University of New England - Innovation for a Healthier Planet

Kate Douglas Wiggin collection, 1883-1938

Full finding aid (pdf)

Collection Scope and Content

The collection includes photographs, flyers and playbills for her work, reviews, ephemera, published work and original correspondence, as well as a series devoted to the California Kindergarten Training School and the Froebel Society. Some of the items are photocopies, which were gathered by Glenys Tarlow from other libraries in her research on Wiggin. The majority of the collection was compiled by Tarlow during her years of research.

Biographical/Historical Note

Kate Douglas Wiggin was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on September 28, 1856, to Robert Noah Smith and Helen E. Smith. Shortly after the birth of her younger sister, Nora Archibald Smith, when Wiggin was three years old, Robert Smith died suddenly while away on a business. After his death, Helen Smith moved her family to Portland, Maine, and in 1863 she married Dr. Albion Bradbury, a distant cousin and country doctor in Hollis, Maine. They lived in a cottage on Salmon Falls Road on the banks of the Saco River. Wiggin attended Gorham Female Seminary, Morison Academy in Maryland, and Abbott Academy, a finishing school in Andover, Massachusetts. Due to the failing health of Dr. Bradbury, in 1873 the family moved to the more temperate climate of Santa Barbara, California. Upon completing school in Andover in 1875, Wiggin joined them in California, and just two years later Dr. Bradbury died. The family was left in serious financial hardship and both Wiggin and her sister worked odd jobs to help the family survive.

At the suggestion of social reformer Caroline M. Severance, Wiggin entered the Pacific Model Training School for Kindergartners. After completing the course, Wiggin directed a private kindergarten in Santa Barbara, and in 1878, under her mentor Emma Marwedel, she became director of the Silver Street Kindergarten in San Francisco. As the first free kindergarten on the West Coast of the United States, the school was dedicated to serving poor and immigrant children. In addition to directing the school, Wiggin and her sister Nora Archibald Smith co-founded the California Kindergarten Training School in 1880. In 1881, Wiggin married Samuel Bradley Wiggin, a lawyer and childhood friend from Boston, at which time she stepped down as director of the Silver Street School. She continued to lecture at the training school, even after her move to New York City in 1884.

To earn funds to support her kindergarten work, Wiggin turned to writing and published The Story of Patsy (1883) and The Birds’ Christmas Carol (1887). Commercial editions of both books issued in 1889 launched Wiggin’s fiction writing career. Smith and Wiggin together founded the Froebel Society, an alumni organization for the Training School, and collaborated to write several books on the topic of early childhood education, including The Story Hour (1890), The Republic of Childhood (1895–96), and Kindergarten Principles and Practice (1896). When Samuel Wiggin died suddenly in 1889, Kate Douglas Wiggin moved back for a time to the Salmon Falls area of Hollis, lodging at the Carll boarding house on the Saco River, where she wrote the children’s book Timothy’s Quest (1890).

In 1895 she married George C. Riggs, a wealthy New York businessman, and the two lived in New York and traveled frequently to Europe. They purchased the Carll boarding house in Salmon Falls as a summer home and named it “Quillcote,” meaning “house of the pen.” Wiggin’s travels served as inspiration for her children’s and travel books, among them Penelope’s Progress (1898) and Penelope’s English Experiences (1900). Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, published in 1903, became her most popular work and was dramatized by Wiggin in 1910 and filmed in 1917. It was followed by Rose O’ the River (1905), The Old Peabody Pew (1907), Susanna and Sue (1909), Mother Carey’s Chickens (1911), Penelope’s Postscripts (1915), The Romance of a Christmas Card (1916) and Homespun Tales (1920). Her autobiography, My Garden of Memory, was published in 1923.

In Salmon Falls, Wiggin became very involved in community affairs and hosted many town events at Quillcote. In 1911 she founded the Salmon Falls Public Library and gave it as a gift to the village. She also purchased a railroad station as a parish house for the Tory Hill Church, and founded the Buxton/Hollis area chapter of the Dorcas Society, a women’s group dedicated to working for good causes. In 1904, Bowdoin College presented an honorary degree to Wiggin, the second such degree the College had ever granted to a woman. Soon afterward, she founded the Society of Bowdoin Women, a social and fundraising organization. Wiggin died at a nursing home in Harrow on the Hill, England, on August 24, 1923, at the age of 66.