Elizabeth Stuart Phelps

Other than Jacob Abbott, one of the earliest writers to create a series for girls was Elizabeth Wooster Stuart Phelps. Born in Andover, Mass., on 13 August 1815, Phelps was the daughter of Abigail and Moses Stuart, the latter a respected theologian who was both a Congregationalist minister and a professor at Andover Theological Seminary. This religious background undoubtedly helped to shape her later fiction.
Elizabeth Phelps with her daughter Mary (Elzabeth)
She grew up in Andover, and, as a child, wrote stories for her siblings. She was also girlhood friends with with Harriette Woods (later Harriette Baker), who also later wrote children's series. [1] At age sixteen, Phelps enrolled in the Mount Vernon School in Boston, where she stayed with and was taught by none other than Jacob Abbott . Abbott was also the first to publish some of Phelps's articles, which appeared in one of his magazines under the pseudonym H. Trusta, the name used on her children's books and adult novels. ("Trusta" is an anagram of "Stuart.")

In 1834, she returned to Andover, suffering from "cerebral disease," and stopped writing for several years. Eight years later, she returned to Boston, and, in September 1842, married Austin Phelps, the pastor of the Pine Street Congregational Church. During this period, two events occurred that probably influenced her later writing: in 1841, her former tutor, Jacob Abbott, who had already enjoyed enormous success with his Rollo books (the first fictional juvenile series ever written), began the Lucy books, the first series books for girls; in 1844, Phelps gave birth to a daughter, Mary Gray.
Austin Phelps
In 1848, Phelps again found herself in Andover, when her husband became a professor of theology at Andover Seminary. Her second child, Moses Stuart, was born in 1849. There, she began writing the Kitty Brown books, a four-volume religious series, penning one volume per year. She also wrote stories intended only for her children. Her daughter later wrote of memories of Phelps "by the nursery lamp, reading to us her own stories, written for ourselves, never meant to go beyond that little public of two, and illustrated in colored crayons by her own pencil." [2] One source notes that "her children's needs stimulated [Phelps] to write stories for them; some of these were posthumously collected in Little Mary; or, Talks for Children (1854), which shows Mary "learning new words, new behavior, new information as she grows from [age] five ... to nine." [3]

In addition to the Kitty Brown books, during her lifetime Phelps published several works for adults, including the very popular The Sunny Side; or, The Country Minister's Wife (1851) and A Peep at Number Five (1852), the latter considered to be semi-autobiographical. [4] A second son, Amos, was born in August 1852. Only a few months later, she succumbed to a recurrence of her earlier illness and died on 29 November 1852. In accordance with her wishes, her son was baptised at her funeral.

After her mother's death, Phelps' daughter Mary was renamed Elizabeth Stuart Phelps. Following in her mother's footsteps, she became a successful author. Her writings included a popular girls' series, Gypsy Breynton, and a best-selling novel, The Gates Ajar (1868).

[1] More information on the friendship appears in the Baker biographical entry.
[2] Phelps, Elizabeth Stuart, Chapters from a Life (1896). Quoted in Carol Farley Kessler, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps (Boston: Twayne, 1982): 13. (Chapters is the autobiography of Phelps's daughter, nee Mary Gray Phelps.)
[3] Kessler, 13.
[4] A Peep at Number Five is now online at the State University System of Florida PALMM Project, as are Phelps's The Angel over the Right Shoulder and several volumes in the Kitty Brown series.


"Elizabeth Stuart Phelps." American Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide from Colonial Times to the Present. Ed. Lina Mainero. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1981.
Kessler, Carol Farley. Elizabeth Stuart Phelps. Boston: Twayne, 1982. "Phelps, Elizabeth Wooster Stuart." Notable American Women 1607-1950. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard UP, 1971.
"Phelps, Elizabeth Stuart." National Cyclopedia of American Biography.

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Copyright 2002 by Deidre Johnson