October 23rd, 2016

Dorothy Canfield Fisher: One of Vermont’s Most Versatile Scholars

By Sen. Bill Doyle
Dorothy Fisher was one of Vermont’s most versatile scholars. She was a short story writer, historian, novelist, and lecturer. She was born in Lawrence, Kansas, and in 1907, she and her husband, John, moved to Canfield family land in Arlington. Many of her works were influenced by her experience in Vermont, including Hillsboro People, 1915; The Vermont Tradition, 1953; and Seasoned Timber, 1939.

Other books include John Hill, 1907; The Squirrel Cage, 1912; Montessori Mother, 1912; The Bent Twig, 1915; The Deepening Stream, 1930; and Why Stop Learning?, 1927.

In The Vermont Tradition, Fisher compared the values of her state, independence, citizen involvement and equality to the early struggles with New York:

“There the two groups stood, face to face, toe to toe, yet so far apart in ideals that the contrasting basic principles underlying their two communities were like two chemical elements, compelled by their natures, if ever brought together, to burst into flames. It was on Vermont soil that historical circumstances forced them upon each other and caused the explosion of fury.

“The successful men in the Province of New York, who knew how to accumulate wealth and possessions and social rank, were living in a way which met with approval from the well-educated, the well-born, the well-mannered nearly everywhere in the western world. They were smoothly in the groove of the past, the past which for men of their kind was richly encrusted with success-memories of power, and money and elegance, of authority, and of the “distinction of person” created by authority, of social privilege which holds the many in inferiority, so that the few may have the exquisite poison-pleasure of looking down on them. Like all the upper classes everywhere in the world of that period, those landowners in the Province of New York, who meant to establish themselves as gentry, were supported by a great past, and by the present smiling broadly on them.

“The homespun young rustics in Vermont had on their side only the unforeseeable future.”

Fisher helped form the Children’s Book Award. The Award is co-sponsored by the Vermont Congress of Parents and Teachers and the Department of Libraries. The purpose of he award is to encourage children from grades four to eight to “read more and better books.” Fisher served many years on the Editorial Board of the Book-of-the-Month Club. The Board’s tribute upon her death was as follows:

“Other Americans have achieved as much and won for themselves equally respectful obituaries, but this does not necessarily mean that they will be remembered in quite the same way that Dorothy Canfield will be, for she was more than an American of great ability. She was one of the rarest and purest character. In her completely unself-conscious integrity, her courage, her humor and her practical good sense (the last almost always used to help other human beings) she harked back to and lent new luster to our highest pioneer traditions. A confirmed Vermonter, she was also a cosmopolitan in both space and time. All who knew her felt at once this combination of deep-rootedness and broad humanity; and felt themselves the larger for it. Her death leaves our country poorer. Her life enriched it.”

Senator Bill Doyle serves on the Senate Education Committee and Senate Economic Affairs Committee. He teaches government history at Johnson State College. He can be reached at 186 Murray Road, Montpelier, VT 05602; e-mail wdoyle@leg.state.vt.us; or call 223-2851.

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