September 19th – Rachel Field

“The more one suffered and lived, the more one had known of joy and grief, the deeper the response must be if an artist were great enough to summon it.” 

Rachel Field

Rachel Lyman Field was born September 19th, 1894 in New York City and raised in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. At the age of 16 she published her first work, an essay entitled “A Winter Walk,” in St. Nicholas Magazine

She studied writing at Radcliffe under a special program, but didn’t officially graduate. Yet she went on to an incredibly diverse and illustrious career as a writer – winning the first National Book Award for Fiction, and both a Newbery and Caldecott Medal for children’s books. Her plays were produced all over the country and she was a sought after screenwriter in Hollywood. 

First edition of Hitty from Jeff Hirsh Books on Biblio.com

Her 1929 book Hitty, Her First Hundred Years was awarded the Newbery Medal in 1930, making Field the first woman to win the award. Her 1931 novel for children Calico Bush, which many consider to be her best work, received a Newbery Honor.

In 1935 when she was forty-one she married literary agent Arthur S. Pederson, with whom she also cowrite a book called To See Ourselves. Also in 1935 she published a popular adult novel Time Out of Mind, which won the first National Book Award for Fiction (the second was Gone with the Wind). Her novel All This and Heaven Too (1938) was made into an Oscar nominated film starring Bette Davis. Field negotiated with Warner Brothers Studios for a $52,000 advance to the film rights for the novel – nearly a million dollars in today’s money. 

In 1939 Arthur and Rachel adopted an eight week old girl, naming her Hannah after Arthur’s mother. 

Fields wrote the English lyrics for Schubert’s “Ave Marie” used in Disney’s 1940 film Fantasia. She was also celebrated for her poetry, which is steeped in the natural world and the beauty of everyday. Her poetry collections include The Pointed People, Taxis and Toadstools, Branches Green, and Fear is the Thorn. 

Rachel Field died of pneumonia following an operation, March 15, 1942, at the age of 47.

In 1944 her book Prayer for A Child was published and awarded the Caldecott Medal. It is dedicated to her daughter Hannah, whom Field had written the original “Prayer for a Child” for in 1941. After Field’s death her husband suffered from depression, and her daughter struggled as well. Hannah received a large inheritance, married young, divorced quickly, and died at the age of 25 from alcohol poisoning. 

In 2021 author Robin Clifford Wood published a biography of Field title The Field House: A Writer’s Life Lost and Found on an Island in Maine

Lesson from Field

Don’t box yourself in. Field wrote poetry, she wrote for children, she wrote for adults. She wrote screenplays. She even illustrated some of her works. She lived on an island in Maine and later drove cross country to settle in Los Angeles. And she was heavily awarded for this incredible, all-encompassing boldness. She married ‘late’ and adopted a child at 45. She made all she could out of her brief 47 years. And eighty years after her death the light of her legacy is still finding ways to break through. 

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