page top
Collection Summary
Administrative Information
Publication Rights:
Scope and Contents
Container List
Background on Dorothy Canfield Fisher and the Collection
Family Papers
Articles and Stories
Forwards and Introductions
Reviews by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
Critical Studies of Dorothy Canfield Fisher's Work
Reviews of Dorothy Canfield Fisher Works
Oversize manuscripts

Dorothy Canfield Collection

Collection Summary

University of Vermont Libraries Special Collections Burlington, Vermont 05405-3596
Fisher, Dorothy Canfield, 1879-1958.
Dorothy Canfield Collection
Dates [inclusive]
72 boxes
Shelf location
Special Collections, Bailey/Howe Library.
The Dorothy Canfield Collection (1865-1958) contains personal correspondence, family papers and assorted memorabilia, book manuscripts and galley proofs, holographs of published articles and stories, critical studies and reviews of Fisher's work, photographs, scrapbooks, newspaper clippings, miscellaneous printed material, and the material generated by her extensive civic and educational activities.

Preferred Citation:

[Identification of item] Dorothy Canfield Collection, Special Collections, University of Vermont Library.

Return to Table of Contents

Administrative Information

Publication Information

University of Vermont, Bailey/Howe Library, Special Collections © 1998 


Collection is open for research, with the exception of letters from Willa Cather. Photocopies of the Cather letters are available for use. Original Cather letters are to be used only with the permission of the Curator of Manuscripts. No copying is allowed in any form. Users may paraphrase but not quote from Cather letters.

Publication Rights:

All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Curator of Manuscripts.

Return to Table of Contents


Dorothy Canfield Fisher was born in Lawrence, Kansas, February 17, 1879, the second child and only daughter of James Hulme Canfield, educator, college professor, Chancellor and president, respectively, at University of Kansas, University of Nebraska and Ohio State, and Flavia Camp Canfield, artist and writer. She is of New England descent. The Canfields came to America in 1636, and settled permanently in Vermont in 1764. With her marriage to John Redwood Fisher and their subsequent removal to one of the Canfield family homesteads in Arlington, VT, Dorothy became prominently and intimately connected with Vermont and state affairs - as a most active public citizen, best-known and well-loved woman of letters, and unofficial "biographer."

Dorothy Canfield was educated in the United States and France. At the age of ten she spent a year in Paris while Flavia pursued art studies. Dorothy picked up foreign languages readily, and in the course of later trips, she became an accomplished linguist. Her AB degree was awarded at Ohio State University in 1899 while her father was President there. She pursued graduate study at the Sorbonne and Columbia University in preparation for a career as a teacher of modern languages, and she earned her Ph.D. degree from Columbia in 1904.

While at Columbia, Dorothy Canfield met John Redwood Fisher, and she married him in 1907. Turning aside her plans for an academic career, she devoted herself to creative writing (for both adults and juveniles), translating and criticism. A daughter, Sally, was born in 1909, a son, Jimmy, in 1913.

Because Dorothy had lived and studied in Europe, both she and her husband felt genuine personal distress at the outbreak of the first world war. In 1915 John Fisher joined the American Volunteer Ambulance corps and served with the French Army until the end of the war. In August, 1916 Dorothy and her two children joined him, and the family settled in Crouy-sur-Ourcq situated five miles from the Western Front. For over two years the Fishers did war relief work. Dorothy was instrumental in organizing Braille printing of books and magazines for blinded soldiers and establishing the Bidart Home for Children, a convalescent home for refugees. Her progressive conscience led her into activities which spanned several years and both world wars: fresh-air and adoption programs for refugee children, and the Children's Crusade for Children, a penny-sharing relief program for American schoolchildren. She headed the committee which urged the United States to pardon its conscientious objectors, sponsored the emigration of and resettlement assistance to Jewish intellectuals and professionals; and financed the delivery of CARE packages to families with whom friendships had been formed during earlier visits to Europe. After her son, then an Army surgeon, died as a result of wounds received during the 1945 raid on the Japanese POW camp at Cabanatuan, Dorothy and her husband sponsored a year's study at Harvard Medical School for the Philippine couple who tried to save young Fisher's life. Her war relief work earned Dorothy Canfield Fisher citations of appreciation from Eleanor Roosevelt, Madame Chaing Kai-shek and the Danish government.

It was during a trip to Rome in 1912 that Canfield Fisher met Maria Montessori and became interested in her system of child training. This interest in educational theory remained an active and life-long concern, and led to the publication by Canfield Fisher of several books on education and childbearing. A Montessori Mother explained the theory of the Montessori method, and detailed how it could be adapted to American homes and schools. Another book, Why Stop Learning?, addressed adult education. In 1919, she was appointed a member of the State Board of Education of Vermont, and consequently worked to improve the conditions of rural school systems. The belief in the efficacy of education which she inherited from her father - particularly the benefits of a well-stocked library for every American - convinced her to participate in the Book-of-the-Month Club as a selection judge. This position Dorothy Canfield Fisher filled for twenty-five years, beginning with the Club's inception in 1926.

Of Canfield Fisher's literary production, the Manchester (England) Guardian has written, "She is one of the very few American authors who, while profoundly influenced by her European experiences, and her appreciation of many things in Europe, retains a full-blooded Americanism of the best kind. We are tired of the young men and women who are too proud to live out of Paris, and despise the culture of New England. The other American authors, who have no sense of anything outside the States, seem rather limited to a European. Miss Canfield is happy in being able to apply her European knowledge to American conditions; and she occupies a very remarkable position in consequence among American authors." Thematically, her works concern the problems of personal life and individual growth. Her characters move through a variety of locales, all convincingly presented by the author: New England or Midwestern small towns, war-torn Europe, and the Basque country of France. She portrays men, women, and children experiencing with emotional intensity the intimate conflicts of everyday life- supported by or defending their own best ethical and spiritual standards. Trial and temptation exist in her characters' lives, but Canfield Fisher's heroes and heroines always prevail. Contemporary reception of her work won widespread popular and critical acclaim, with several of her books having been translated into French, German, Dutch and Italian. Present-day tastes, however, would consider her moral standard to be "old-fashioned" and her writing to be obviously didactic. A complete list of Canfield Fisher's major works appears at the end of this biographical sketch.

Dorothy Canfield Fisher died on November 9, 1958. Her philosophy of leading a rich and full life had won her the admiration of her readers and a highly-regarded reputation in many fields, as a novelist and short story writer, an essayist and critic, an educational philosopher and leader of social welfare works. Her correspondence evidences the extensive personal contact she shared with other writers of the day, including Henry Seidel Canby, Heywood Broun, Willa Cather, Isaak Dinesen and of course, Robert Frost. She was awarded honorary degrees from Dartmouth (being the first woman to be so honored), Columbia, Nebraska, Middlebury, Swarthmore, Smith, Williams, Ohio State and the University of Vermont.

For a book-length study of Dorothy Canfield Fisher, see Elizabeth Yates' The Lady from Vermont: Dorothy Canfield Fisher's Life and World. (Brattleboro: Stephen Greene Press, 1971), originally published by E.P. Dutton and Co. in 1958 as Pebble in a Pool.

Return to Table of Contents


The Dorothy Canfield Fisher Canon - Major Works
1904   Corneille and Racine in England
1906   English Rhetoric and Composition - with G.R. Carpenter
1906   What Shall We Do Now? - with others
1907   Gunhild
1912   The Squirrel Cage
1913   The Montessori Mother
1914   Mothers and Children
1915   Hillsboro People
1915   The Bent Twig
1916   The Real Motive
1916   Fellow Captains- with Sarah N. Cleghorn
1917   Understood Betsy
1918  Home-Fires in France
1919   The Day of Glory
1921   The Brimming Cup
1921   Papini's Christ- translated from the Italian
1922   Rough Hewn
1923   Raw Material
1924  The Home-Maker
1925   Made to Order
1926  Her Son's Wife
1927   Why Stop Learning?
1930   The Deepening Stream
1931   Basque People
1933   Bonfire
1937  Fables for Parents
1939  Seasoned Timber
1940  Tell Me a Story
1943  Our Young Folks
1946   American Portraits
1949  Four Square
1949   Something Old, Something New
1950   Paul Revere and the Minutemen
1950   Our Independence and the Constitution
1952  A Fair World For All
1953   Vermont Tradition: The Biography of an Outlook on Life
1956   A Harvest of Stories
1957   Memories of Arlington, Vermont
1958   And Long Remember

Return to Table of Contents

Scope and Contents

The Dorothy Canfield Collection (1865-1958) contains personal correspondence, family papers and assorted memorabilia, book manuscripts and galley proofs, holographs of published articles and stories, critical studies and reviews of Fisher's work, photographs, scrapbooks, newspaper clippings, miscellaneous printed material, and the material generated by her extensive civic and educational activities. Highlighted in this latter category are the documents and letters which pertain to her work as a Book-of-the-Month Club selection judge. The collection has been most heavily used by researchers on Fisher's correspondents, especially with Willa Cather. The Cather letters constitute the only material in these holdings whose use is restricted.

Materials on the collection background, including the inventory, deed-of-gift, and bibliographic data are in box 1. Family papers (boxes 1-3) are arranged alphabetically by subject. Family correspondence (box 3) consists largely of letters from Dorothy Canfield Fisher to family members, the bulk of these being her round robin letters from France during World War I. These are arranged alphabetically by major and notable correspondent. Fisher's educational, social and civic activities (boxes 23-31) are arranged alphabetically by subject: Book-of-the-Month Club (boxes 23-26) contain correspondence, newsletters and reviews, Broadcasts (box 27), Civic Organizations (box 27), Educational Institutions (boxes 26-28), Educational Organizations (box 28), Relief Work (boxes 28-29), Speeches (boxes 29-30), Textbooks (box 30), Vermont Affairs (box 31) and Writer's Groups (box 31). Awards (boxes 31-32) are arranged chronologically.

Fisher's articles and stories (boxes 32-37) are arranged alphabetically by title, with untitled pieces at the end of the series (box 37) alphabetically by subject. Book manuscripts (boxes 37-64) are arranged chronologically in order to highlight Fisher's artistic development. Dramatizations (box 65) are arranged chronologically. Introductions Dorothy Canfield Fisher wrote for the works of others (box 65) are listed alphabetically by author. Reviews written by Fisher, but not as part of her Book-of-the-Month Club activities (box 66) are arranged alphabetically by author. Critical Studies of Fisher's work (box 66) are arranged alphabetically by author. Newspaper reviews (boxes 68-69) of her work are arranged chronologically. Photographs (boxes 69-70) are arranged alphabetically by subject. Miscellaneous items (boxes 70-72) are arranged alphabetically by subject. See also: oversized manuscripts file, the collections of Sarah N. Cleghorn, Bradford Smith and Walter Hard.

The 1987 Addition to the Dorothy Canfield Collection

The contents of the 1987 Addition span the years from 1861 to 1958. The Addition primarily contains personal, business and professional correspondence; family correspondence, papers, and memorabilia; and book and article manuscripts and typescripts.

The major highlight of the addition is the batch (20) of rare letters between Willa Cather and Fisher, written between 1899 and 1906, and centering on a fracas between the two over a short story Cather wrote. Use of the Cather letters is restricted; see the main inventory for their location and details of use.

Another significant unit in the Addition is the complete correspondence from Harry Scherman, the President of the Book-of-the-Month Club during Fisher's tenure there, as well as personal letters from Bernadine Scherman. Harry Scherman's letters are noticeably absent from the main collection; the dated letters in the Addition span 1941 to 1946, and many deal with World War II related issues.

The last major unit of correspondence is additional round robin letters from Fisher, in France, to her family in the United States, during World War I. The main collection contains the larger remainder of her round robin letters.

In the family papers and memorabilia, significant portions include personal letters from and between James and Flavia Canfield, dating back to 1870. Many clippings trace Flavia's professional interests. A cache of photographs is included in a series of letters from the Layugs, at the Fisher Memorial Clinic in the Phillippines, to Dorothy and John Fisher during the late 1950s.

The bulk of the collection consists of manuscripts and typescripts of the novel, Bonfire, although there are also numerous typescripts and copies of articles by Fisher. The overall value of the 1987 Addition is thus mixed. The Cather letters, for example, are extremely valuable, while some of the memorabilia, such as numerous copies of James Canfield's obituary, are of comparably little interest. Clearly, a few items in the Addition were deliberately saved by Fisher; other items are incidentals, though none without some interest.

Return to Table of Contents