Phelps, Elizabeth Stuart 1844–1911

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Phelps, Elizabeth Stuart 1844–1911

(Mary Adams, Mrs. Herbert Ward Dickinson, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward)

PERSONAL: Born Mary Gray Phelps; August 31, 1844, in Boston, MA; died January 28, 1911, in Newton, MA; took mother's name, 1852; daughter of Elizabeth Stuart Phelps (an author); married Herbert Dickinson Ward (a journalist), 1888 (separated). Education: Attended Abbot Academy and Mrs. Edwards' School for Young Ladies, Andover, MA.

CAREER: Author. Also worked as a Sunday school teacher.



The Gates Ajar, Fields Osgood (Boston, MA), 1868.

Hedged In, Fields Osgood (Boston, MA), 1870.

The Silent Partner, Osgood (Boston, MA), 1871.

The Story of Avis, Osgood (Boston, MA), 1877.

Friends: A Duet, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1881.

Dr. Zay, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1882.

Beyond the Gates, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1883.

Burglars in Paradise, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1886.

The Madonna of the Tubs, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1887.

The Gates Between, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1887.

A Singular Life, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1895.

(Under pseudonym Mary Adams) Confessions of a Wife, Century (New York, NY), 1902.

Trixy, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1904.

Though Life Us Do Part, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1908.

Walled In, Harper (New York, NY), 1909.


Ellen's Idol, Massachusetts Sabbath School Society (Boston, MA), 1864.

Up Hill; or, Life in the Factory, Hoyt (Boston, MA), 1865.

Mercy Gliddon's Work, Hoyt (Boston, MA), 1866.

Gypsy Breynton, Graves & Young (Boston, MA), 1866.

Gypsy's Cousin Joy, Graves & Young (Boston, MA), 1866.

Gypsy's Sowing and Reaping, Graves & Young (Boston, MA), 1866.

Tiny, Massachusetts Sabbath School Society (Boston, MA), 1866.

Tiny's Sunday Nights, Massachusetts Sabbath School Society (Boston, MA), 1867.

Gypsy's Year at the Golden Crescent, Graves & Young (Boston, MA), 1868.

I Don't Know How, Massachusetts Sabbath School Society (Boston, MA), 1868.

The Trotty Book, Fields Osgood (Boston, MA), 1870, published as That Dreadful Boy Trotty: What He Did and What He Said, Ward Lock (London, England), 1877.

Trotty's Wedding Tour, and Story-Book, Osgood (Boston, MA), 1877.

My Cousin and I, Sunday School Union (Boston, MA), 1879.

Jack the Fisherman, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1887.


Men, Women, and Ghosts (includes "The Tenth of January"), Fields Osgood (Boston, MA), 1869.

Sealed Orders, Houghton Osgood (Boston, MA), 1879.

An Old Maid's Paradise, Houghton Osgood (Boston, MA), 1879.

Fourteen to One, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1891.

The Oath of Allegiance and Other Stories, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1909.

The Empty House and Other Stories, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1910, published as A Deserted House and Other Stories, Constable (London, England), 1911.


What to Wear?, Osgood (Boston, MA), 1873.

Poetic Studies, Osgood (Boston, MA), 1875.

Songs of the Silent World and Other Poems, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1884.

A Gracious Life: A Eulogy on Mrs. Charlotte A. Johnson, privately printed (Boston, MA), 1888.

Austin Phelps: A Memoir, Scribner (New York, NY), 1891.

Chapters from a Life (autobiography), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1896.

Within the Gates (play), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1901.

A Plea for the Helpless, American Humane Society (New York, NY), 1901.

Vivisection and Legislation in Massachusetts, American Anti-Vivisection Society (Philadelphia, PA), 1902.

Contributor of stories and articles to periodicals, including Atlantic Monthly, Century, Harper 's, Independent, Ladies' Home Journal, and Woman's Journal.

Phelps's manuscripts are maintained at the Andover Historical Society, Andover, MA; the Houghton Library, Harvard University; and the Beinecke Library, Yale University.

SIDELIGHTS: Elizabeth Stuart Phelps was a professional writer, an advocate of workers' rights and of women's right to work who wrote prolifically on a variety of topics and created many strong, progressive female characters. In her many novels—particularly those written early in her career—Phelps created heroines who brought a new voice to fiction, speaking actively for women as a class and presenting a critique of those social institutions that placed limits on women's development. A good example of her heroines' point of view can be seen in the author's 1871 pro-labor novel The Silent Partner, in which the heroine gives this reason for rejecting her suitor: "The fact is … that I have no time to think of love and marriage…. That is a business, a trade, by itself to women. I have too much else to do."

Born Mary Gray Phelps in 1844, Phelps was the daughter of a popular writer, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, and took her mother's name when she was eight years old and her mother died. Phelps was already publishing short fiction in periodicals during her teens. Approaching writing as a full-time profession, she produced fifty-six volumes of fiction, poetry, and other work before her death in 1911. She also wrote more than 150 short stories, including "The Tenth of January," a portrayal of a crippled factory girl who is trapped during the collapse of the Pemberton Mill. Praised by such contemporaries as Thomas Wentworth Higginson and John Greenleaf Whittier, "The Tenth of January" reflects its author's concern over the social conditions that render women powerless. The experiences of her own mother affected Phelps's writing as well; she based her most well-known work, 1877's The Story of Avis, on her mother's struggle to write while fulfilling the traditional role of wife and mother. Avis, a promising artist whose career is stifled by marriage and motherhood, portrays the impossibility of artistic fulfillment for married women.

Surprisingly, given her views of marriage, Phelps married Herbert Dickinson Ward—a man seventeen years her junior—when she was forty-four. The marriage proved to be an unhappy one, and they spent much of their time apart. Despite the aftereffects of a physical breakdown following The Story of Avis, Phelps continued to support herself, and later, her husband, through her writing. She also became increasingly active in the antivivisection movement, using her ability as a writer to advance that cause as she had also advanced the cause of women and the poor. As she would write in her 1896 autobiography, Chapter from a Life, Phelps was "proud … that I have always been a working woman, and always had to be."



Bennett, Mary Angela, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, University of Pennsylvania Press (Philadelphia, PA), 1939.

Douglas, Ann, The Feminization of American Culture, Knopf (New York, NY), 1977.

Kelly, Lori Duin, The Life and Works of Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Victorian Feminist Writer, Whitston (New York, NY), 1983.

Kessler, Carol Farley, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, G.K. Hall (Boston, MA), 1982.