The publication of Hitty, Her First 100 Years, was announced to the world on November 3, 1929, in the pages of the New York Herald Tribune. The book purports to be the memoirs of Hitty, short for Hitabel, a 6-inch doll who, during a quiet stay in an antique shop in New York City, records the adventures of her first 100 years of life. The story was so successful, it won the Newbery Medal in 1930 and was declared the "only true juvenile classic written in America in a generation."1
There actually was and is a doll named Hitty. Rachel Field, a children's book author and her illustrator friend, Dorothy Lathrop, saw the doll one day in the window of a New York City antique shop. The price was quite high, and neither purchased it. One day the doll was gone from the window and both Field and Lathrop lamented that they had not bought it. "You could have written her story," Lathrop told Field, "and I could have illustrated it." Field knew she was right and all sorts of ideas about Hitty's past life and adventures began to form in her mind. It was a great relief to both of them to discover that the doll had only been taken out of the window to show a customer and was still available. They immediately bought it. The only clue to the doll's identity was a yellowed slip pinned to her dress with "Hitty" written on it in faded ink.2
According to her memoirs, Hitty was originally fashioned about 1820 from the wood of a mountain ash, a wood which traditionally offers protection against witchcraft and other evils. She was carved by an Irish peddler for the daughter of Mr. Preble, a Portland, Maine, ship's captain. The mountain ash protected Hitty well, carrying her with only minor injuries through one hundred years of perilous adventures on land and sea from her native Maine to the South Seas and India, and from New Orleans to Philadelphia and New York. She sailed on a whaling vessel, survived a shipwreck, lived with savages and later American missionaries. She went to a concert hall to hear Jenny Lind, and to a photographer to sit for a daguerrotype. Finally she reached the 20th century, and arrived at the antique shop, where she reflects on her life and write her memoirs.
But her adventures are not quite over, for Hitty flies with Rachel Field to Los Angeles in June of 1930, to accept the Newbery Medal, and she now resides happily, if less adventuresomely, in the Stockbridge Library Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, under the watchful eye of a curator.
1 Griffin, p. 172.
Deuel N. Griffin, "Rachel Field," Dictionary of Literary. Biography, v. 22. John Cech, ed. Detroit: The Gale Group, 1983, pp. 170-175.
Field, Rachel, "Acceptance Paper," Newbery Medal Books: 1922-1955, With their Author's Acceptance Papers...Boston: The Horn Book, Inc.,1955.
Helbig, Althea, "Rachel Lyman Field," in Writers for Children. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, c1988, pp. 235-240.
Copyright 2002 © Rita Smith
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