Field, Rachel Lyman (1894–1942)

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Field, Rachel Lyman (1894–1942)

American novelist and writer for children. Born on September 19, 1894, in New York City; died on March 15, 1942, in Beverly Hills, California; buried in Stockbridge, Massachusetts; youngest of five children of Matthew D. (a physician) and Lucy (Atwater) Field; graduated from Springfield High School, Springfield, Massachusetts; attended Radcliffe College as a special student, 1914–18; married Arthur S. Pederson (a literary agent), on June 20, 1935; one adopted daughter, Hannah Pederson .

Awards, honors:

Drama League of America prize (1918), for Rise Up, Jennie Smith; Newbery Medal, the first awarded to a woman (1929), for Hitty: Her First Hundred Years.

Selected writings—all for children, except as noted:

(illustrated by Allen Lewis) Calico Bush (Macmillan, 1913); (self-illus.) An Alphabet for Boys and Girls (Doubleday, Page, 1926); (illus. by Elizabeth MacKinstry) Eliza and the Elves (Macmillan, 1926); (illus. by MacKinstry) The Magic Pawnshop: A New Year's Eve Fantasy (Dutton, 1927); (ed.) Marie Catherine, Comtesse d'Aulnoy, The White Cat, and Other French Fairy Tales (Macmillan, 1928); (selfillus.) Little Toby (Macmillan, 1928); Polly Patchwork (Doubleday, Doran, 1928); (ed.) American Folk and Fairy Tales (Scribner, 1929); (illus. by Dorothy P. Lathrop) Hitty: Her First Hundred Years (Macmillan, 1929); Pocket-Handkerchief Park (Doubleday, Doran, 1929); (self-illus.) The Yellow Shop (Doubleday, Doran, 1931); (illus. by Ilse Bischoff) The Bird Began to Sing (Morrow, 1932); (illus. by Allen Lewis) Hepatica Hawks (Macmillan, 1932); (self-illus.) Just Across the Street (Macmillan, 1933); Susanna B. and William C. (Morrow, 1934); God's Pocket: The Story of Captain Samuel Hadlock, Junior, of Cranberry Isles, Maine (Macmillan, 1934); (author of lyrics) Ava Maria: An Interpretation from Walt Disney's "Fantasia" (Random House, 1940); (illus. by Elizabeth Orton Jones) Prayer for a Child (Macmillan, 1944); (illus. by Adrienne Adams) The Rachel Field Story Book (Doubleday, 1958).

Adult fiction:

(play) Rise Up, Jennie Smith (Samuel French, 1918); Time Out of Mind (Macmillan, 1935); (one-act play) First Class Matter (Samuel French, 1936); (with husband, Arthur S. Pederson) To See Ourselves (Macmillan, 1937); All This and Heaven Too (Macmillan, 1938); All Through the Night (Macmillan, 1940); And Now Tomorrow (Macmillan, 1942). Contributor of articles, stories, and verse to various periodicals, including St. Nicholas, Horn Book, Saturday Review of Literature, and The New Yorker.

Film adaptations:

All This and Heaven Too, starring Bette Davis and Charles Boyer (Warner Bros., 1940); And Now Tomorrow, starring Loretta Young and Alan Ladd (Paramount, 1944); Time Out of Mind, starring Phyllis Calvert and Robert Hutton (United Artists, 1947).

Writer Rachel Lyman Field was born in New York City on September 19, 1894, the youngest of five children of Matthew Field, a physician, and Lucy Atwater Field . She spent her early childhood in western Massachusetts, in Springfield and at Stockbridge, the ancestral home of the distinguished Field family. Her father was the nephew of three exceptional men: Cyrus Field, who laid the first Atlantic cable; David Dudley Field, an international lawyer; and Justice Stephen J. Field of the U.S. Supreme Court. Field, by her own admission, was not an early bloomer. "It is humiliating to confess that I wasn't one of those children who are remembered by their old school teachers as particularly promising," she wrote. "I was more than ten years old before I could read." After finally discovering the joy of words, however, Field soon developed a talent for poetry. In high school, she won $20 in an essay contest, and she was admitted to Radcliffe College as a special student on the strength of her writing ability. As a member of George P. Baker's famous "English 47" playwriting workshop, she scored her first success with Rise Up, Jennie Smith, which won the Drama League of America's prize for a patriotic play and was published by Samuel French in 1918. After college, Field went to New York, where for six years she worked in the editorial department of the film company Famous Players-Lasky, writing synopses of plays and books. While employed, she continued to work on her own poetry, short plays, and a novel.

Field made her mark through her work for young people, which encompassed poems, stories, and one-act plays. Considered especially noteworthy are her three juvenile novels, the first of which, Hitty: Her First Hundred Years (1929), tells of a quaint, 100-year-old doll, who also narrates the story. Particularly vivid are Field's descriptions of Maine, where she had spent many summers as a teenager. The book set a sales record for literature of its type and won a Newbery Medal, the first awarded to a woman. Calico Bush (1931) is also historical in nature, covering one year (1743) in the life of a French girl indentured to an English family who settle in

Maine. Field respected the intelligence of her young readers and paid particular attention to word choice. "So many juveniles today are too evidently written down to children," she explained, "with the words so simplified that all the spirit is lost in commonplaces."

In 1935, Field married Arthur Pederson, a literary agent, and also wrote her first full-length adult novel, Time Out of Mind, a romantic story set on the Maine coast during the decline of the shipbuilding trade. The couple moved to Beverly Hills, where they collaborated on the novel To See Ourselves (1937), a story about the "little people" living on the fringe of the movie capital. In 1938, Field achieved her greatest popular success with All This and Heaven Too, a fictionalized account of her great-aunt, the famous Mademoiselle D. (Mademoiselle Henriette Deluzy-Desportes , later Henriette Field) of Paris, who before her marriage to Henry M. Field was wrongly linked to the infamous murder of the Duchess of Choiseul-Praslin . The book was a national bestseller and was made into a highly successful movie starring Bette Davis and Charles Boyer.

Despite her success and popularity, Field preferred to live quietly with her husband and baby daughter, cooking, taking care of her house, and "growing things." She died tragically in 1942, at age 48, having contracted pneumonia after an operation. Her last novel, And Now Tomorrow, was appearing serially in a national magazine at the time of her death and was published posthumously in book form. A poem, Prayer for a Child, written for her daughter Hannah, was also published after her death, in 1944. In a tribute to Field in the Saturday Review of Literature,Laura Benét called the author "a tonic and a stay to those who loved her."


Commire, Anne. Something about the Author. Vol. 15. Detroit, MI: Gale Research.

James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

Mainiero, Lina, ed. American Women Writers. NY: Frederick Ungar, 1980.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts