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Constance Fenimore Woolson

Constance Fenimore Woolson

Constance Fenimore Woolson was born 1840, in Claremont, NH. Three older sisters died from scarlet fever soon after Constance's birth, and the family decided to move west to start a new life. They relocated in Cleveland, Ohio, where Constance grew up. She attended Cleveland Female Seminary, and finished off her education at a fashionable boarding school in New York.

Miss Woolson acquired a taste for travel at an early age. She accompanied her father on business trips throughout Ohio and Wisconsin, her family vacationed on Mackinac Island, where they owned a summer cottage, she went to school in New York, visited Cooperstown, and toured New England. On these trips, Miss Woolson encountered a variety of regional types and terrains--her keen eye for place and her interest in cultural differences would later find expression in her fiction and travel pieces.

By the end of the Civil War, Miss Woolson already assumed she would never marry. In 1869 her father died; the following year Woolson became a steady contributor to literary magazines. She had written for her own amusement since childhood, but now she began to write seriously, and to think of herself as an author. Her pride in her kinship to James Fenimore Cooper, her mother's uncle, perhaps helped her from the first to envision writing as an artistic calling, not a business venture.

Miss Woolson was a literary success almost from the start, and soon her stories, poetry, and sketches were appearing regularly in periodicals such as The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, and Scribner's. Her best early work were stories set in the Great Lakes region; many featured characters who lived lives of isolation in inaccessible wildernesses.

In 1875 her first collection of short stories, Castle Nowhere: Lake-Country Sketches, appeared, bringing together the best of her Great Lakes tales.

Miss Woolson wintered in Florida from 1873 until her mother's death in 1879. Devastated by the loss of her mother, she moved abroad, spending time first in London, then France and finally Italy.

One of Miss Woolsons books was centered on Mackinac Island. Titled Anne for its main character, it was published in serial form in Harper's New Monthly Magazine in 1880 and reproduced in book form in 1882. It vividly describes life on Mackinac Island in the post- fur trade era. Anne and her family "lived" in the old Indian Agency house. It was later demolished and a cottage built on the same location bears the name Anne Cottage.

Miss Woolson was occasionally plagued by health problems during her European years. Moreover, hearing difficulties she had experienced for some time worsened; her deafness deepened throughout her life, increasingly isolating her. She was also prone to depressions. Nonetheless, she remained productive.

In early 1894, suffering from a severe bout with influenza, Miss Woolson either leaped or fell from her second-story bedroom window. She died from the injuries. By the time of her death, Miss Woolson had written four novels, a novella, four collections of short stories, and numerous uncollected stories, in addition to her early poetry, travel pieces, and articles of literary criticism.

Edited from Grace McEntee, Appalachian State University
For more information about this writer see: Constance Fenimore Woolson Society