Freeman, Mary E. Wilkins (1852–1930)

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Freeman, Mary E. Wilkins (1852–1930)

American novelist and short-story writer. Name variations: wrote under Mary E. Wilkins Freeman and Mary E. Wilkins. Born Mary Eleanor Wilkins in Randolph, Massachusetts, on October 31, 1852; died on March 15, 1930, in Metuchen, New Jersey; one of two daughters of Warren E. Wilkins (an architect and storekeeper) and Eleanor (Lothrop) Wilkins; attended Brattleboro (Vermont) high school; attended Mt. Holyoke Seminary and Mrs. Hosford's Glenwood Seminary in West Brattleboro; married Charles Manning Freeman (a physician), 1902 (separated, 1921); no children.

Principal works—short stories:

The Adventures of Ann (juvenile, 1886); A Humble Romance (1887); A New England Nun (1891); The Pot of Gold (1892); Young Lucretia (1892); Comfort Pease and Her Gold Ring (1895); The People of Our Neighborhood (1898); Silence (1898); The Jamesons (1899); The Love of Parson Lord (1900); Understudies (1901); Six Trees (1903); The Wind in the Rose Bush (1903); The Givers (1904); The Fair Lavinia (1907); The Winning Lady (1909); The Green Door (1910); The Yates Pride (1912); The Copy-Cat (1914); Edgewater People (1918). Novels: Jane Field (1893); Pembroke (1894); Madelon (1896); Jerome: A Poor Man (1897); The Heart's Highway (1900); The Portion of Labor (1901); The Debtor (1905); "Doc" Gordon (1906); By the Light of the Soul (1906); The Shoulders of Atlas (1908); The Butterfly House (1912); An Alabaster Box (with F.M. Kingsley, 1917). Miscellaneous: Decorative Plaques (verse, 1883); Giles Corey: Yeoman (play, 1893); Once Upon a Time and Other Child Verses (1897).

Called one of the last great genre writers in New England, Mary Eleanor Freeman was born in Randolph, Massachusetts, in 1852 and received what little education she had in Brattleboro, Vermont, where the family moved in 1867. Obliged to leave Mount Holyoke Seminary (now Mount Holyoke College) due to poor health, her last formal schooling included a few months at a boarding school in West Brattleboro. In 1883, after the death of her parents and her only sister, Freeman returned to Randolph to live with a friend, although in ensuing years she also traveled around the United States and in Europe. After her marriage to Dr. Charles Freeman in 1902, she moved to Metuchen, New Jersey, where she resided for the rest of her life. (Freeman was legally separated from her husband in 1921, after he was committed to an institution for alcoholism.)

By the 1880s, Freeman had established herself as a children's writer. Her early work, Decorative Plaques (1883), was a collection of 12 poems from the children's magazine Wide Awake. After her first adult story, "A Shadow Family" (since lost), won a prize in a contest sponsored by a Boston newspaper, she began to concentrate on adult fiction, and her work was regularly featured in Harper's Bazaar and Harper's Weekly. Freeman's stories and novels about New Englanders, rich with themes of pride, endurance in the face of poverty and adversity, and religious fervor, are thought to be her best, particularly in their direct style and lack of sentimentality. As John Macy once pointed out: "Her material was close at hand, plain and simple; she had the genius to see it and render it objectively." The novel Pembroke (1894) may best represent Freeman's New England works and is considered by some to be her greatest achievement.

As her career progressed, Freeman became more elaborate and elegant in her style, not always with good results. She began to write not only of New England, but of the prosperous suburban life in New Jersey, where she lived. Attempting to keep up with the fashionable trend of the times, she also tried her hand at a historical romance, The Heart's Highway (1900), and a labor novel, The Portion of Labor (1901). Both failed miserably.

In 1926, Freeman was awarded the Howells medal for distinction in fiction by the American Academy of Letters and was elected to membership in the National Institute of Arts and Letters. Once extremely prolific, she wrote very little in the decade before her death in March 1930. Mary Freeman was then largely forgotten, though there has been renewed interest in her work.


Kunitz, Stanley J,. and Howard Haycraft. Twentieth Century Authors. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1942.

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

suggested reading:

Showalter, Elaine, ed. Modern American Women Writers. NY: Scribner, 1991.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Freeman, Mary E. Wilkins (1852–1930)

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