Peattie, Elia Wilkinson

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PEATTIE, Elia Wilkinson

Born 1862, Kalamazoo, Michigan; died 12 July 1935, Wellington, Vermont

Wrote under: Elia W. Peattie, Sade Iverson

Married Robert B. Peattie, 1883 (died 1930); children: three sons and a daughter, who died in childhood

Elia Wilkinson Peattie's family, moved from Michigan to Chicago shortly after the 1871 fire. They built a comfortable house, in which Peattie and her husband later raised their own children.

In 1884 Peattie became the first "girl reporter" for the Chicago Tribune. After 10 years in Omaha, where Peattie wrote potboiler histories and her best stories while her husband managed the World-Herald, Peattie returned to Chicago in 1898, when she bore their third son. A daughter died in childhood; all three sons survived their parents, two becoming writers who married writers.

From 1901 to 1917, Peattie was the Tribune 's literary critic, while also publishing prolifically. Invitations to the Peatties' Sunday afternoon gatherings represented acceptance into the Chicago literary establishment. Peattie left Chicago in 1917, when her husband joined the New York Times. They retired to Tryon, North Carolina, in 1920, where Peattie remained after Robert's death in 1930.

Many of Peattie's publications were primarily commercial ventures. The Story of America (1889) has neither original interpretation nor careful writing to recommend it, yet Peattie published several editions and adaptations. Similarly commercial were the two poetry anthologies the Tribune 's influential literary critic edited in 1903.

Peattie's other historical works reflect her involvement in Chicago's cultural "uplift" movement. Her early historical romances and romanticized histories promoted the cultural establishment's fascination with knighthood's European flowering. Peattie's one-act costume pageant of women's changing status from mythological to modern times, Times and Manners (1918), was written specifically for a Chicago Woman's Club production.

Peattie's involvement with club theatricals also inspired several fine one-act plays late in her career. The title piece of The Wander Weed (1923) is probably her best, dealing with a Blue Ridge mountain girl's encounter with a sphinx-like old woman who breaks silence to convince Lu Constant of the need to accept the pains and joys of ongoing family relationships.

Family settings and themes are the common denominators for Peattie's girls' books. Azalea (1912) is representative; its young heroine forsakes nomadic circus adventures for the everyday continuities and domestic affections of smalltown family life. Such smalltown virtues also win out over artistic ambition and urban wealth in Lotta Embury's Career (1915) and Sarah Brewster's Relatives (1916).

The best of Peattie's early magazine short stories, collected in A Mountain Woman (1896), call domestic sentimentality into question. In "Jim Lancy's Waterloo," newly married Annie Lancy confronts the hard facts of premature aging and madness among neighboring Nebraska wives and of infant death in her own home. Generally, the Mountain Woman stories embody a conviction that city and frontier pose irreconcilable cultures, engendering psychic disorientation for intercultural migrants.

Similarly critical of domestic sentimentality are Peattie's two adult novels. An implicitly erotic relationship between father and daughter informs the violent action of The Judge (1890), while The Precipice (1914) exposes patriarchal tyranny and neighborly hypocrisy underlying smalltown family life. Nonetheless, Kate Barrington's search for independence in The Precipice is undercut by her friends' dramatizations of feminine limitations and the joys of motherhood. Kate's own social work activities—modeled on those of Julia Lathrop, first head of the U.S. Children's Bureau—remain in the novel's background. The organizing marriage-versus-career theme ultimately resolves itself ambiguously in Kate's decision to relinquish "prideful" independence for marital commitment, yet to subordinate "womanly" fulfillment to civic duty by living in Washington, D.C., apart from her husband.

A few of Peattie's short stories and one-act plays are fully realized literary works, and The Precipice is fascinating in its treatment of feminist issues. Peattie's career, however, was ultimately compromised by easy commercial productions and thematic contradictions. As a critic and romancer, she upheld derivative genteel standards of "noble" thoughts and "classic" forms. Yet her best fictions and plays are realistic, and "The Milliner" (1914), a pseudonymous free verse poem for the Little Review, met with deserved acclaim.

Other Works:

A Journey Through Wonderland (1890). With Scrip and Staff (1891). The American Peasant (with T. Tibbles, 1892). Our Chosen Land (1896). The Pictorial Story of America (1896). Pippins and Cheese (1897). The Love of a Calaban: A Romantic Opera (1898; adapted by E. Freer as Massimillano,1925). The Shape of Fear, and Other Ghostly Stories (1898).Ickery Ann, and Other Boys and Girls (1899). The Beleaguered Forest (1901). How Jacques Came into the Forest of Arden (1901). Castle, Knight, and Troubadore (1903). The Edges of Things (1903). Poems You Ought to Know (edited by Peattie, 1903). To Comfort You (edited by Peattie, 1903). Edda and the Oak (1911). Annie Laurie and Azalea (1913). Azalea at Sunset Gap (1914). The Angel with a Broom (1915). Azalea's Silver Web (1915). The Newcomers (1917). Painted Windows (1918). The Great Delusion (1932). The Book of the Fine Arts Building (n.d.).


Atlantic (1899). Bookman (April 1914, Jan. 1916). Boston Transcript (18 Feb. 1914). NYT (24 Dec. 1916).