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Mary E. Wilkins Freeman & Mary J. Wales

Many of the celebrated short stories by Mary Wilkins Freeman are characterized by intense love and passionate devotion between women.

After an adolescence unsettled by increasing financial hardship, Mary Wilkins moved with her family from her birthplace, Randolph, Massachusetts, to Brattleboro, Vermont. There, attempts to recoup economic stability ended with the successive deaths of her only sibling, her younger sister Nan, in 1876, her mother in 1880, and her father in 1883.

Mary was alone, with neither income nor profession, a history of indifference to conventional social activities, a passion for literature, no important social connections, and no prospects for or recorded interest in marriage.

She returned to Randolph to live with the family of her life-long friend Mary John Wales. The two Marys lived together through the years of Wilkins's literary apprenticeship and her greatest literary success until her often-postponed marriage to Charles Freeman, a New Jersey physician turned businessman, in 1902. The marriage was disrupted by Charles's increasing alcoholism and its associated disorders. After several years, the couple separated. Mary John was one of her few friends, and it was a friendship of such intensity and love that it would survive until Mary John's death in 1914. In fact, it is at the Wales home where Freeman will seek shelter during her brief estrangement from Dr. Charles Freeman when she is in her forties.


Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman was a prominent 19th century American author. After her father's death, she went to live with the family of her life-long friend Mary John Wales. The two Marys lived together until her often-postponed marriage to Dr. Charles M. Freeman in 1902. Mary John was one of her few friends and it was a friendship of such intensity and love that it would survive until Mary John's death in 1914.  She died in Metuchen and was interred in Hillside Cemetery in Scotch Plains, New Jersey.



Freeman belonged to the network of literary women whose hub was Annie Adams Fields, wife of James Thomas Fields, publisher of the Atlantic Monthly, editor, and poet. Among those women was Sarah Orne Jewett, who had been the young Wilkins's literary inspiration and model.

Many of these women never married. Mary E. Wilkins, at least until her disastrous marriage, lived as a woman-oriented woman, her life centered on her writing and her relationship with Mary Wales.

Her first literary success came with the publication in 1883 by Harper's Bazaar of her story "Two Old Lovers." By 1887, enough stories had been published there and in Harper's New Monthly Magazine to compile her first collection: A Humble Romance. Four years later, A New England Nun followed. She received the Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1926.

Freeman's genius lay in her ability to penetrate and illuminate the conjunction between necessity and desire in a woman's life. Her stories often focus on that moment in a woman's life when she must act in the face of conflict between her personal values and the demands made by the "real" world--whether social, natural, or material--or between her ethics and her happiness, comfort, or even safety.

Many of her stories are characterized by intense love and passionate devotion between women. In particular, "Two Friends" and "The Long Arm" illustrate the climate of the time and place in which life-long partnerships between women were lived publicly and with community acceptance and support.

These two stories, among the most important nineteenth-century U.S. lesbian stories, explore the extremes of devotion. However, whether Wilkins Freeman's stories are explicitly lesbian, as are these two, or about women whose daily lives, emotional and often financial commitments are focused on women who are friends, neighbors, or family members, her fictional world is primarily women-centered.

Called a genius by peers and by those whom she influenced, she has long been recognized as one of the most important and influential practitioners of U.S. literary realism.

Citation Information
Author: Koppelman, Susan
Entry Title: Freeman, Mary Eleanor Wilkins
General Editor: Claude J. Summers
Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture
Publication Date: 2002
Date Last Updated July 24, 2006
Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/freeman_mew.html
Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL 60607
Today's Date March 13, 2013
Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.
Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates

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Language: English
ISBN-10: 1500563323
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Tags: author: mary e. wilkins freeman, days of love
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