Kate Douglas Wiggin was an activist in the nineteenth century Kindergarten Movement and the author of the children’s classic Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. Wiggin became the head teacher of the first free kindergarten in San Francisco and founded the California Teacher Training School. She wrote songs and stories for children, lectured on children’s rights and welfare, and published articles on curriculum and pedagogy. Wiggin spoke before the National Education Association on the rights of children in 1892 and participated in the kindergarten demonstrations at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Her essays and novels depicting the natural goodness and intelligence of children influenced generations of early childhood teachers and educational reformers.
Kate Douglas Wiggin was born in Philadelphia as Katharine D. Smith. She spent most of her childhood in Maine and drew on her experience in small-town New England to create the characters and nurturing communities presented in her novels. Wiggin and her family moved to California in 1873, where she completed kindergarten training with Emma Marwedel, a leading disciple of Friedrich Froebel and a protégé of Elizabeth Palmer Peabody. In 1878, Wiggin became head teacher of the Silver Street Kindergarten in the impoverished Tar Flats district of San Francisco. Under her direction, Silver Street expanded to provide evening classes, social services, and teacher training. In 1881, she married Samuel Bradley Wiggin and gave up classroom teaching but continued to lecture and direct the school until 1893.
In the 1880s, Wiggin began to write stories about children to support her work at Silver Street. The Birds’ Christmas Carol, her first novel, was published in 1888. After the sudden death of Samuel Wiggin in 1889, she supported herself through her writing, lectures, and public readings. On the lecture circuit, she was often paired with notable authors like Mark Twain and William Dean Howells, who became mentors and lifelong friends.
Wiggin married for a second time in 1895, retired from active involvement in the Kindergarten Movement, and devoted herself to her writing. The publication of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm in 1903 made Wiggin an international celebrity. However, long before Rebecca, she was well-known to earlychildhood educators and reformers as a “kindergarten pioneer” and the author of Timothy’s Quest (1890), depicting the experiences of homeless children; The Story of Patsy (1891), about a child with special needs; and The Rights of Children: A Book of Nursery Logic (1892).
- Snyder, A. (1972). Dauntless women in childhood education, 1856–1931. Washington, DC: Association for Childhood Education International.
- Wiggin, K. D. (1892). Children’s rights: A book of nursery logic. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
- Wiggin, K. D. (1924). My garden of memory. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
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