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The Baldwin Project: Lucy Fitch Perkins

Lucy Fitch Perkins

(1865 - 1937)

1911 The Dutch Twins Fiction
1912 The Japanese Twins Realistic Fiction
1913 The Irish Twins Realistic Fiction
1914 The Eskimo Twins Realistic Fiction
1915 The Mexican Twins Realilstic Fiction
1916 The Cave Twins  
1917 The Belgian Twins Realistic Fiction
1918 The French Twins Realistic Fiction
1918 The Spartan Twins Historical Fiction
1919 The Scotch Twins Realistic Fiction
1920 The Italian Twins  
1921 The Puritan Twins Historical Fiction
1922 The Swiss Twins Realistic Fiction


Autobiographical sketch from the Junior Book of Authors, 1935; courtesy of the H.W. Wilson Company

Though all my ancestors were New Englanders from the date of the landing of the "Mayflower" on, I was born in the "backwoods" of Indiana. My father, upon leaving college (Amherst), took up the profession of teaching and eventually became principal of a Chicago school. In the year 1865, however, he gave up his profession of teaching to engage in the lumber business in what was then a wooded area of Indiana, and there, soon after, I was born—and there my family lived until I was fourteen years old.

During this period my parents taught us at home, and we also made long visits to the ancestral home in Massachusetts in order that my sisters and I might have some school experience and contact with other children. My father eventually removed permanently to the old home in Massachusetts, about twenty-five miles from Boston.

At eighteen, immediately after graduation from high school, I went to the art school at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and there studied for three years. For a year after my graduation, I illustrated for the Prang Educational Company of Boston, and then went to Brooklyn to teach in the newly established art school at Pratt Institute.

Here I spent four happy winters teaching and studying with my students, and at the end of that period married Dwight Heald Perkins, a young Chicago architect whom I had met when we were both students in Boston. Since that time, our home has been in Chicago (Evanston) and here my daughter Eleanor Ellis and my son Lawrence Bradford were born.

The life in Chicago was intensely interesting, from the first, and we lived fully in the events and thought currents of the time. During several years I did a good deal of illustrating which was the line of work for which I had prepared myself.

It was not until later that I thought of writing for publication, though expression in words as well as in drawing was native to me. Then a friend who was also a publisher one day took me seriously to task. "You should write," he said, and urged this idea so persuasively upon me that the next day an idea for a book for children suddenly came to me.

I made a dozen little sketches, presenting the idea, and it happened that this publisher came to dine with us the next evening, and I showed them to him. "There is your book," he said, "go ahead and write it, and I want it." So I wrote The Dutch Twins.

Though this was not literally my first book (I had previously published The Goose Girl, and A Book of Joys) still it was the real beginning of my writing. The former books had been written relative to the illustrations. Now the illustrations became secondary to the text.

At this time I became deeply impressed with two ideas . . . One was the necessity for mutual respect and understanding between people of different nationalities if we are ever to live in peace on this planet. In particular I felt the necessity for this in this country where all the nations of the earth are represented in the population. It was at about this time that the expression "the melting pot" became familiar as descriptive of America's function in the world's progress. The other idea was that a really big theme may be comprehended by children if it is presented in a way that holds their interest and engages their sympathies.

To do this, the theme must be personalized—made vivid thru its effect upon the lives of individuals. A visit to Ellis Island also impressed me deeply at this time—I saw the oppressed and depressed of all nations flocking to our shores. How could a homogeneous nation be made out of such heterogeneous material? I visited a school in Chicago where children of twenty-seven different nationalities were herded in one building, and marveled at what the teachers were able to accomplish. It seemed to me it might help in the fusing process if these children could be interested in the best qualities which they bring to our shores.

So I wrote books giving pictures of child life in other countries, and then, for the benefit of American and foreign born children alike, I wrote books which gave some idea of what had been done for this country by those who had founded and developed it.

Several of the series portray the tremendous importance of land ownership in shaping destinies. The abuses of absentee landlordism as a cause for the Irish immigration to this country were personalized in the Irish Twins; in the Scotch story the effect on the family of a Scotch shepherd of taking land from productive use for game preserves; and in the Mexican Twins the peonage resulting from the ownership of vast estates.

Such themes as these have interested me vitally and in my books I have tried to contribute something to the making of Americans by an appreciation of what has been done in the past to make America what it is today, and of the constructive qualities in the material at hand with which we must build the nation of the future.

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