"Nothing but writing rests me;
only then do I seem completely myself!"
Kate Douglas Wiggin was born on 28th September 1856 in Philadelphia. A graduate of Abbot Academy, Class of 1873, she started the first free kindergarten in San Francisco in 1878 (the Silver Street Free Kindergarten). With her sister during the 1880s she also established a training school for kindergarten teachers. Kate Wiggin devoted her adult life to the welfare of children in an era when children were commonly thought of as cheap labour.
Born in 1856, Kate herself experienced a happy childhood, even though it was saddened by the American Civil War and her father's death. Kate and her sister Nora were still quite young when their widowed mother moved her little family from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Portland, Maine, then, three years later, upon her remarriage, to the little village of Hollis. Her education was spotty, consisting of a short stint at a "dame's school," some home schooling under the "capable, slightly impatient, somewhat sporadic" instruction of Albion Bradbury (her stepfather), a brief spell at the district school, a year as a boarder at the Gorham Female Seminary, a winter term at Morison Academy in Baltimore, Maryland, and a few months' stay at Abbot Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. Although rather casual, this was more education than most women received at the time.
During 1873, hoping to ease Albion Bradbury's lung disease, Kate's family relocated to Santa Barbara, California, where Kate's stepfather died three years later. A kindergarten training class was opening in Los Angeles, and Kate enrolled. After graduation, in 1878, she headed the first free kindergarten in California, on Silver Street in the slums of San Francisco. The children were "street Arabs of the wildest type", but Kate had a loving personality and dramatic flair. By 1880 she was forming a teacher-training school in conjunction with the Silver Street kindergarten. However, according to the customs of the time, when Kate married Bradley Wiggin in 1881, she was required to resign her teaching job. Ironically, considering her intense love of children, Kate Wiggin had none. Her husband died suddenly during 1889, and Kate relocated to Maine. For the rest of her life she grieved, but she also travelled as frequently as she could, dividing her time between writing, visits to Europe, and giving public reading for the benefit of various children's charities.
Her literary output included popular books for adults, scholarly work on the educational principles of Friedrich Froebel, and of course the classic child’s novel Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. During the spring of 1923 Kate Wiggin travelled to England as a New York delegate to the Dickens Fellowship. There she became ill and died, at age 66, of bronchial pneumonia. At her request, her ashes were brought home to Maine and scattered over the Saco River.