"Ideas came with explosive immediacy, like an instant birth. Human thought is like a monstrous pendulum; it keeps swinging from one extreme to the other."
- Eugene Field
Eugene Field was born in St. Louis, Missouri on September 2 or 3, 1850 to Roswell Martin Field and Frances Reed, who were both natives of Vermont. His father served as lawyer for Dred Scott in the famous "Dred Scott Decision" of 1857 which stated that African Americans, by virtue of their race, would not be allowed citizenship in the United States. After the death of his mother in 1856, both Eugene and his older brother, Roswell, were sent to live with their aunt, Mary Field French in Amherst. Field attended several colleges, including Williams College in Williamstown, MA, Knox College in Galesburg, IL, and ultimately the University of Missouri in Columbia, MO. Despite attending these three institutions of higher learning, Field never earned a college degree. Instead, Field decided in the fall of 1872 to take his inheritance and set out with a friend to tour Europe. He returned in 1873 with most of his money gone. Upon his return, he married Julia Sutherland Comstock from St. Joseph, Missouri. They had a happy marriage that yielded eight children. Julia helped to bring order and organization to Field's business affairs. Field passed away on October 4, 1885 in Chicago, Illinois.
Field is remembered for his literary whimsicality, his impish personality, and his ingenious, elaborate, and heartless practical jokes. For instance, when Field was nine years old and living in Amherst he wrote his first poem about Mary French's dog, Fido. In some of his newspaper columns, Field wrote about his friends and enemies making them the center of imaginary anecdotes. He would often write poetry and attribute the work to famous contemporary figures, which amused his readers as well as himself. "Wynken, Blynke, and Nod", one of his most famous poems, was written in 1888 and published in a weekly journal called "America." This particular lullaby has been immortalized in marble and bronze statues, a painting, and a 1938 Disney animated short film. Field worked as a journalist at the St. Joseph Gazette, the St. Louis Journal, the Kansas City Times, and the Denver Tribune in order to support his family. In 1883 Field landed a job at the Chicago Morning News (renamed the Record in 1890). Field worked here for the rest of his life and wrote his column called "Sharps and Flats," in which he first published much of his literary work. Field also began work on a fictional autobiography, The Love Affairs of Bibliomaniac. Field ultimately published thirteen books during his lifetime. Some of Field's books on poetry included A Little Book of Western Verse (1889), Second Book of Verse (1892), and Love Songs of Childhood (1894).
Field is known as America’s “Poet of Childhood” and “The Children’s Poet” for his contribution to children’s poetry. Field was a fan of Horace, the Augustan era Roman lyric poet, satirist and literary critic whose brevity and humor inspired Field’s wit and literary aesthetic.
Field moved into 219 Amity Street in Amherst, Massachusetts at the age of six following his mother’s death. Field’s aunt owned the house and he lived here with her until he went off to college. The house itself was built in 1839 by Robert Cutler. The architectural style is that of a mixed design. The façade is Greek Revival while the sides represent a traditional New England Colonial style.
"No one knows anything about a strike until he has seen it break down into its component parts of human beings."
- Mary Heaton Vorse
Mary Heaton Vorse was born on October 9, 1874 in New York City to Hiram Heaton, a retired innkeeper and Ellen Cordelia Blackman. She received an education at several private schools and academies. A large part of her education came from her mother who tutored her while they traveled. Her mother introduced her to Keenan's account of conditions in the Russian penal colonies which piqued her interest in politics. She began reading Tolstoy, Gogol, Pushkin, Turgenev, Dostoevsky, and Chekhov. Kropotkin’s "Fields, Factories and Workshops" profoundly influenced her. The family spent their summers in Amherst, Massachusetts and Vorse wrote about what her life was like there. Most of her winters were spent in New York or Europe. She originally wanted to be an artist and studied in Paris and New York City, but when she was eighteen years old, Vorse joined the staff of the Criterion which was a Manhattan based journal similar to what we know as The New Yorker. In her position there, she wrote articles, provided illustrations, and composed reviews on concerts, plays and exhibitions. In 1898, she married Albert White Vorse, who was a newspaperman and writer who helped her realize her love of writing. They had three children, and three grandchildren. Vorse loved her home life and regretted that she was not able to spend more time there. She passed away on June 14, 1966 in Provincetown, MA.
Vorse’s work in the Passaic and Gastonia strikes inspired her to write Passaic, 1926 and Strike-A Novel of Gastonia, 1930. Labor’s New Millions, addressed the rise of the Committee for Industrial Organization. Several of her other works included Autobiography of an Elderly Woman (1911), The Prestons (1918), Growing Up (1920), Wreckage: A Play in One Act (1924), Gastonia (1929), and Labor's New Millions (1938). Most of her works were directly related to her passion for supporting organized labor.
Vorse had an "open house" and invited several literary greats including Eugene O'Neill, Wilbur Daniel Steel, and Lewis Sinclair among others to visit her. Vorse’s role in the organized labor movement defines her legacy. In 1912, Harper's Weekly sent Vorse to Lawrence, MA to cover a story on the textile strike. She joined the likes of some notable journalists including Lincoln Steffens, William Allen White, Richard Washburn Child, Ray Stannard Baker, and Fremont Older. Some of these individuals became her lifelong friends. Her coverage of the textile striker cost Harper's Weekly one of their largest advertisers, which became a joke with her Editor, Thomas Wells. Whenever she would go off to cover a labor story, he told her to not lose too many advertisers. In the years following, Vorse and her husband toured Europe and during the period 1918-1919 she served as a war correspondent for Century and McClure's as well as a member of the Balkan Commission. She wrote about conditions of some of the impoverished areas while working with the American Relief Association. After returning to the United States, Vorse continued to battle for labor rights. In 1926, Vorse and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn traveled to a labor strike in Passaic, NJ where photographers had cameras smashed and some reporters were beaten. Three years after that, she went on to Gastonia, NC and addressed the National Textile Workers Union. At this event shots were fired as she was walking toward the rally. A bullet grazed her, and a female textile worker was killed.
Mary Heaton Vorse's home in Amherst is located at 219 Amity Street and sits on one acre of land and was also home to Eugene Field (1856-1865). The home was originally built in 1836 by Robert Cutler, who was an established builder in Amherst, for Thomas Jones, a merchant and member of the General Court. The architectural style is Colonial and Greek revival. The exterior is made of wood butt-edge and clapboards, which surround the house on all sides except the front, where the boards lie flat. The design of the front of the house, and the pillared and roofed portico, are indicative features of the Greek revival style. The hurricane of 1938 destroyed the west porch of the home, and later owners constructed an east porch; no other major alternations have taken place.
Direction to Next Stop
Walk East on Amity Street for 0.2 miles. Turn right onto South Pleasant Street and walk for 0.1 miles. Turn left onto Main Street and walk 0.4 miles to 46 Main Street.