Tag Archives: Kate Douglas Wiggin

Stories behind the glass: the library at Victoria Mansion

For many of us in Portland, a tradition at Christmas time is to visit the Victoria Mansion, which is lovingly and lavishly decorated. One of my favorite rooms is the library, of course, full of beautifully bound books behind glass cases. This library was a hidden collection until recently, when two Victoria Mansion staff members, Sue Flaherty and Michelle Josephson, did a thorough investigation of the books behind the glass cases, and in the process learned even more about the families that lived in the Mansion: the Morses and Libbys.

There are 1061 books in the library, including histories, fiction, adventure stories, religious books, and a hymnal dating back to 1795, which is the oldest book in the collection. The fiction includes books by Kate Douglas Wiggin (see November’s blog), who was friends with Mrs. Libby (Louisa). Books by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow were also popular, so the local Maine authors are well represented. Some of the books include inscriptions, which give even more clues to relationships between the donor of the book and the lucky recipient. Occasionally items were found in some of the books, such as a pressed flower or bookmark.

Private libraries are a wonderful source of history, to learn more about the people who collected their books. Several years ago I had the honor of cataloguing the books in the Wadsworth Longfellow House, including the books in the bedroom of Anne Longfellow Pierce, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s sister, as well as the books in sitting room.

So, next time you are in a historic house museum, take a closer look at those books in the book cases or on shelves, as they may also have a story to tell about the inhabitants.

Special thanks to Sue Flaherty and Michelle Josephson for providing information for this blog.

Kate Douglas Wiggin – Maine woman writer with California roots

Years ago, when I was the Special Collections Librarian at Westbrook College (later University of New England), and in charge of the Maine Women Writers Collection, I met Glenys Tarlow, collector of books by Kate Douglas Wiggin (1856-1923). She offered to give a talk about Wiggin, which I followed up on. Through that talk I met Carla Turner, who owned Kate Douglas Wiggin’s summer home, Quillcote, in Hollis, Maine. Carla was kind enough to invite me out to see her beautiful home, and she also took me to the Salmon Falls Library, which was established in 1911 by Kate Douglas Wiggin as the Salmon Falls Village Library and Tearoom (every small town needs one!). It was truly an honor to meet these generous women, connected to Kate Douglas Wiggin – one of the wonderful side benefits of my job.

Many people are familiar with Kate Douglas Wiggin’s most famous book, “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,” but many don’t know of all Wiggin’s other talents and interests, including as an educator (a leader in the free kindergarten movement) and composer. As a native Californian I was intrigued to learn of Wiggin’s connections to California. Teenage Kate’s family moved to Santa Barbara, where I also lived as a teenager in the nearby town of Carpinteria. In her early 20s she headed the Silver Street Kindergarten in San Francisco—the first free kindergarten on the West Coast of the United States (I was born in nearby Berkeley and lived in San Francisco after college).

What is also interesting about Wiggin is how she was connected to Maine, despite being born in Philadelphia. When Kate’s father died, her mother moved the family to Portland, and then Hollis, Maine. Kate later attended Gorham Female Seminary. She spent time off and on at Quillcote throughout the years, getting involved in the local community, and even setting one of her books in Buxton. When she died at the age of 66, her ashes were scattered on the Saco River.

As you can see, I feel a bit of a kinship for this famous author who was bi-coastal, with roots in the two places I’ve lived the longest – California (26 years) and Maine (27 years).