Born Mary Katherine Keemle Field, 1 October 1838, St. Louis, Missouri; died 19 May 1896, Honolulu, Hawaii
Daughter of Joseph M. and Eliza Riddle Field
The daughter of an actor and newspaper publisher and an actress, Kate Field became the ward of a millionaire uncle, Milton L. Sanford, following her father's death when she was eighteen. The Sanfords financed her education at Lasell Seminary in Auburndale, Massachusetts, and took her to Italy, where she was the darling of Anthony Trollope and other members of the writers' colony in Florence. Her support for the Union in the Civil War caused Sanford, a Southern sympathizer, to change his mind about making her his heir.
To support herself she turned to journalism, writing travel letters for the Springfield (Massachusetts) Republican and other newspapers. She lectured on the lyceum circuit, wrote humorous accounts of various journeys to Europe, and undertook a mildly successful theatrical career. She also did commercial publicity. The Drama of Glass (n.d.) was a slick advertisement for the Libby Glass Company disguised as a brief "history" of glassmaking. Although she received valuable stock for publicizing the newly invented telephone, she lost the proceeds in an unsuccessful dressmaking venture to promote simpler styles.
Desiring a platform for her views, she founded a weekly newspaper, Kate Field's Washington, which lasted from 1890 to 1895. She died a year later in Hawaii, where she had gone to regain her health after the newspaper failed. Her literary work reflected her eclectic interests. She published scores of articles in journals such as Atlantic Monthly; Pen Photographs of Charles Dickens's Readings (1868) contains flattering descriptions of Dickens's readings on his lecture tour of America and served as the basis of her own successful lecture on Dickens; and Planchette's Diary (1868) presents a shallow account of her experiences with the Victorian forerunner of the Ouija board.
Genuine gifts of humor and social satire characterize Hap-Hazard (1873), a collection of letters from the New York Tribune featuring the trials of a lady lecturer and poke fun at both the British monarchy and the nouveau riche American tourists. Ten Days in Spain (1875) bristles with her American middle-class prejudices displayed on travels through Spain during a political upheaval.
Kate Field's Washington focused on her own personality and special interests. It featured book reviews, theatrical news, novel-ettes, and drawing-room comedies, often written by Field herself. Although slight in content, several of her plays were produced. Her kaleidoscopic opinions championed numerous causes: temperance (not abstinence); the right of the rich to conspicuous consumption; cremation; prohibition of Mormon polygamy; international copyrights; the arts; and tariff and civil service reform. She weakly endorsed woman's suffrage.
Although Field demonstrated considerable literary talent, her importance lies less in what she wrote than in what she represented—the accomplishments of an intelligent and independent American woman in the late Victorian era. Her significance as a journalist stems from her views on the news, including reform efforts and politics, in an era when it was unusual for a woman to found and run a newspaper.
Adelaide Ristori (1867). Mad on Purpose: A Comedy (1868). Charles Albert Fechter (1882).
Beasley, M. H., The First Women Washington Correspondents (George Washington University Studies, 1976). Field, K., Kate Field: Selected Letters (1996). Moss, S. P., American Episodes Involving Charles Dickens (1999). Sadlier, M., Anthony Trollope (1927). Trollope, A., An Autobiography (1883). Whiting, L., Kate Field: A Record (1899). Woodward, H., The Bold Women (1953). Telling Travels: Selected Writings by Nineteenth-Century American Women Abroad (1995).
DAB, III, 2. NAW. NCAB, 6.
NYT (31 May 1896). Records of the Columbia Historical Society (1973-74).