Sarah Orne Jewett House

Annie Adams Fields

Painted portrait of a middle-aged white woman with black hair in a high-collared white 19th century dress with a brooch at her neck.
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

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 is best remembered as the society hostess of unusual beauty who charmed the likes of Charles Dickens. But the same woman who was at once lovely and very funny, had a more serious side. Annie Fields was a poet and writer, publishing biographies, collected letters, and translations. She was a philanthropist and social reformer who, despite having such wealth as could afford a life of leisure, worked hard for causes she believed in: relief for the poor, attaining women’s suffrage; and securing the right for women to attend medical school. At times, Annie overworked herself, causing Sarah concern for her health.

Annie Fields and women of her day knew a society when rights for women were not only uncertain, they were painfully overlooked. An 1867 entry in Annie Fields’ diary, written before the death of her husband James T. Fields, recounts a touching story by a guest. The inclusion of this 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)

Love Letters

By the time she inherited her grandfather’s South Berwick home, Jewett was already a successful writer and spending half the year or more with her partner Annie Fields at Fields’ home in Boston or traveling. Much of the time Jewett spent at her South Berwick home was devoted to her writing.

While most of her time was spent on writing for publication, Jewett also wrote and received hundreds of letters in her lifetime. Many of the letters have been preserved and are a valuable resource, providing insight in Jewett’s life and work.

During the months Sarah Orne Jewett spent in South Berwick, her partner Annie Fields most often stayed in Boston, at her Manchester (Massachusetts) home, or visited friends.

When apart, Jewett wrote to Fields nearly every day, often expressing her longing to be with her. From these letters, the passion, affection, mutual respect, and love they shared emerges.