Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lucy Fitch Perkins (1865-1937)

Today, March 8, 2011, is International Women's Day, and the centennial year of the first International Women's Day. This year is also the centennial year for the publication of a book called The Dutch Twins by Indiana author and illustrator Lucy Fitch Perkins. Although Lucy Fitch Perkins had previously written and illustrated two books, The Dutch Twins was her first based on a pair of ideas which had recently impressed the author. In her words:
One was the necessity for mutual respect and understanding between people of different nationalities if we are ever to live in peace. . . . The other . . . that a really big theme can be comprehended by children if it is presented in a way that holds their interest and engages their sympathies.
The Dutch Twins was the first in a series that eventually totaled twenty-seven titles, from The Cave Twins (1916), to The Spartan Twins (1918), to books about twins from Ireland, Mexico, Switzerland, France, the Philippines, Italy, and many other nations and periods of history. I think a remembrance of Lucy Fitch Perkins and her work is just right for today's occasion.

Lucy Adeline Fitch Perkins, descended from passengers of the Mayflower, was born on July 12, 1865, in the little town of Maples, Indiana. Her formal instruction in art came at the School of Boston Museum of Fine Arts from 1884 to 1888 under Robert Vannoh, Otto Grundman, and Frederic Crowninshield. After a year of work for the Prang Educational Company, Fitch moved to Brooklyn, where she taught art at the newly established Pratt Institute. At the end of “four happy winters teaching and studying” (1887-1891), Fitch married architect Dwight Heald Perkins (1867-1941), whom she had met in Boston. The newly wed couple returned to the Midwest, to Evanston, Illinois, where she spent most of the rest of her life and where she bore two children.

Lucy Fitch Perkins was a prolific author and illustrator of children’s books. During her forty-year career, she wrote and illustrated nearly four dozen books. Her first book (illustrations only) was Fairy Starlight and the Dolls, published in 1896. The Goose Girl: A Mother’s Lap Book of Rhymes and Pictures (1906) and A Book of Joys: The Story of a New England Summer (1907) were her own, words and pictures all. In 1911, she hit on a winning formula with The Dutch Twins. Nearly every year for the rest of her life, Lucy Fitch Perkins wrote and illustrated a new book, mostly about twins. In 1935, her two-millionth copy rolled off the printing press, a testament to the sureness of her vision of three decades before. The last twins book, The Dutch Twins and Little Brother (1938), was published posthumously, for Lucy Fitch Perkins died on March 18, 1937, in Pasadena, California.

In the following pictures, you can see the artist's fine handling of the human form and of design and color. There is of course an art nouveau influence. Some of these pictures are also quite like the poster designs of the day. In any case, you will see that Lucy Fitch Perkins, like so many women artists, then and now, drew and painted women and children with real delicacy, warmth, and affection. The last image may not be quite right for today's observance, but I couldn't pass up the chance to show it, as striking and dramatic as it is.

Text copyright 2011 by Terence E. Hanley


  1. Thank you for this article. I was listening to "No Limits" on WFYI and topic was early childhood reading. Made me think back to books I enjoyed in 1st Grade - my favorite series was the Twins books which were in our classroom library. I grew up in England but have lived in Indiana for many years - so imagine my delight to learn that Lucy Fitch Perkins is from Indiana.

  2. Dear Anonymous,

    You're welcome. I'm glad you enjoyed it and I'm glad to hear that it could take you back to a time we probably all remember as being magical, a time when books could carry us away.