Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman was born in 1852 in Massachusetts. She did not lead an easy life. In her early years, she had to endure the death of her younger brother and her father's post Civil War depression. She attended Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in 1872, but had to drop out after one year due to her family's economic problems. She moved with them three times over the next three years within the city of Battleboro, Vermont. During this time, Mary took up painting to try and support her family.

Her only sister Ana died in 1876. In 1877 the family wound up living in the home of a wealthy family to do house and yard work. Mary's mother died in 1880, and at that point she began writing to try and earn extra money. She was 28 years old. She succeeded in 1881, with the publication of two children's stories, "The Beggar King" and "The Tithing".

Mary's father died in 1883. In that same year, she met critic Mary Louis Booth, and a lifelong friendship blossomed. She continued to publish stories, including "A Humble Romance and Other Stories" and "Pembroke". In 1897, she was engaged to Charles Freeman, and married him in 1902. They settled in Metechun, New Jersey.

Mary and Charles did not have a happy marriage. She had to commit him to a hospital in 1921 for alcoholism and drug addiction. They were legally separated in 1922, and he died in 1923. Throughout this trying time, she relied heavily on Mary Louis Booth, and their friendship endured this hardship.

In 1926, Mary received the William Dean Howells Medal for outstanding fiction. She passed away in 1930 from heart failure.


The majority of Freeman's work is short fiction. The central characters in most of her stories are women. Pervasive themes throughout her work include the inner world of women, rebellion, poverty, and the effects of Puritanism. Most of her work is set in New England. While she is known mostly for short fiction, she did participate in a collaborative writing project in 1906 with William Dean Howells and Henry James among others - a novel titled "The Whole Family." Each author wrote a chapter of the story, continuing where the other author left off, changing the story as they went. But, that is another node...

Freeman also wrote ghost stories, which are quite creepy and tend to revolve around children. It is probably appropriate that she wrote ghost stories, considering she was born on Halloween. Many of her short stories and ghost stories are available in their entirety on the Internet as they are out of their copyright.

I find what I've read of Freeman to be very interesting and very well written. Many critics of today and the past have tried to make her out to be a feminist icon, but judging from the things that she said and wrote about her critics, that was not her intention at all. She was even known to remark that women should not have been given the right to vote! Nevertheless, she is a good author and worth reading.

Suggested Reading:


Sources:
  • http://www.gonzaga.edu/faculty/campbell/enl311/freeman.htm - comprehensive bibiliography, pictures of the author, links to stories available online
  • http://www.millikin.edu/aci/crow/chronology/freemanbio.html - timeline of the author's life
  • The Story and Its Writer - my textbook for my short story class, biography of author before story

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