Whitney, Adeline D(utton) T(rain)

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WHITNEY, Adeline D(utton) T(rain)

Born 15 September 1824, Boston, Massachusetts; died 21 March 1906, Milton, Massachusetts

Wrote under: Mrs. A. D. T. Whitney

Daughter of John and Adeline Dutton Train; married Seth Whitney, 1843; children: four

Adeline Dutton Train Whitney was one of the second generation Boston Brahmins. She received a fine education and married a man 20 years her senior, a businessman like her father. She had four children—one of whom died in infancy—and did not begin her writing career until her children were grown. She tried her hand at all sorts of books, such as poetry collections, a cookbook, an attack on Christian Science, but her juvenile novels were the most popular.

In Friendly Letters to Girl Friends (1896), she calls novels "stories of human possibilities." Since most of her novels were written for girls, the "possibilities" she was concerned with were those of her young readers, and in novel after novel she counseled them to stay in woman's own sphere—the home. "Perfect homes must be the centres and starting-points of the perfect commonwealths," she writes in Friendly Letters.

This theme is evident in the four novels that make up the Real Folks series: A Summer in Leslie Goldthwaite's Life (1866), We Girls (1870), Real Folks (1871), and The Other Girls (1873). All the girls who meet one another in these lightly connected works find their happiness in home and family life, even if they have to go out as servants. One of Whitney's themes is that women should not want to work anywhere outside the home even if they have to earn money, so they should take jobs as servants in other women's homes above any other work. (Perhaps the most widely expressed grievance of Whitney's day among women of her class was the difficulty of finding good servants.) In all, Whitney's fiction defends the most traditional aspects of the lives of upper-class American women of her day. She perhaps tempers her support by some criticism of social snobbery and a respect for sincere religious profession.

Brought up in the Congregational and Unitarian churches, Whitney later became an Episcopalian. She was no evangelist, and her plots do not turn on the characters' conversions, but most of her novels touch on religion or Christian ethics. Faith Gartney's Girlhood (1863) was one of the standbys of Sunday school libraries for over 50 years. It was also her most popular and most interesting novel and has a rather common theme: Faith's family loses its money in a business depression; both parents are unable to cope with the change in their lives, but Faith offers a plan, in which they move to a country house they own and do some of their own work. Three women—her aunt, who runs her own home and maintains a rigid independence; her father's nurse, who though middle-aged and plain finds her life in service; and the servant girl taken in by the aunt, who is unlucky in love but is left the means to run a small orphan's home—serve as examples of paths women may tread without becoming unwomanly. Faith is one of the lucky ones; young and beautiful, she gets married and will have her own home, husband, and children.

It may not be intentional, but Whitney's novels set up a very woman-centered way of life and scheme of values, even as they promote the notion of woman's inferiority to man. Her wives are not seen much with their husbands, but with aunts, mothers, daughters, and girlfriends. Faith's father is a broken man when he loses his money: "I'm no more than a mere useless block of wood," he complains; his daughter answers, "We shall just have to set you up, and make an idol of you then!" Her girls are advised to seek a completely separate way of life from men. As she put it in Friendly Letters, "Puss, puss! run for the chimney-corner. And leave something outside for men to do, that there may still be chimney-corners."

Whitney was a writer familiar to several generations of American young women. While her prose style is murky and her diction high-flown, her depictions of ideal home life and successful girlhoods pleased her readers. Modern cultural historians find her novels of interest in the study of the segregation of the sexes in 19th-century America.

Other Works:

Boys at Chequasset (1862). The Gayworthys (1865). Patience Strong's Outings (1868). Hitherto (1869). Mother Goose for Grown Folk (1870). Pansies (1872). Sights and Insights (1876). Just How: A Key to Cook-Books (1878). Odd or Even? (1880). Homespun Yarns (1886). Bonnyborough (1886). Bird Talk (1887). Daffodils (1887). Ascutney Street (1890). A Golden Gossip (1892). White Memories (1893). The Open Mystery: A Reading of the Mosaic Story (1897). Square Pegs (1899). The Integrity of Christian Science (1900). Biddy's Episodes (1904).


Halsey, F. W., Women Authors of Our Day in Their Homes (1903).

Reference works:

Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995).

Other references:

Horn Book (June 1953). NYT (22 Mar. 1906).


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