Practical Hitty

a resource for Rachel Field's book

Hitty: Her First Hundred Years


Hitty: Her First Hundred Years
First published in 1929, Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field won the Newbery Award in 1930. Since that time, Hitty has been a popular children's book enjoyed by generations of children.

The book details the memoirs of a small wooden doll residing in an antique shop. Access to pen and paper prompted the doll to write her life story from the time of her creation in a cottage in her home state of Maine until her arrival in the antique store nearly one hundred years later.

According to her memoirs, she was originally carved for a particular child. Due to misadventures, she was lost and went through a series of subsequent owners (children until roughly the 1880s). In later years she is owned by a series of adults, ultimately ending in the hands of this book's author Rachel Field. A must-read for doll literature enthusiasts, and one of my very favourite children's books.

The real Hitty doll

the real Hitty Hitty is not merely a storybook doll, though. She really does exist in our world. The inspiration for the book was a small wooden doll discovered in an antique shop by the author Rachel Field in the 1920s. Once acquired, the doll seemed to take on a life of her own as part of the author's personal collection.

The doll is peg-jointed and carved from ash wood with both arms and legs moving as a pair. She is six and one-quarter inches tall. This doll presently resides at the Stockbridge Library Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts with the clothing and accessories bought for her by Rachel Field.

If you are interested in visiting the Real Hitty, prior to your visit please contact the Stockbridge Library to ensure that you will be able to view Hitty. In the interest of conservation of an antique, she is not always available for viewing. Photos are no longer permitted due to her fragile state, but postcards and related images of her are available for sale.

Mountain ash or white ash?

The general consensus, judging from the wood grain pattern, is that Hitty is carved from white ash. Not only is mountain ash a hardwood which is difficult to obtain, but mountain ash and white ash have distinctively different grain. They are unrelated trees such that it is easy to tell the difference.

Hitty's age

Although Hitty was declared to be 100 years old at the time Rachel Field purchased her (1920s), the style in which her hair is carved indicates that she was probably made around 1860.

Collectors celebrate 22 January as the birthday of the Real Hitty.

Editions of Hitty

The standard edition of Hitty includes illustrations by Dorothy P. Lathrop, a good friend of Rachel Field. The earliest (hardcover) editions also include several colour plates which are not included in today's editions. It is well worth seeking out a first edition if you are interested in a copy with the colour plates.

Hitty -- orange cover
Standard hardcover edition with dust jacket. This is usually a library binding.
  Hitty -- green cover
Aladdin Paperbacks (Simon & Schuster) edition. Softcover current edition.
  Hitty -- purple cover
Special "digest" edition for younger children.

Hitty: Her First Hundred Years chapter summaries

Hitty chapter summaries
For those who are new to children's literature, you may not have read this charming book of Hitty's adventure.

While it is of course child-safe, you might wish to have summaries of each chapter available when your children are reading this book for the first time. The time period in which Hitty occurs is very different from the modern day, so your children may have questions or do not understand something.

Chapter 1

After Hitty is carved from lucky mountain ash wood from an itinerant peddler, she is given to the young girl of a Maine household Phoebe Preble. Hitty's first adventure begins when Phoebe sneaks her into church and accidentally leaves her there for several days before she is rescued and returned home.

Chapter 2

Phoebe goes on a picnic with Andy, taking Hitty along. When the children are startled by some of the local Indians, they flee and leave Hitty behind. A crow finds Hitty, carrying her to its nest atop a nearby pine tree. Two days later, Hitty tries to escape the nest, but is caught in the tree's branches. She is rescued by Captain Preble several weeks later.

Chapter 3

The family goes to Boston with the captain while he attends to his whaling business.

Chapter 4

When the captain sets sail aboard the Diana-Kate, his wife, Phoebe, Andy, and Hitty go along rather than return home.

Chapter 5

The ship's crew begin their whale-hunting and processing aboard the ship. Soon after they reach the South Seas, the ship catches fire. Everyone abandons ship, accidentally leaving Hitty behind. She falls into the sea just before the fire reaches her.

Chapter 6

Hitty floats for several days, eventually washing ashore on the island where the Prebles have taken shelter. When natives visit from a nearby island, they become interested in Hitty, eventually taking her with them.

Chapter 7

The natives place Hitty in a bamboo temple and worship her. Andy rescues her as the Prebles are leaving the island. After rowing their bow all night toward a light, they are spotted.

Chapter 8

The rescuing ship, the Hesper, is bound for Bombay in India. When they arrive, everyone goes ashore to buy supplies and trinkets. Phoebe coaxes her father into buying a coral nose ring sized to make a necklace for Hitty. Late in the day, Phoebe is carried back to the ship, dropping Hitty in the mud of the Bombay streets. After some time, Hitty is discovered by a snake charmer. She is dusted off and becomes part of his act. A missionary husband and wife team spots Hitty one day, buying her from the snake charmer for their young daughter Thankful.

Chapter 9

Hitty learns to read, write, and count from Thankful's lessons. After Thankful recovers from a serious illness, she is sent to her grandparents in Philadelphia, where she is welcomed and doted on. A short time later, Thankful brings Hitty to a birthday party at the Pryces' house, where both are teased mercilessly. Thankful is so ashamed of Hitty that she shoves Hitty into a horsehair sofa and leaves her.

Chapter 10

The sofa is moved to the attic of the house, where Hitty is trapped alone for years. Some years later, children playing in the attic discover Hitty, and she is given to Clarissa Pryce, a younger cousin of the now-grown birthday girl. Hitty perfects her writing skills while attending school with Clarissa. She is also given a desk, a china dog, and a doll house. One day Clarissa sneaks out to attend the concert of opera singer Adelina Patti. The audience is so thrilled with the performance that Clarissa and Hitty are swept onto the platform.

Chapter 11

Clarissa has her daguerreotype taken. Because of an error, the photographer offers to take one of Hitty as well. During a visit by the poet John Greenleaf Whittier, he admires Hitty and writes a poem about her. As the Civil War begins, Clarissa has less time to play with Hitty.

Chapter 12

As the War is ending, Clarissa goes away to boarding school. Hitty is put into storage and shipped to New York City. A handling error results in her arrival at the Van Rensselaer house. A hired seamstress Miss Pinch finds Hitty's box one day. She hides Hitty away in her room, sewing fashionable outfits for her. Hitty is discovered and purchased for the daughter of the house, Isabella, who takes her everywhere. They meet Charles Dickens while out for a walk one day.

Chapter 13

Isabella sneaks out of the house on New Year's Eve, where she is trapped by young thugs who steal Hitty from her. This ruins Hitty's fashionable clothes. One of the thugs takes Hitty, giving her to his cousin Katie. When Katie falls sick, she and Hitty are set to a farm to regain strength. Hitty is lost one afternoon on a hay ride, and remains in the barn for several years. She loses her coral beads during this time.

Chapter 14

Eventually Hitty is discovered in the barn and sold to a passing artist. He cleans her up, using her as a prop when he is painting children. Hitty remains with him for many years, travelling to New Orleans at Mardi Gras time. He takes a room in a French Quarter house owned by sisters Miss Annette and Miss Hortense Larraby. The sisters borrow Hitty to dress and display her in the New Orleans Cotton Exposition. Hitty is dressed as a bride and placed in a glass case at the Exposition. A clever young girl who is quite taken with Hitty steals her when the case's key is left in the keyhole one day. The girl, Sally Loomis, is the daughter of a riverboat captain. She travels with her father, keeping Hitty hidden away in a sweetgrass basket. While attending a church service, the sermon on the sin of stealing motivates Sally to cast Hitty and basket into the river.

Chapter 15

Hitty floats down the river and is discovered by two children of sharecroppers who are fishing. After spending the day in their boat, she is given to the sister of one of the boys. Car'line, the boy's sister, loves Hitty immediately and plays with her all the time. Car'line takes Hitty to a Christmas Eve party at the plantation house, where Hitty is recognised by Miss Hope, the daughter of the plantation owner, as the doll from the Exposition. Miss Hope gives Car'line a doll from her own childhood in exchange for Hitty. She cleans and mends Hitty's clothes, sending a letter to a friend in New Orleans about finding Hitty. She then ships Hitty to the friend, who forwards her to the Exposition Officials. However, since the Exposition has been over for some time, it is decided that Hitty should be returned to the artist. Hitty is shipped to and fro, eventually ending up in the dead letter office. During a post office auction, Hitty's box is bought by one of the postman, who accidentally leaves her in a tobacco shop. The next day, Hitty's box is wrapped up and included with a purchase of clay pipes. The pipe buyer is angry to find Hitty instead of his pipes, but his wife takes Hitty to incorporate in a craft project. Hitty is turned into a pincushion and sold at a church fair.

Chapter 16

A woman named Maggie Arnold purchases Hitty, sending her as a birthday present for her great-aunt in Boston. However, her great-aunt doesn't want Hitty either, giving her to a friend Pamela who is a doll collector. Pamela recognises Hitty's worth and age, freeing her from the pincushion wrappings. Hitty becomes Pamela's most prized doll and the star of Pamela's collection. She accompanies Pamela to a country house for the summer, Hitty's first ride in a horseless carriage. Unfortunately Hitty is bumped from the vehicle, landing in the roots of a nearby tree and abandoned when she cannot be located. The following week she is found by picnickers, who leave Hitty behind in their rented wagon. After a few days, the stable man finds her and leaves her in his office window until her dress fades. She discovers the year is 1913 and she has returned to Maine. The stable man's daughter finds Hitty while cleaning and takes her to a married sister, who then includes her in the antique store she is establishing in her front parlour. After some time Hitty is sold for $2 to an older lady who collects china animals. Hitty is placed in a display of the lady's china animals, and soon realises she is once again in the Preble house where she was created! Hitty remains there for some years, waiting each winter for the lady to return to the house each spring.

Chapter 17

One year the lady does not return to the house, with the house remaining closed all summer. That September, an auction is held for every item in the house. There is a bidding war for Hitty, with the lucky winner being an older gentleman who buys her for $51. This gentleman is a buying agent for an antique shop in New York City. He takes Hitty by train to the shop.

Last remarks

The shop owner places Hitty in the shop window with her name pinned to the front of her dress. The gentleman brings gifts for Hitty from his trips. Hitty overhears two artists who come to visit her often [Rachel Field and Dorothy Lathrop]. Through the window one day she sees an airplane for the first time, and looks forward to more adventures once someone buys her.

Research and discuss

Hitty discussion topics If you are planning to read Hitty: Her First Hundred Years with your child or as part of a classroom assignment, it is highly recommended to have a list of topics ready to place the book into its historical context.

This book occurs during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, so you might find these topic suggestions a good jumping-off point for contextual discussions and associated writing assignments.

Books like Hitty: Her First Hundred Years

books like Hitty
One excellent way to encourage children to read more is to find more books of a similar genre and/or writing style to one of the books that your child particularly enjoyed reading. If your child has read and enjoyed Hitty: Her First Hundred Years, he or she might also enjoy the following "doll literature" books.

Memoirs of a London doll Memoirs of a London Doll by Richard Henry Horne (1922): This book seems to have had a clear influence on Rachel Field's Hitty: Her First Hundred Years, even to the doll retaining a possession marked with her name. In my opinion Hitty is a more charming and connected book. This seems a bit disjointed with Maria changing owners every chapter or two. In addition, despite the similarity of time period, there is a grittiness to London Doll which is not present in Hitty. Four Dolls Four Dolls by Rumer Godden (1983): Combined edition which includes Ms Godden's short stories: Fairy Doll, Impunity Jane, The Story of Holly and Ivy, and Candy Floss.

Perhaps due to their shorter length, the stories were not as engaging as some of her other works (Miss Happiness & Miss Flower, Little Plum). I didn't develop as great of an attachment to the characters although the stories were on the whole well-written examples of the "doll literature" genre.

Miss Happiness and Miss Flower Miss Happiness and Miss Flower by Rumer Godden (1961): The author's writing style is quite precise and clear. I especially enjoyed the footnotes that became the endnotes for the book to explain both the Japanese terms in the book and the techniques for constructing the house. The book is in many ways reminiscent of A Secret Garden and A Little Princess (i.e. child is sent from India to England for school). Very well-written if slightly dated. Little Plum Little Plum by Rumer Godden (1963): The sequel to Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, set a year later. The little girl who moves in next-door gets a Japanese doll of her own, but neglects the poor little thing. Eventually the Fell girls make friends and are able to invite their neighbor over so all their Japanese dolls can have a traditional Doll Festival together. To me the best parts of the book are the dolls talking amongst themselves (which the humans of course cannot hear). Miss Happiness and Miss Flower are very insightful in their own way.
Miss Hickory Miss Hickory by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey (1946): A delightful if slightly disjointed book about a doll with a hickory nut head. Some of the adventures don't fit the storyline properly, but the surprising ending when spring comes is strangely hopeful. The Doll's House The Doll's House by Rumer Godden (1947): A doll's view of the world in which an eclectic collection of dolls occupy a dollhouse.

Hitty by Rosemary Wells Hitty Travels series Hitty Travels series Hitty Travels series Hitty Travels series For younger readers, there are several "alternative universe" adaptations featuring Hitty. These are to some extent a "reimagined" version of the original 1929 classic with all-new adventures for. They are not in my opinion as good as the original. The Hitty dolls have in each a much different illustrated appearance from that of the Original Hitty. Younger children however will enjoy seeing Hitty's "new adventures" in these books.

These books can be difficult to find since many are out of print. Some great places to buy used books online include:

Visit the Real Hitty

Tip: Phone ahead if you would like to pay respects to the Original Hitty during your visit to the Library.

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