Whittier Cameo        
Annie Adams Fields        
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Annie Adams Fields

My lifelong friendship with Whittier began through my husband, James Fields. John was a major contributor to the Atlantic Monthly which my husband published. This magazine carried the writings of the best authors of the day like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Harriet Beecher Stowe. My husband counted on me for helping him select writers whose works he should publish, as well as having me edit collective works and biographical sketches of writers like Celia Thaxter.

But I was well known around Boston as the perfect hostess, entertaining my husband's clients and writers of the time. Many stayed with us in our Back Bay home including Whittier. Our door was always open.

betty_0617-denoise-clear_cp1_fx1_med.jpg My husband and I traveled in the same social circles as Whittier. We would see him in Holderness and Campton, NH and at Marblehead, MA. He was such a retiring and shy man, and very set is his Quaker ways. I remember inviting him to the theatre once and he lost his courage at the last minute, having never been inside a theater before. John was compassionate towards those in need and convinced me to give $500 towards a collection to benefit Lucy Larcom when she needed assistance.

Besides literary pursuits I was interested in social justice. I founded the Holly Tree Inn, a coffeehouse where people could buy an inexpensive and nutritious meal, and the Lincoln Street Home, which was a safe an inexpensive place for unmarried women to live.

As my husband's health failed, he encouraged me to meet one of his favorite writers, Sarah Orne Jewett. He felt that we had many things in common and that we would be great friends even though I was twenty years older. He was right; our friendship transcended age. She was one of my proteges as I was in an influential position to help up and coming women writers. Along with Whittier, our mutual friends included Willa Cather, Henry James, Rudyard Kipling, Oliver Wendail Holmes, Mark Twain, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

With the death of my husband in 1881, I became interested in Spiritualism. I felt that I would receive much comfort if I could communicate with him. Many of my friends also believed in Spiritualism. With millions of us believers in the US and Europe, we couldn't be wrong about being able to talk to our loved ones on the other side, could we? But there were so many tours, trance lecturers, and camp meetings, and not all of them were legitimate. But if Queen Victoria and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle can believe it is true, so can I!

Whittier and I corresponded often. In one letter about his upcoming 82nd birthday, he wrote, "As life draws nearer the close, one feels desirous to be near the old home and the unforgotten landscape of youth, and to muse by the same fireside where our dear ones used to sit." Many of his poems reflect that sentiment. For that birthday I went to visit him. I also celebrated with him the following year at Oak Knoll, the home of his cousins, where they had a small dinner party for him. He wrote a poem called The Birthday Wreath about the gift I had bought him. It was one of the last poems he wrote.

Note.Whittier would attend lectures and programs in the Boston area and he sought out the companionship of other poets and writers that he was attracted to. One was Sarah Orne Jewett.