Arts and Leisure

Will the Real Annie Adams Fields Please Stand Up?

Publisher and poet James Fields saw his career take off after he married Annie Adams Fields. It was not a coincidence.

Annie Adams Fields, 1890, by John Singer Sargent

Fields’ reputation as a publisher rested on his ability to spot promising authors, but his wife had the eagle eye for talent.

Annie Adams Fields

She was born to a genteel Boston family on June 6, 1834.  At 20, she married the 37-year-old Fields. He had just been made a partner at the publishing house Ticknor & Fields. She helped him discover such writers as Horatio Alger, Sarah Orne Jewett, Celia Thaxter and Emma Lazarus.

James Fields

She presented herself as the perfect hostess and society wife. Charles Dickens called her,‘ “one of the dearest little women in the world.”

Annie and her husband kept a literary salon at their home on Beacon Hill in Boston.  The most famous writers of the day congregated at the Fields’ home. They included Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry James, Rudyard Kipling, John Greenleaf Whittier, Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe. When their friend Nathaniel Hawthorne died, James Fields served as a pallbearer at his funeral.

Ticknor & Fields bought The Atlantic Monthly in 1859, and James Fields took over as editor  in 1861. With his wife’s help, he turned it into the most influential magazine of its day.

The Atlantic Monthly offices on Tremont Street in Boston, around 1868

Throughout Annie’s life, she stayed out of her husband’s spotlight. In 1902 an anonymous writer described her as “gentle, quiet and reserved.” That writer also sensed something behind her facade, noting, ‘there is no power in Boston to-day like that of Mrs. Fields.’

Behind that facade, Annie Adams Fields was a writer in her own right. She published poetry and biographies and edited collections of letters.

Helping Women and the Poor

She was an ardent, if quiet, supporter of women authors and women’s rights. After her husband died, she lived the rest of her life with her best friend, Sarah Orne Jewett, in a Boston marriage.

Annie Fields and Sarah Orne Jewett in Fields’ Charles Street library.

Annie Fields was a social reformer and a quiet activist who founded the Holly Tree Inns, non-profit restaurants that served inexpensive food (but no liquor) to working women. She also started the Lincoln Street Home, a residence hotel for unmarried working women.  She  supported local charities, and her book How to Help the Poor served as an unofficial guide to the Associated Charities of Boston.

Annie Adams Fields died on Jan. 5, 1915.

With thanks to Annie Adams Fields: Woman of Letters by Rita K. Gollin. This story last updated in 2022.

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