Elizabeth Jane Coatsworth papers, 1900-1985
Collection Scope and Content
This collection includes manuscripts, diaries and notebooks, personal and professional correspondence and memorabilia, appointment books, scrapbooks, and other papers from Coatsworth’s life. The scrapbooks contain personal mementos from her family such as a short poem from her husband, Henry Beston, signed “the Chimney Farm Farmer,” a child’s crayon drawing, Coatsworth’s grandmother’s 1891 passport to Greece, an original Christmas song on sheet music written by Elizabeth Coatsworth, sketches and correspondence from friends, clipped stories and poems.
There are early family photographs, photographs of Coatsworth as a Vassar student and later in her life, of Chimney Farm, her coastal home, sketchbooks, and notebooks from her school days and travels. Also included are drafts and manuscripts of poems and some of her published works, including The Cat Who Went to Heaven, The Princess and the Lion, and Jock’s Island, as well as a collection of royalty statements. The bulk of the collection is made up of correspondence to and from Coatsworth, dating from 1917, including family, Vassar College friends, and a number of emerging writers and literary professionals with whom she retained relationships.
There are also Coatsworth family letters dating back to 1854, including a group of letters written between Coatsworth’s mother and father between 1887-1907. There is a large collection of letters written by Coatsworth in the last three decades of her life to the children’s book publisher, Susan Hirschman and some responses from Hirschman, rich in personal touches and whimsy. The collection includes secondary literature about Coatsworth, such as magazine interviews and profiles, as well as book reviews, and honorary degrees.
Elizabeth Coatsworth was born in 1893 in Buffalo, New York, and graduated from Vassar College in 1915. She completed a Master’s degree in 1916 at Columbia, and received an honorary doctorate from the University of Maine in 1955. With her family, Coatsworth traveled widely in her youth to Europe, Africa, Mexico, and the Far East, and kept extensive notebooks of writing and artwork from her travels. She began writing poetry in 1914, and published her first book, Fox Footprints, in 1923.
In 1929 she married Henry Beston, the noted author and naturalist, and the two settled first in Hingham, MA, and then at Chimney Farm in Nobleboro, Maine. She and Beston had two daughters, Margaret and Kate. Coatsworth continued to publish books – mostly for children – and her work achieved solid readership and popularity for the rest of her life. She was the recipient of numerous awards, including the Newbery Medal in 1931 for The Cat Who Went to Heaven. Her stories largely involve animals and nature, and show the influence of her travels. One of her collections of fiction, The Snow Parlor and Other Bedtime Stories, includes stories written by her husband.
In addition to writing children’s books, Coatsworth published several novels and nonfiction works for adults, including the autobiographical Personal Geography in 1976. She also edited a collection of her husband’s work entitled Especially Maine (1970). Coatsworth continued to live at Chimney Farm after Henry Beston’s death in 1968, until her own death in 1986.