Dorothy Canfield Fisher was born Dorothea Frances Canfield on February 17, 1879, in Vermont. She was named after a character in Middlemarch. She was a prolific writer, publishing books for children and adults. Ms. Fisher received a bachelor’s degree from Ohio State University in 1899 and a PhD from Columbia University in 1904. Throughout her lifetime, she received ten honorary doctorates from various institutions of higher learning.
She counted among her friends Willa Cather and Eleanor Roosevelt, who wrote the introduction for Ms. Fisher’s book, A Fair World for All (1952), and named Fisher one of the ten most influential women in America. After meeting Maria Montessori in Rome, and being impressed by her teaching method, Ms. Fisher wrote many books about this style of education.
A supporter of women’s rights, racial equality, and lifelong education, Ms. Fisher wrote her first book,Gunhild in 1907 (Henry Holt). Her most well-known book for children, Understood Betsy, is still in print, and was originally published by Henry Holt in 1917. During her day, she was one of America’s most popular novelists. Her book, The Brimming Cup, was the number two bestseller in 1921, following Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street.
Founder of the first adult education program in the United States, Fisher was also the first woman to serve on the Vermont Board of Education and a member of the Book-of-the-Month Club selection committee from 1926 to 1951. She founded the Braille Press in 1917 for French soldiers who had been blinded during World War I.
Ms. Fisher died in 1958. Upon her death, her peers at the Book-of-the-Month Club said, “She was more than an American of great ability. She was one of the rarest and purest character. A confirmed Vermonter, she was also a cosmopolitan in both space and time. All who knew her felt at once this combination of deep-rootedness and broad humanity; and felt themselves the larger for it.”
Today, the Vermont Department of Education and the Vermont State PTA sponsor a children’s choice book award, the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award, for children in grades 4 through 8, first presented in 1957.
You can read a biography, Pebble in a Pool: the Widening Circles of Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s Life by Elizabeth Yates. which was later reprinted as The Lady from Vermont.
Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s papers are held at The University of Vermont Libraries.
Mrs. Fisher died in Arlington, Vermont in 1958, at the age of 79.