Whitney, Adeline Dutton (1824–1906)

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Whitney, Adeline Dutton (1824–1906)

American writer . Born Adeline Dutton Train on September 15, 1824, in Boston, Massachusetts; died of pneumonia on March 21, 1906, in Milton, Massachusetts; daughter of Adeline (Dutton) Train and Enoch Train; educated at a private academy run by George Emerson; married Seth Dunbar Whitney, in 1843 (died 1890); children: Mary Adeline (b. 1844); Theodore Train (b. 1846); Marie Caroline (b. 1848, died in infancy); Caroline Leslie (b. 1853).

Selected writings:

Mother Goose for Grown Folks (poems, 1859); Boys at Chequasset (1862); Faith Gartney's Girlhood (1863); The Gayworthys (1865); A Summer in Leslie Goldthwaite's Life (1866); Patience Strong's Outings (1868); We Girls (1870); Real Folks (1871); Pansies (poems, 1872); The Other Girls (1873); Bonnyborough (1885); Daffodils (poems, 1887); A Golden Gossip (1890); White Memories (1893); Friendly Letters to Girl Friends (1897); Square Pegs (1899); Biddy's Episodes (1904).

Adeline Dutton Whitney worked squarely in the tradition of Victorian women's writing, with prose, poems and essays overflowing with sentimentalized depictions of a good and happy life spent entirely within the sphere of the home. She was descended from early American settlers on both sides of her family, and her father Enoch Train was a prominent Boston merchant and trader. Adeline was educated at one of the best schools in Boston, a private academy run by George B. Emerson. She received a classical education, and later wrote approvingly that her study of Latin had helped her find the discipline she needed to accomplish her domestic chores.

When she was 19, she married Seth Dunbar Whitney, a wool and leather trader over twice her age. She had the first of her four children a year after the marriage, and with the exception of some European travel and one year spent in the West, Whitney lived the rest of her life with her family in the town of Milton, Massachusetts. Among her favorite authors was British writer Elizabeth Gaskell , and in emulation of Gaskell's work she began submitting articles and poems to local newspapers in the 1850s. In 1859, she published her first book, a volume of poetry entitled Mother Goose for Grown Folks. This book was characteristic of her later work in its combination of humor, common sense, and didactic praise for domesticity. After Mother Goose, she published two novels for children, Boys at Chequasset (1862) and Faith Gartney's Girlhood (1863), the latter of which went through 20 editions.

While these publications were very popular, Whitney won even more widespread acclaim for a series of books she wrote over the ensuing years: A Summer in Leslie Goldthwaite's Life (1866), We Girls (1870), Real Folks (1871) and The Other Girls (1873). These were reissued as the "Real Folks" series, and sold over 10,000 copies in their first reprinting. The core of her work was always the hallowed home and the triumph of good young people. Despite her fame as an author, Whitney took no part in public life, though she did write one political tract, The Law of Woman-Life, excoriating the women's suffrage movement. Her depiction of woman's place as in the home won her much admiration from readers, and she was praised by prominent writers and critics, including the influential author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe .

Whitney published several more collections of poems, including Pansies (1872) and White Memories (1893), as well as a collection of advice and commentary on domestic issues entitled Friendly Letters to Girl Friends (1896). She also wrote many other stories for girls, as well as several more novels. Whitney continued to write and maintain her household in Milton after her husband's death in 1890. Her last book, Biddy's Episodes, was published in 1904, two years before she died at the age of 81. Though her work is markedly out of key with modern readers, she was fondly appreciated by her contemporaries.


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

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

Angela Woodward , M.A., Madison, Wisconsin

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