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The Baldwin Project: Nora Archibald Smith

Nora Archibald Smith

(1859 - 1934)

1902 Golden Numbers  
1906 The Fairy Ring Fairy Tales
1907 Pinafore Palace  
1907 Magic Casements  
1908 Tales of Laughter  
1909 Tales of Wonder  
1910 Fairy Stories Every Child Should Know Fairy Tales


Author biography from the Junior Book of Authors, 1935; courtesy of the H.W. Wilson Company

"Wait for me! I can't keep up!" shrieked plump little Nora Smith, puffing and blowing as she lagged behind her sister Kate on the country road.

Kate waited, somewhat impatiently, for the "Small Sister" was always tagging along. It was Kate who led the way when the girls went searching for mayflowers, balanced precariously on log rafts in the Saco River, fished for minnows, or conducted a frog singing school. On these excursions Nora had a persistent habit of falling into mud puddles or getting stranded with one leg over a fence, but when it came to story-telling or the management of their large collection of dolls at home, Kate had to admit that she was surprisingly efficient.

Nora, three years younger, was full of adoration for her sister, who taught her to read and to play the piano and who supervised her infant efforts in composition.

Their childhood days were passed in the tiny village of Hollis, Maine, where Nora had been taken as a baby from Philadelphia, her birthplace. Her father was dead. Her mother had married again. The girl was educated at home by her step-father, a busy physician. She detested the arithmetic lesson and it was invariably followed by a flood of tears, which she dried over a Hans Christian Andersen fairy book.

In her early teens, Nora went with the family to live in Santa Barbara, California, whither they moved because of her step-father's failing health. He lost all his money and his wife's small fortune as well in California real estate, and died, leaving the family penniless.

About this time Nora was graduated with honors from Santa Barbara College. To help provide bread and butter, she gave French and Spanish lessons and helped Kate for a year in the management of a private kindergarten. Then she went to Mexico to conduct (in the Spanish language) a private school in the town of Magdalena for a year. The next two years were spent teaching in the public schools of Tucson, Arizona.

Returning to California at the age of twenty-two from her voluntary exile, Nora began her career in kindergarten work, out of which grew her writing. After receiving a diploma in her sister's newly organized kindergarten training school in San Francisco, she became Kate's right-hand assistant in the school and also in the Silver Street Kindergarten, which Kate had founded and which was the first free kindergarten west of the Rockies. It was during their teaching days together that the sisters began to collaborate, Nora writing the words of songs and games while Kate composed or adapted melodies.

When Kate gave up teaching to get married, Nora took charge of the kindergarten and the training school. She continued the work for many years, eventually retiring to devote herself to writing. The Silver Street Kindergarten was destroyed in the fire and earthquake of 1906.

During the nineties Miss Smith established a summer residence in Hollis, Maine, the village of her childhood. Jointly with her sister, who was by this time a famous author under her married name of Kate Douglas Wiggin [see sketch in this book], she purchased a large Colonial house, "Quillcote." And together they edited a series of story and poetry collections for young people which are still in constant use today. The most popular of these books are: Golden Numbers, The Posy Ring, Tales of Laughter, Tales of Wonder, , Magic Casements, The Arabian Nights, Pinafore Palace, and The Talking Beasts.

Miss Smith was sole author of a number of plays for boys and girls which were first produced in her barn and then collected to make the well-known volumes Plays, Pantomimes and Tableaux for Children and Action Poems and Plays for Children. Her own stories for young people included The Children of the Lighthouse, A Truly Little Girl, and Three Little Marys. She also adapted the most familiar of the Old Testament stories as Old, Old Tales From the Old, Old Book and wrote The Christmas Child and Other Verse for Children.

While engaged in her literary work, she devoted herself to the care of her aged mother, Mrs. Helen Bradbury, who lived for ninety-one years. Her winters were usually spent in New York, and with her sister she made frequent spring-time visits to England, where the two were always called upon to sing plantation songs together.

When her famous sister died, Miss Smith wrote a book about her. She lived more than ten years longer and died in a hotel in Portland, Maine, just three weeks before her own seventy-fifth birthday. "Quillcote," the home of herself and her sister at Hollis, was bequeathed to the Maine Historical Society.

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