Campbell, Helen Stuart

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CAMPBELL, Helen Stuart

Born 4 July 1839, Lockport, New York; died 22 July 1918, Dedham, Massachusetts

Wrote under: Helen C. Weeks, Campbell Wheaton

Daughter of Homer H. and Jane E. Campbell Stuart; married Grenville M. Weeks, 1860

Under the name Helen Weeks, Helen Stuart Campbell wrote five children's books as well as stories in Riverside Magazine and Our Young Folks. After 1877 Campbell adopted her mother's maiden name (Campbell) and she wrote works mainly for an adult audience: novels, magazine articles, cookbooks, studies of poverty and women workers. Experience as a teacher in cooking schools qualified Campbell to become household editor of Our Continent (1882-84).

From 1894 to 1912 Campbell was closely associated with Charlotte Perkins Gilman. They coedited Impress in San Francisco and worked in Unity Settlement in Chicago. Eventually Campbell lived with the Gilmans in New York. During this period she lectured on home economics at the University of Wisconsin in 1895, and at Kansas State Agricultural College in 1897 and 1898. Her final years were spent in Massachusetts.

The Ainslee Series, consisting of Grandpa's House (1868), The Ainslee Stories (1868), White and Red (1869), and Four and What They Did (1871) reveal Campbell's ability to create troublesome, lively children who tumble from one misadventure to another as they explore their New England or Midwestern surroundings. The liveliest and most amusing are Ainslee, five-yearold hero of the second book, and Sinny, his black friend. Although no more than a collection of stories, the book is unified by its temporal frame and by the background of New England village life. While Harry in White and Red is hardly an interesting hero, the account of his journey and the description of Indian characters and customs in Red Lake capture the imagination and make the tale a valuable portrait of the American past. Six Sinners (1877), a boarding-school story written under the name Campbell Wheaton, lacks the freshness of Campbell's earlier work, but maintains her characteristic flashes of humor.

His Grandmothers (1877), which marks Campbell's transition from juveniles to the adult novel, is a lighthearted sketch of a household turned upside down by a flint-hearted New England grandmother. It stands in lively contrast to Campbell's subsequent novels, which often (to the detriment of the fiction) attempt to treat such social themes as the role of heredity, the economic plight of women, the relation of diet to disease, the greed and corruption of postwar America.

In 1886's Mrs. Herndon's Income, Campbell's most important novel, there are too many characters and a poorly constructed plot, manipulated to suit the author's moral vision. It is partially redeemed, however, by the comic presence of Amanda Briggs and by the realistic description of New York slums. Miss Melinda's Opportunity (1886) uses a smaller canvas and a simpler plot, but is equally didactic. For the modern reader the interest lies less in the scheme for cooperative housekeeping than in the characterization of Miss Melinda and the evocation of New York in the Gilded Age.

Campbell's reform writing, as Robert Bremner points out, places her in the company of propagandists "who hoped to alter conditions by rousing the conscience of the nation." The Problem of the Poor (1882) and Darkness and Daylight (1891) describe life in New York's slums and McAuley's Water Street Mission. Prisoners of Poverty (1887) attacks the exploitation of women in New York sweatshops and department stores, employing case histories to illustrate the effects of starvation wages. Prisoners of Poverty Abroad (1889) feebly echoes its predecessor in a superficial survey of women workers in Europe. Less emotional than the earlier studies and buttressed by statistics, Women Wage-Earners (1893), which received an award from the American Economic Association, treats the plight of women factory workers across America, condemning low wages, long hours, and poor sanitation. Campbell concludes by recommending the organization of women's labor clubs and the appointment of women inspectors, as well as higher wages and a shorter working week.

As a fiction writer, Campbell was a minor figure, memorable only for the local color and abundant humor of her children's stories. Her role as reformer, however, was more significant. Campbell's studies of women wage-earners stirred the conscience of her age and led to the formation of consumers' leagues in the 1890s, which monitored retail stores to assure fair labor practices.

Other Works:

An American Family in Paris (1869). Unto the Third and Fourth Generation (1880). Patty Pearson's Boy: A Tale of Two Generations (1881). The Housekeeper's Year Book (1882). Under Green Apple Boughs (1882). A Sylvan City or Quaint Corners in Philadelphia (with others, 1883). The American Girl's Home Book of Work and Play (1883). The What-To-Do Club: A Story for Girls (1885). Good Dinners for Every Day in the Year (1886). Roger Berkeley's Probation (1888). Anne Bradstreet and Her Time (1891). Some Passages in the Practice of Dr. Martha Scarborough (1893). In Foreign Kitchens (1893). Household Economics (1896). The Heart of It: A Series of Extracts from the Power of Silence and The Perfect Whole (ed. H. Campbell and K. Westendorf, 1897).


Bremner, R. H., From the Depths: The Discovery of Poverty in the U.S. (1956). Darling, F. L., The Rise of Children's Book Reviewing in America, 1865-1881 (1968). Gilman, C. P., The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1935). Taylor, W. F., The Economic Novel in America (1942). Wright, L. H., American Fiction, 1876-1900 (1966).

Reference Works:

Literary Writings in America: A Bibliography (1977). NAW, 1607-1950 (1971).


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Campbell, Helen Stuart

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