University of New England - Innovation for a Healthier Planet

Sarah Orne Jewett collection, 1801–1997

Full finding aid (pdf) | Digitized material

Collection Scope and Content

The collection includes manuscripts, correspondence, articles, reviews, research papers, memorabilia, photographs, printed material, artifacts, and family business records. The manuscripts include: a poem written by Jewett at age fourteen; notes found in her personal copy of The Norman Conquest; “Indians,” her earliest known manuscript; and a complete manuscript copy of the “Night Before Thanksgiving.”

The correspondence with family, friends and business associates gives a view into Jewett’s family and social life as well as her life as a writer. The letters to and from Annie Fields include a consoling note after the death of Fields’ husband, James T. Fields, in 1881. Jewett and Fields’s long friendship is documented in their own letters and in mentions in letters to others including letters that Fields and Mary Rice Jewett wrote to others after Sarah’s death dealing with her estate. Close family relationships are presented in the many letters to Mary Rice Jewett particularly in the care the aunts’ took of nephew Theodore Eastman after his mother Carrie Eastman, Jewett’s sister, died. The letters to Abbie S. Beede, who typed manuscripts for Sarah and Annie, shows the development of the relationship with Beede from distant to friendly with Jewett sometimes asking Beede for her opinion of a particular story.

The third series is composed of published articles both original and in photocopy. The fourth series includes newspaper and journal articles, book reviews, and scholarly papers on Sarah Orne Jewett. The fifth is made up of photographs of Jewett, her family, and her home and other locations in South Berwick, Maine. The memorabilia series includes calling cards, a silk handkerchief, and a Sarah Wyman Whitman stained glass wreath. The family/business series has many family business receipts and a lecture on electricity written by Jewett’s father.

Biographical/Historical Note

Theodora Sarah Orne Jewett was born September 3, 1849, to physician Theodore Herman Jewett and Caroline Frances Perry in South Berwick, Maine. She published as Sarah Orne Jewett. Because often ill as a child, she attended Miss Rayne’s School infrequently: instead she drove with her father on his rounds to visit his patients. Jewett graduated from Berwick Academy in 1865 and soon began to write. Her career took off with her submission of short stories to William Dean Howells, assistant editor of The Atlantic Monthly, who then put her in touch with James Fields of Boston’s Ticknor and Fields. Placing her work with the Atlantic throughout her life, Jewett gathered stories into periodic book collections. Her first successful novel was Deephaven (1877), though she is best known for The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896).

Fields’s wife Annie and Jewett became close friends. After the deaths of Annie’s husband and Sarah’s father, the two women became companions in a “Boston marriage.” They traveled together throughout the United States and Europe. They resided at Jewett’s home in South Berwick as well as in Fields’s homes in Boston and Manchester by the Sea.

Jewett, considered regionalist or “local colorist,” wrote about New England life and captured the native accent, diction, and syntax especially of Maine’s people. Jewett’s novel, A Country Doctor (1884), among other titles, suggests her feminist awareness of women’s larger capabilities. Other works consider issues of domestic culture, class structure, ecology, and the natural world. Influenced by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Jewett often invited her to Boston gatherings at the Fields’ home. There Jewett met and influenced Willa Cather. Other women in the social circle of artists and writers included Harriet Prescott Spofford, Celia Thaxter, and Sarah Wyman Whitman.

In 1901 Jewett became the first woman to receive an honorary Litt.D. degree from Bowdoin College, her father’s alma mater. Just one year later, she suffered crippling injuries in a carriage accident, thereby limiting her physical mobility and hence her writing. After suffering a first stroke in March 1909 and a second June 23, 1909, Jewett died. Jewett’s South Berwick home, maintained by Historic New England, welcomes visitors.