Annie Adams Fields
Portrait of Annie Adams Fields, 1890, by John Singer Sargent (1856 – 1925).
Boston Athenaeum, Gift of Elizabeth Sturgis Beal Hinds in memory of her father, Boylston Adams Beal, 1973
“My white Annie,” Celia Thaxter addressed her once; Sarah Orne Jewett had several nicknames for her, two being “The little white mother,” and “Flower.”
Annie Fields is remembered first as the society hostess of unusual beauty who charmed the likes of Charles Dickens and second as a philanthropist and social reformer. Annie Fields placed high personal value on her commitment to social reform: helping the poor, founding the Associated Charities of Boston; attaining women’s suffrage; and the securing the right for women to attend medical school. Despite her wealth affording her a life of leisure, Annie Fields worked hard for these causes.
She was also a poet and writer, publishing biographies, collected letters, and translations.
Annie Fields and Sarah Orne Jewett found in each other a partner who was both nurturer of their health and champion of their work.
Annie Fields and women of her day knew a society when rights for women were not only not guaranteed, they were painfully overlooked. An 1867 entry in Annie Fields’ diary, written while her late husband James T. Fields was alive, recounts a touching story by a guest. Its entry into her memoirs indicates its impact on Fields:
Diary, September 22, 1876
At four came Miss Phelps and at six came Mrs. Livermore. Ah! She is indeed a great woman—a strong arm to those who are weak, a new faith in time of trouble. She came to tea as fresh as if she had been calmly sunning herself all the week instead of speaking at a great meeting at Faneuil Hall the previous evening and taking cold in the process. She talked most wittily and brilliantly, beside laughing most heartily and merrily over all dear Jamie’s [James’] absurd stories and illustrations. He told her of a woman who came to speak to him after one of his lectures, to thank him for what he was trying to do for the education of women.
She said, ‘I was educated at home with my brothers and taught all they were taught, learning my lessons by their side and reciting with them until the time came for them to go to college. Nobody ever told me I was not to go to college! And when the moment arrived and it dawned upon me that I was to be left behind to do nothing, to learn nothing more, I was terribly unhappy.’
‘I know just how she felt,’ said Mrs. Livermore.”
Annie Fields (Memoirs of a Hostess, 1922)