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What did Sarah Orne Jewett Look Like?Photograph of American author Sarah Orne Jewett (died 1909) in front of her home in South Berwick, Maine. Sarah Orne Jewett Compositions and Other Papers, 1847-1909 (MS Am 1743.26 (16), Houghton Library, Harvard University.
Photographs of Sarah Orne Jewett tell us a good deal about her appearance, but there are no color photographs, and as yet, there are few full-length group photos to provide a sense of her carriage and size. This page brings together the little information available so far that can help readers imagine how she appeared to her contemporaries.
From Sarah Orne Jewett by Francis Otto Matthiessen (1929)
By the end of the [Civil] war she had become a tall slender girl, never very strong, but full of bursts of energy, a deep flush covering her dark cheeks, a quick fire in her large brown eyes.
From A Little Book of Friends by Harriet Prescott Spofford (1916)
When you saw her lofty carriage, her dark eyes, her high-bred and beautiful features, you remembered the royal significance of her name in Scripture, and you were half inclined to wonder how it was that a princess of the old régime was writing stories that were the accurate transcript of the lives of farming and sea-faring folk.
From Sarah Orne Jewett: A Writer's Life by Elizabeth Silverthorne (1993), p. 41
She grew into a tall, slender, attractive girl with large, expressive brown eyes and rosy cheeks from her frequent outdoor activity.
All of these descriptions agree that Jewett was tall. How tall?
In 2002,with mathematical aid from my son, Gabriel, I used two photos of Jewett to estimate her height. In one, she stands before the 90.75 inch door frame of her house on Portland St. in South Berwick. The second shows Jewett and her friend, Emily Tyson, in the 81 inch doorway of the garden cottage at Hamilton House in South Berwick. Both photos almost certainly date from after 1900, when she was past 50 years old.
There are, of course, too many variables to achieve certainty in calculation based on these photographs. In both cases, however, our result was 67 inches. According to a Time Health calculator, the average American female born in 1849 grew to about 63 inches, and the average adult male born the same year reached about 67.5 inches. Jewett likely was as tall as nearly half the men of her age.
Emily Tyson and Sarah Orne Jewett in the door of the garden house at Hamilton House, South Berwick. The original photograph is held by Historic New England.
Compiled by Terry Heller, Coe College.
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