Fisher, Dorothea (Frances) Canfield

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FISHER, Dorothea (Frances) Canfield

Born 17 February 1879, Lawrence, Kansas; died 9 November 1958, Arlington, Vermont

Also wrote under: Dorothy Canfield

Daughter of James H. and Flavia Camp Canfield; married James R. Fisher, 1907

After extensive formal education (Ph.B., Ohio State; Ph.D., Columbia; graduate work at the Sorbonne), Dorothea Canfield Fisher and her husband traveled widely, eventually settling in Vermont, home of Fisher's ancestors. During World War I, Fisher did relief work in France, and she remained active in public life throughout her career, serving as secretary of New York's Horace Mann School; as the first woman on the Vermont Board of Education; and on the editorial board of the Book-of-the-Month Club (1926-51).

Fisher's interest in education and her love of the U.S. and of Vermont are steadily reflected in her works, which include textbooks, commentaries on education (A Montessori Mother, 1912; The Montessori Manual, 1913), patriotic reflections (American Portraits, 1946; Our Independence and the Constitution, 1950), translations (Papini's Life of Christ, 1923; Tilgher's Work, 1930), Vermont, poetry (Another Night for America, 1942), and fiction.

Perhaps Fisher's most lastingly popular work, Understood Betsy (1917), is the story of a fearful, sickly little girl who, through a change of guardians and environments, becomes an independent, capable child. Written in a pleasant conversational tone, the book codifies some of Fisher's major ideas: the importance of early training, the value of work, the necessity for self-confidence, and the virtues—as she perceived them—of the American heritage. These ideas, as well as attacks on big business and materialism, are central to The Bent Twig (1915), the story of Sylvia and Judith Marshall. Tested sorely, the sisters grow from their experiences, primarily through an awareness of their mother's dictum that if life is to be good, both joys and sorrows must be accepted. In an episode about a mulatto family passing for white, Fisher makes a plea for racial understanding without glossing over the biases and limitations of the period.

Seasoned Timber (1939) sets Fisher's attack on anti-Semitism within the narrative frame of Timothy Hulme's romance in middle age. The relationship between Timothy and his Aunt Lavinia illustrates Fisher's realism. Both characters are as capable of self-delusion as they are of self-sacrifice. Flashbacks based upon oral tradition vivify the Vermont setting.

Marriages in transition are a frequent plot device. The Brimming Cup (1921) compares and contrasts the marital relationships of Neale and Marise Crittenden and of Gene and Nelly Powers. Both women are mothers, both are clearly at the hub of their families, and both are tempted by attractive, sensual, single men. While the resolution of the Powers' difficulty is melodramatic, Marise's decision that sexual union is valid only when it nourishes personal growth is a convincing presentation of a basic Fisher theme. Another theme, the importance of woodland reclamation, appears here also, and regional customs are well drawn.

The Home-Maker (1924) vividly depicts the tensions arising from Evangeline Knapp's distaste for housework and from her husband's inability to succeed in business. When circumstances dictate an exchange of roles, the family achieves happiness, and Fisher's frequent point—that nurturing is vital work—is made neatly and unconventionally. Fisher's The Deepening Stream (1930) traces the growth of Matey Gilbert from childhood through motherhood. Damaged by faulty understanding of her parents' flawed marriage, Matey is a good example of the Fisher protagonist whose character strengthens throughout adulthood. Integrated with the story of Matey's maturation is Fisher's splendid evocation of World War I Paris.

Two of Fisher's short story collections, Hillsboro People (1915) and The Real Motive (1916), join with the nonfiction Vermont Tradition (1953) as tributes to her home state. The latter traces Vermont history by means of anecdotes drawn from the state's written and oral histories and stresses individual freedom. For Fisher, this principle was the key to real maturity and crucial to successful childrearing.

A woman of extraordinary energy, Fisher was one of the most popular writers of her day and is considered particularly adroit at exploring the drama of everyday life, portraying the inner growth of thoughtful, sensitive characters, and employing skillful variations of the interior monologue.

Other Works:

Emile Augier, Playwright-Moralist-Poet (1899). Corneille and Racine in England (1904). Elementary Composition (with G. B. Carpenter, 1906). Gunhild: A Norwegian American Episode (1907). The Secret of Serenity (1908). The Squirrel Cage (1912). Mothers and Children (1914). A Peep into the Educational Future (1915). Fellow Captains (with S. N. Cleghorn, 1916). Self-Reliance (1916). Home Fires in France (1918). The Day of Glory (1919). Rough-Hewn (1922). What Grandmother Did Not Know (1922). The French School at Middlebury (1923). Raw Material (1923). Made-to-Order Stories (1925). Her Son's Wife (1926). Why Stop Learning? (1927). Learn or Perish (1930). Basque People (1931). Our Children: A Handbook for Parents (edited by Fisher, with S. M. Gruenberg, 1932). Vermont Summer Homes (1932). Bonfire (1933). Moral Pushing and Pulling (1933). Tourists Accommodated (1934). Fables for Parents (1937). On a Rainy Day (with S. F. Scott, 1938). The Election on Academy Hill (1939). A Family Talks about War (1940). Liberty and Union (with S. N. Cleghorn, 1940). Nothing Ever Happens and How It Does (with S. N. Cleghorn, 1940). In the City, and In the City and on the Farm (with E. K. Crabtree and L. C. Walker, 1940). My First Book (with E. K. Crabtree and L. C. Walker, 1940). Runaway Toys (with E. K. Crabtree and L. C. Walker, 1940). Tell Me a Story (1940). To School and Home Again (with E. K. Crabtree and L. C. Walker, 1940). Under the Roof (with E. K. Crabtree and L. C. Walker, 1941). Under the Sea (with E. K. Crabtree and L. C. Walker, 1941). Our Young Folks (1943). Book-Clubs (1947). Highroads and Byroads (with E. K. Crabtree and L. C. Walker, 1948). Four-Square (1949). Something Old, Something New (1949). Paul Revere and the Minute Men (1950). A Fair World for All (1952). Dorothy Canfield Fisher on Vermont (1955). A Harvest of Stories (1956). Memories of Arlington, Vermont (1957). And Long Remember (1959). Report on Old Age (n.d.).


McCallister, L., Dorothea Canfield Fisher: A Critical Study (dissertation, 1969). Yates, E., Pebble in a Pool (1958).

Reference works:


Other references:

Educational Forum (Nov. 1950). SatR (11 Oct. 1930, 29 Nov. 1958).


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Fisher, Dorothea (Frances) Canfield

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