Annie Adams Fields held literary court for many years at her home on Charles Street in Boston, called The Waterside Museum by Henry James.
This remarkable woman was born Annie Adams in Boston on June 6,1834, the daughter of Dr. Zabdiel and Sarah May Holland Adams. When she was sixteen her cousin Eliza married a man of the world (according to Annie) named James Thomas Fields. Jamie, as he was called, was a partner in the publishing company of Ticknor and Fields, in the Old Corner Bookstore. The shop was housed in a building on Washington Street in Boston, where religious dissenter Anne Hutchinson had once lived.
Marriage to Publisher James Thomas Fields
Unfortunately Annie’s cousin Eliza did not live very long and in November of 1854 Annie and Jamie were married. They moved into his house at 37 Charles Street ( later renumbered 148), and Annie set to housekeeping. There were no children of this union, so Annie soon made the Charles Street house the gathering place of the literary lights of Boston.
At any time one could see anyone from Thomas Bailey Aldrich to Oliver Wendell Holmes in the Fields’ house, where a portrait of Charles Dickens, given to Annie as a memento of his visit, hung over the couch in the parlour. Annie also had great influence over Jamie, and persuaded him to publish many authors including Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Sarah Orne Jewett and Emma Lazarus.
Jamie decided to retire from the publishing business in 1870 and Annie began her work for the underprivileged in Boston. She opened a place for unmarried working women called The Lincoln Street Home, and worked in various other areas of need in the city. She was still the center of Boston’s literary life, and continued her salon for many years .In April of 1881, Jamie Fields breathed his last. Feeling lonely and needing someone to fill the void, she turned to Sarah Orne Jewett for friendship.
Sarah Orne Jewett
Annie and Sarah took several trips together, including Europe and the West Indies. Annie became concerned over Sarah’s health and well being and devoted herself to keeping her happy and entertained. On one occasion in 1906, the eighty-seven year old Julia Ward Howe rose to her feet and in a quavering voice recited her immortal Battle Hymn of the Republic. Sarah died in 1909 and Annie was once again alone. She had many visitors to the house, and one especially, Ellery Sedgwick, editor of The Atlantic, often came to see her.
Death of Annie Fields
Annie Adams Fields passed away on January 5, 1915. The blinds were drawn, dust covers were thrown over the furniture, and books were packed and given away. The last trace of the Waterside Museum was gone forever, and with it went a glorious era in the literary history of New England. The site of the house is now a gas station.
- The Waterside Museum by Anya Laurence New-England Galaxy Old Sturbridge Village Summer (1977)