Eustis Estate

Sarah Orne Jewett

In this 1931 photograph from the main bedroom in the Sarah Orne Jewett House, we see on the mantel a framed portrait photograph of Jewett’s life partner, Annie Adams Fields (1834–1915). See the photograph in the Painting in Context section below.

Landscape at Cortina hangs in the bedroom of Sarah Orne Jewett (1849–1909) in South Berwick, Maine. In 1870, Jewett, a twenty-one-year-old author, met thirty-six-year-old Annie Adams Fields*, the wife of publisher James T. Fields and a gifted hostess, writer, and philanthropist. (James had published some of Jewett’s early stories in his literary magazine, The Atlantic Monthly.) According to Jewett’s biographer, Sarah Sherman, “sometime in the winter of 1881, in the wake of James Fields’s death, Annie Fields and Sarah Jewett fell in love.” In 1882 the pair began traveling to Europe regularly. Jewett began spending autumns and winters at Fields’s home at 148 Charles Street in Boston, returning to her family home in South Berwick, Maine, in the spring and staying there through early summer, when she joined Fields at her house in Manchester, Massachusetts.

Libby Bischof, Professor of History at the University of Southern Maine, notes that the relationship between Jewett and Fields was a “Boston marriage,” a term coined by author Henry James to describe the association between two unmarried women living together in a long-term, committed relationship, not always lesbian. Such alliances were most often found among middle-class, educated, financially independent white women and were considered quite socially acceptable.

* A painting by Annie Adams Fields’s sister Elizabeth is in Gallery 3. Click here to see it.

Sarah Orne Jewett (in front of the window) and Annie Adams Fields at 148 Charles Street, Fields’s Boston residence where the pair lived for most of the autumn and winter for almost two decades.

Sarah Orne Jewett’s large circle of female friends included the talented artist and designer Sarah Wyman Whitman. Historic New England owns several items that reflect the two women’s friendship.

Jewett and several more of Whitman’s close female friends were in loving, long-term relationships with other women. Whitman’s own loveless marriage to dry-goods merchant Henry Whitman meant they lived separate lives and freed her to pursue an artistic career. Sarah Wyman Whitman went on to launch the Boston Water Color Club after the Boston Society of Water Color Artists refused to admit women like herself, and she made a significant bequest to Radcliffe College, which was dedicated to educating women.

On the left, a paper silhouette of Sarah Orne Jewett’s profile cut by Sarah Wyman Whitman, 1900. On the right,  Sarah Orne Jewett’s novel The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896), the binding of which was designed by Sarah Wyman Whitman in the Arts & Crafts style at which she excelled.