Perkins, Lucy Fitch (1865–1937)

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Perkins, Lucy Fitch (1865–1937)

American author of children's books. Born on July 12, 1865, in Maples, Indiana; died on March 18, 1937, in Pasadena, California; daughter of Appleton Howe Fitch (a factory owner) and Elizabeth (Bennett) Fitch (a teacher); graduated from Museum of Fine Arts School, Boston, 1886; married Dwight Heald Perkins (an architect), on August 18, 1891; children: Eleanor Ellis Perkins (b. 1893, a writer); Lawrence Bradford Perkins (b. 1908).

Illustrated and wrote first book, The Goose Girl (1906); began popular and profitable 26-volume "Twins of the World" series with publication of The Dutch Twins (1911).

Selected writings:

The Goose Girl (1906); A Book of Joys: The Story of a New England Summer (1907); (series) The Dutch Twins (1911), The Japanese Twins (1912), The Irish Twins (1913), The Eskimo Twins (1914), The Mexican Twins (1915), The Cave Twins (1916), The Belgian Twins (1917), The French Twins (1918), The Spartan Twins (1918), The Scotch Twins (1919), The Italian Twins (1920), The Puritan Twins (1921), The Swiss Twins (1922), The Filipino Twins (1923), The Colonial Twins of Virginia (1924), The American Twins of 1812 (1925), The American Twins of the Revolution (1926), The Pioneer Twins (1927), The Farm Twins (1928), Kit and Kat: More Adventures of the Dutch Twins (1929), The Indian Twins (1930), The Pickaninny Twins (1931), The Norwegian Twins (1933), The Spanish Twins (1934), The Chinese Twins (1935), The Dutch Twins and Little Brother (completed by her children, 1938).

Lucy Fitch Perkins was born in 1865, in the rural community of Maples, Indiana, to parents who instilled in their five daughters the New England values of hard work and thrift. She attended school in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, and in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where the family moved in 1879. Perkins early showed an interest in drawing, and at age 16 had some of her cartoons published in the Kalamazoo Gazette. She graduated from high school at the head of her class in 1883 and then attended the Museum of Fine Arts School in Boston for three years, where she had many male admirers despite her devout Congregationalism and strong disapproval of dancing and drinking. She met her future husband, Dwight Heald Perkins, during her last year in the Boston school, but the fact that he was a Unitarian kept them from committing to each other at the time.

Having been employed on a freelance basis for Young Folks Magazine while still in school, after her graduation Perkins worked for a year as an illustrator at Prang Educational Company in Boston. She then taught for four years at the newly established Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, a manual arts and engineering college. In 1891, she left her teaching position to marry Dwight Perkins, who had become an architect, and settled in Chicago. The couple would have two children, Eleanor Ellis (born 1893) and Lawrence Bradford (born 1908). Although Perkins believed that a woman should depend economically on her husband, Dwight supported her talents and built a studio for her in their home. He became seriously ill in 1893 and she went back to work, first with the Chicago office of the Prang Educational Company. For the next ten years, she illustrated children's books, taught art, lectured, and created murals in schoolrooms. In 1904, the Perkins family moved to the Chicago suburb of Evanston, where Dwight continued his career as an architect. Perkins consequently stopped working outside the home, and in 1906 she published her first book, a collection of children's rhymes entitled The Goose Girl. The following year, she wrote a book for adults, A Book of Joys: The Story of a New England Summer.

Having seen some drawings Perkins had made of Dutch children, her friend Edwin O. Grover, a publisher, encouraged her to write a series of geographical readers. With the publication of The Dutch Twins in 1911, Perkins' writing career took off. Over the next 25 years, she wrote and illustrated 25 more books in the "Twins of the World" series, engaging her young readers with whimsical drawings, humor, simple language, and glimpses into the lives of children from various nations. Several books in the series were historical (including The Cave Twins and The Puritan Twins). "Twins of the World" proved hugely popular, selling over 2 million copies and being translated into several languages. Perkins preferred learning about a country from someone who had grown up there over strict dependence on library research, and tried out her works in progress on a group of local children whom she called "the poison squad." She kept in mind her original inspirations for the series, a trip to Ellis Island during which she had seen the arrival of immigrants, and a visit to a school in Chicago where a single classroom included children from 27 countries. The books frequently included depictions of the social and economic reasons behind immigration, as well as examples of immigrants' contributions to America. As she noted in The Junior Book of Authors, Perkins believed in "the necessity for mutual respect and understanding between people of different nationalities if we are ever to live in peace" and thought that "a really big theme can be comprehended by children if it is presented in a way that holds their interest and engages their sympathies."

Although Perkins is most famous for her Twins books, she also served as editor and illustrator of Robin Hood: His Deeds and Adventures as Recounted in the Old English Ballads (1906), The Twenty Best Fairy Tales by Hans Andersen, Grimm, and Miss Mulock (Dinah Maria Mulock Craik [1907]), and A Midsummer-Night's Dream for Young People (1907), and illustrated A Wonder Book by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1908), Stories of the Pilgrims by Margaret Blanche Pumphrey (1910), and News from Notown by her daughter E.E. Perkins (1919), among others. Lucy Perkins' children finished her 26th "Twins" book after her death from a coronary thrombosis on March 18, 1937, in Pasadena, California.


Contemporary Authors. Vol. 137. Detroit, MI: Gale Research.

James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

Kunitz, Stanley J., and Howard Haycraft, eds. The Junior Book of Authors. 2nd ed. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1951.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1980.

suggested reading:

Perkins, Eleanor Ellis. Eve among the Puritans: A Biography of Lucy Fitch Perkins, 1956.

Kari Bethel , freelance writer, Columbia, Missouri