Woolsey, Sarah Chauncey

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WOOLSEY, Sarah Chauncey

Born 29 January 1835, Cleveland, Ohio; died 9 April 1905, Newport, Rhode Island

Wrote under: Susan Coolidge Daughter of John M. and Jane Woolsey

Sarah Chauncey Woolsey spent her formative years in a lively household, amusing her three younger sisters, brother, and cousin with games and stories. She was first educated in Cleveland private schools, then sent to a boarding school in Hanover, New Hampshire, nicknamed "The Nunnery." From 1855 to 1870, Woolsey lived with her parents in New Haven, Connecticut, where her uncle, Theodore Dwight Woolsey, was president of Yale University. During the Civil War, she spent one summer working with her friend Helen Hunt Jackson in the New Haven Government Hospital and 10 months serving as an assistant superintendent at the Lowell General Hospital in Portsmouth Grove, Rhode Island.

After her father's death in 1870, Woolsey moved to Newport, Rhode Island, a residence interrupted only by journeys to Europe, California, and Colorado and, in her later years, by summers in the Catskills. In 1871 her career as children's author began with the publication of The New Year's Bargain. The Katy series (1872-91) brought her fame. She also wrote poetry and magazine articles, served for a time as children's book reviewer for the Literary World, and worked as reader and editor for her publishers, Roberts Brothers.

Although The New Year's Bargain employs fantasy reminiscent of Hans Christian Andersen in a story of two German children who trick the months into telling them stories, What Katy Did (1872) establishes Woolsey as a writer of realistic juvenile fiction, similar to Louisa May Alcott in her gift of depicting real American girls in an appealing family setting. Katy Carr, an impulsive, boisterous, and ever well-intentioned girl who leads her younger sisters and brothers into scrapes, finally matures through suffering and the acceptance of responsibility. Her adventures continue in What Katy Did at School (1873) when Katy and her sister, Clover, become students at a New England boarding school and meet the irrepressible Rose Red, beloved by more than one generation of schoolgirl readers in America and England.

Katy travels to Europe and finds romance in What Katy Did Next (1886), where Woolsey uses the travelogue, a popular formula in children's literature of the period, to carry a rather pedestrian plot. The Katy series concludes with Clover (1888) and In the High Valley (1891), as the six Carrs grow up and marry. The charm of the final books lies less in the portraits of the young people than in the Colorado setting, which Woolsey remembered so vividly from her trips to visit Helen Hunt Jackson.

Woolsey's other juvenile novels also feature plucky girls in realistic settings, but none of the heroines has Katy's imagination and vitality. Motherless Isabella of Eyebright (1879) moves from a sheltered home to an island off the Maine coast where she risks her life to help a stranger. Although Lilly of A Guernsey Lily (1881) heals a feud, she is really a device to unify descriptions of the scenery, people, history, and legends of the Channel Islands. Because orphaned Candace of A Little Country Girl (1885) shows moral courage, she wins a place in her aunt's family, thereby continuing to enjoy the civilized pleasures of Newport.

Among the notable collections of Woolsey's short stories are Mischief's Thanksgiving (1874), Nine Little Goslings (1875), Cross Patch (1881), A Round Dozen (1883), and Just Sixteen (1889). These volumes illustrate her capacity for invention and her range—stories for children and for adolescents, tales of realism and of fantasy. Nine Little Goslings and Cross Patch cleverly translate Mother Goose stories into tales peopled with real children in contemporary settings.

Although Woolsey hoped to achieve distinction as a poet, her three volumes of verse for adults, Verses (1880), A Few More Verses (1889), and Last Verses (1906), reveal little more than careful workmanship, a sober acceptance of suffering and death, and a certain flair for the narrative poem.

A talented and versatile writer of children's fiction, Woolsey was once almost as popular as Louisa May Alcott in both England and America. Today she is still remembered for her stories of the incomparable Katy Carr.

Other Works:

For Summer Afternoons (1876). A Short History of the City of Philadelphia from Its Foundation to the PresentTime (1887). The Day's Message (1890). Rhymes and Ballads for Boys and Girls (1892). The Barberry Bush (1893). Not Quite Eighteen (1894). An Old Convent School in Paris, and Other Papers (1895). Curly Locks (1899). A Little Knight of Labor (1899). Little Tommy Tucker (1900). Two Girls (1900). Little Bo-Peep (1901). Uncle and Aunt (1901). The Rule of Three (1904). A Sheaf of Stories (1906).


Banning, E., Helen Hunt Jackson (1973). Darling, R. L., The Rise of Children's Book Reviewing in America, 1865-1881 (1968). Kilgour, R. L., Messrs. Roberts Brothers, Publishers (1952). Meigs, C., A Critical History of Children's Literature (1969).

Reference works:

NAW (1971).

Other references:

Horn Book (1959).


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