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DOROTHY CANFIELD FISHER, (1879-1958)
On January 11, 2018, an article in the “Seven Days,” an online journal calling itself “Vermont’s Independent Voice,” reported that the Vermont State Library Board voted 7-0 to recommend the state librarian remove Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s name from the children’s book award named for her. The reason? Fisher was associated with the Vermont Commission on Country Life, an outgrowth of the Vermont Eugenics Survey. Additionally, her books reveal racial stereotyping of French Canadians, Native Americans, and “gypsy families.”
Coincidentally, Fisher is the Reappraisal Reading Circle’s choice for March. Read some of her writings and come discuss these allegations and more on March 3, 2018 at 7pm. Fisher’s novels range from studies of marriage (The Deepening Stream, The Brimming Cup, The Squirrel Cage ) to social problems (Bonfire, Seasoned Timber). She was an acknowledged liberal thinker, perhaps best known for her children’s stories, interest in Vermont folkways, and involvement in educational reform. Her efforts to improve education include translating and promoting the works of Maria Montessori, managing the country’s first adult education program, and improving education in rural areas and in prisons. She was also a popular writer although never acclaimed for her style or innovation. Generally, her books are considered “well crafted, truthful looks at American lives,” but one of her critics, Edward Wagenknecht, complained that she never learned how to be selective and could bury her reader under masses of detail. Perhaps that is why her simpler children’s stories continue to be most frequently read.
In any case, Dorothy Canfield Fisher was an amazing woman, especially for her time. Cosmopolitan and exceptionally well educated, she was fluent in five languages and the recipient of eight honorary degrees. She wrote 40 books, and was an involved social critic and activist, educator, and mother. Eleanor Roosevelt thought her one of the most influential women in the country.
What will her legacy be?