Taber, Gladys Bagg

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TABER, Gladys Bagg

Born 2 April 1899, Colorado Springs, Colorado; died 11 March 1980, Hyannis, Massachusetts

Daughter of Rufus M. and Grace Raybold Bagg; married Frank A. Taber, 1922 (died 1964); children: one daughter

Gladys Bagg Tabor was born in the West, grew up in the Midwest, and lived her adult life in Virginia, New York, and New England. She graduated from Wellesley in 1920; took an M.A. at Lawrence College, Appleton, Wisconsin, in 1921; and did graduate work at Columbia University. In 1922 she married a professor of music at Randolph-Macon College in Virginia, who lost his hearing and had to leave his profession. Tabor had one daughter.

Tabor's early work includes a play and a book of poems, but most of it is popular romance, sometimes serialized in magazines such as the Ladies' Home Journal. Her fiction is light and uplifting; her heroines usually find true love despite an unsympathetic father or class differences. In later novels, her heroines are long-suffering middle-aged housewives. Tabor's fiction shows a remarkable concentration on her own life, with the same themes and characters appearing again and again, and, as often happens with popular writers about whom the public is very curious, she became increasingly open about her own life when she turned completely to nonfiction after publishing her last novel, a barely disguised autobiography, in 1957.

Tabor's father is a perennial character in her books, fiction or autobiography. She wrote one book about him, Especially Father (1949), and portrays him in detail again in Harvest of Yesterdays (1976). He is harshly dealt with in her fiction, where he is the tyrant who keeps his daughter from marrying the man she loves, but in Tabor's nonfiction she tries to sympathize with him. Nevertheless, Tabor always portrays him as a hyperactive domestic tyrant with the social responsibility of a sand flea. Tabor's literary treatment of her father is an interesting case history in the making of capital from one of life's burdens.

Tabor's fiction is not the work which gained her the loyal fans she has attracted over the years; rather, her magazine columns and the books she made from them are the cornerstone of her success. From November 1937 to December 1957, her column "Diary of Domesticity" ran in the country's leading women's magazine, the Ladies' Home Journal, where she was also assistant editor (1946-58). Then for 10 or more years the column continued, in Everywoman's Family Circle, the supermarket magazine, as "Butternut Wisdom." These columns, and the books she made from them, chronicle the life of Tabor and her family at Stillmeadow, a farmhouse built in 1690, near Southbury, Connecticut. The first Stillmeadow book, Harvest at Stillmeadow, was published in 1940. There is a lot of repetition in the Stillmeadow books, which are organized seasonally, but these are the most popular mid-20th century examples by a woman of the subgenre of semiautobiographical books about country life.

Sharing Stillmeadow with Tabor and her daughter is Jill (Eleanor Mayer), Tabor's beloved "lifelong friend," and her two children. Jill was widowed in 1943. Tabor's husband, who is seldom mentioned, died in 1964. Throughout the series, the reader follows the changes coming to the lives of Tabor and Jill as their children grow up and they struggle with the usual problems of country life. Jill is portrayed by Tabor as the stereotyped demon gardener; her death in 1960 was acknowledged in Tabor's columns and became the subject of a book on coping with grief, Another Path (1963). Tabor characterizes herself, like the usual middle-aged heroines in her later novels, as timid and incompetent in mechanical things, unable to use the telephone or the vacuum cleaner.

Like other women who write for the popular audience, Tabor portrays herself as much more of an average housewife than she could have been. In Mrs. Daffodil (1957), an autobiographical novel in which the heroine is a columnist who lives in an old house in New England, an interviewer asks Mrs. Daffodil why she is so successful as a writer. "I think it's because I am not a special person at all…. I am just any woman with a house and a family and dogs and a garden. So if I put down what I feel, others feel the same way. I've often wished I were a literary writer, like Virginia Woolf, but I'm just the common garden variety." Such is indeed the nature of popular appeal; the readers want to read what they already think.

Other Works:

Lady of the Moon (1928). Lyonesse (1929). Late Climbs the Sun (1934). Tomorrow May Be Fair (1935). The Evergreen Tree (1937). Long Tails and Short (1938). A Star to Steer By (1938). This is For Always (1938). Nurse in Blue (1943). The Heart Has April Too (1944). Give Us This Day (1944). Give Me the Stars (1945). Especially Spaniels (1945). The Family on Maple Street (1946). Stillmeadow Kitchen (1947). The Book of Stillmeadow (1948). Stillmeadow Seasons (1950). When Dogs Meet People (1952). Stillmeadow and Sugarbridge (with B. Webster, 1953). Stillmeadow Daybook (1955). What Cooks at Stillmeadow (1958). Spring Harvest (1959). Stillmeadow Sampler (1959). Stillmeadow Road (1962). Another Path (1963). Stillmeadow Cookbook (1965). Stillmeadow Calendar (1967). Especially Dogs (1968). Stillmeadow Album (1969). Amber: A Very Personal Cat (1970). My Own Cape Cod (1971). My Own Cook Book (1972). Country Chronicle (1974). Conversations with Amber (1978). Still Cove Journal (1981).


Ladies' Home Journal (Oct. 1946). NYT (9 Oct. 1955). WLB (April 1952).