Doubleday, Nellie Blanchan (DeGraff)

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DOUBLEDAY, Nellie Blanchan (DeGraff)

Born 23 October 1865, Chicago, Illinois; died 21 February 1918, Canton, China

Wrote under: Neltje Blanchan

Daughter of Liverius and Alice Fair De Graff; married Frank N.Doubleday, 1886

Author of several very popular bird and nature books, Nellie Blanchan Doubleday was educated at St. John's School in New York and the Misses Masters' School in Dobbs Ferry. In 1886 she married Frank N. Doubleday (1862-1934), who later founded the publishing firm of Doubleday, Doran and Company. An exuberant, enthusiastic woman, Doubleday was no great authority on birds, but her work was part of the foundations of the conservation movement made during the early years of the 20th century. She died in Canton while on an assignment for the Red Cross.

Nature enthusiasts at the turn of the century often mixed interest in Native American lore, birds, plants, and camping skills. Although Doubleday's first book was a study of the Piegans, one of the Blackfoot tribes of the West, her bird writing soon took precedence. Bird Neighbors (1897), her first bird book, is an elementary field book including information on habitats and bird families. Introduced by John Burroughs, the volume went through many printings. The following year (1898), she published Birds That Hunt and Are Hunted: Life Histories of One Hundred and Seventy Birds of Prey, Game Birds and Water-Fowls, again not a work of important new observations but a book for the amateur. In the preface, Doubleday points out that when the public learns about birds, they will willingly back laws to protect them. Her writing style in these two books is informative and lively. In her chapter on the bob white, in Birds That Hunt, for example, she portrays in very effective scenes the devastation of the little families by "sportsmen." Doubleday was not against limited hunting but favored proper conservation laws.

Another of her popular nature guides was on plants, Nature's Garden (1900), which is a guide to wildflowers arranged by their color. This work also includes information about insects associated with the flowers. Doubleday lists all the common names of a given plant and has short essays of appreciation about each one; in these she quotes poetry, cites folk beliefs, and explains the relationship between the flower and its insect visitors.

Another of Doubleday's enthusiasms was gardening. The American Flower Garden (1909) appeared in many editions over a period of 25 years. Well illustrated with photographs, and beautifully printed, this book covers the topic of American gardening from a decidedly upper-class point of view. Chapters on various garden topics (such as "The Naturalistic Garden") and chapters of plant advice (such as one on annuals) made this a practical handbook for those with enough money to garden on Doubleday's scale. In one chapter, "The Formal Garden," Doubleday extols Italian gardening and the sophisticated delights of continental garden skill. In another, she writes: "When we remember that the masses of our population are but lately landed immigrants, it is scarcely surprising that crowds gaze with rapture upon a life-sized elephant, done in uniform cactus rosettes, on the greensward of a public park."

Although Doubleday is a minor figure in American nature writing, her books are typical of those associated with the conservation movement of the turn of the century. At that time, nature study of both flora and fauna became more than just a proper pastime for a genteel country woman; it became part of a growing national consciousness to preserve a magnificent natural heritage.

Other Works:

The Piegan Indians (1889). How to Attract the Birds (1902). Birds Every Child Should Know (1907). Birds Worth Knowing (1917).


McFarland, M., Memoirs of a Rose Man (1949). Swanberg, W. A., Dreiser (1965). Dreiser, T. A., Letters (1959).

Reference Works:

DAB (1891). NAW, 1607-1950 (1971).