University of New England - Innovation for a Healthier Planet

Elizabeth Jane Coatsworth papers, 1854-2006

Full finding aid (pdf) | Digitized material

Collection Scope and Content

This collection includes manuscripts, diaries and notebooks, personal and professional correspondence, memorabilia, appointment books, photographs, 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, and clipped stories and poems.

There are ancestral family photographs, photographs of Coatsworth as a Vassar student and later in her life, of her home Chimney Farm, 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 and bank statements. A large part of the papers is made up of correspondence to and from Coatsworth, dating from the late 19th century, including her extended family, Vassar College friends, and a number of writers and literary professionals with whom she maintained long-term relationships.

There are 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 editor/agent, Susan Hirschman, and some responses from Hirschman, rich in personal touches and whimsy.

The biographical series includes a wide array of personal items and ephemera ranging from her early 20th century passport to library cards to rental agreements on Coatsworth’s house in Hingham, MA to extensive notes regarding her leukemia. The collection also includes secondary literature about Coatsworth, such as magazine interviews and profiles, as well as book reviews, and honorary degrees.

Biographical/Historical Note

Elizabeth Coatsworth was born in Buffalo, New York, in 1893 and graduated from Vassar College in 1915. She completed an MA 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. Coatsworth continued to successfully publish books – mostly for children – as 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 novel The Enchanted: An Incredible Tale (1951) and the autobiographical Personal Geography (1976). She also edited a collection of her husband’s work entitled Especially Maine (1970). Coatsworth continued to live at Chimney Farm after the death of her husband in 1968 until her own death in 1986. She and Beston had two daughters, Margaret and Kate. Kate Barnes was appointed Maine’s first Poet Laureate in 1996.