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 Fields

Annie Adams Fields

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

She was born to a genteel Boston family on June 6, 1834.  When she was 20, she married Fields, who was 17 years older than she. He had just been made a partner at the publishing house Ticknor and Fields. She helped him discover such writers as Horatio Alger, Sarah Orne Jewett, Celia Thaxter and Emma Lazarus.

Annie Adams Fields and her husband kept a literary salon at their home at 148 Charles St. in Boston.  The most famous writers of the day congregated at the Fields’ home: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry James, Rudyard Kipling, John Greenleaf Whittier, Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe. She presented herself as the perfect hostess and society wife. Charles Dickens called her, ‘one of the dearest little women in the world.’

Throughout her life, she stayed out of her husband’s spotlight. She was described in 1902 by an anonymous writer as ‘gentle, quiet and reserved.’ That writer also sensed what was 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, publishing poetry and biographies and editing collections of letters.

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.

She 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 was involved in local charities, and her book How to Help the Poor was used 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.

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