts of some of Wilson’s writings; her autobiography; and writings published in pamphlets and periodicals. In addition, there are personal scrapbooks documenting her published works from 1933 to 1949, as well as a scrapbook chronicling a trip to India in 1950. In addition, there are decorative objects and textiles that Wilson brought back from her travels to India, including pieces in brass, wood, silver, and silk.

Biographical/Historical Note

Dorothy Clarke Wilson was born on May 9, 1904, in Gardiner, daughter of Rev. Lewis H. and Flora Cross Clarke. Valedictorian of her graduating class at Cony High School in Augusta, Wilson entered Bates College at the age of 17, and there had two life-changing experiences. One was meeting her future husband, Elwin Wilson, a fellow student. The other was winning an essay contest her senior year with her piece “Arbitration Instead of War,” which focused her outlook on social issues and sparked her lifelong interest in peace activism. Wilson was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Bates in 1925 and married Elwin Wilson a few weeks later, on August 31st. The couple lived for a year in Princeton, New Jersey.

Wilson’s professional writing career began in 1928, when a play she had written for her husband’s parish was accepted for publication. She published 25 books and scores of essays, stories, poems, and plays, with a special focus on biographies and religious novels and plays. Her books have appealed to generations of American and international readers. Prince of Egypt (1949), perhaps her best-known work, sold more than 500,000 copies in paperback. It won the Westminster prize of $7,500.00 as the best religious novel of its year, and was a primary source for the film The Ten Commandments, directed by Cecil B. DeMille. Also well-known are her biographies of important women, including Dorothea Dix, Elizabeth Blackwell, Alice and Edith Roosevelt, Dolly Madison, and Martha Washington. Wilson wrote about missionaries and lepers, doctors and reformers, and people with disabilities. One of her best-loved books, The Big-Little World of Doc Pritham, is about life in rural Maine. Her novels and plays have been translated and reprinted into Chinese, German, Arabic, Indonesian, Dutch, French, Danish, Thai, Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, and Malayalam. Some of her works have been condensed by Reader’s Digest and Guideposts.

Wilson was almost as well traveled as her words, visiting Palestine, India, Egypt, Mexico, and England. She presented almost 1,200 illustrated lectures about her books. Over her long life she received many honors, including the honorary degrees of Doctor of Letters from Bates College in 1947, and from the University of Maine in 1984. She received the Maryann Hartman Award from the University of Maine in 1988; the Deborah Morton Award from Westbrook College in 1989; the New England United Methodist Award for Excellence in Social Justice Ministry in 1975; the Woman of Distinction Award of Alpha Delta Kappa in 1971; the Award for Distinguished Achievement from the University of Maine at Augusta in 1977; and the Achievement Award from the American Association of University Women, Maine Division, as outstanding author, champion of individual freedom and tireless worker for social justice and positive societal change in 1988. Wilson died in Orono on March 26th, 2003, at the age of 98. Because of her abiding interest in peace, both in her community and in the greater world, Orono High School and University of Maine students are now awarded Dorothy Clarke Wilson Peace Award.