Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Today marks the 166th birthday of Camden native Kate Upson Clark

Camden native Kate Upson Clark
Today (Wednesday) marks the 166th birthday of one of the most remarkable women ever born in Wilcox County – Kate Upson Clark.

Clark was born Catherine Pickens Upson in Camden on Feb. 22, 1851 to 36-year-old Edwin Upson and 35-year-old Priscilla Maxwell Upson. Edwin, a native of Connecticut, and Priscilla, a native of Massachusetts, ended up in Alabama in the 1840s and got married in Tuscaloosa, then the state capital, on July 8, 1844.

Catherine, who was called “Kate” for short, came along a few years later and was four years old when her mother, Priscilla, passed away at the age of 40 on Nov. 14, 1855.

After Priscilla’s death, Kate’s father moved to Mobile, where he became partners with businessman William Strickland in a bookselling and stationary business called Strickland & Co. Not long after that, a “vigilance committee” in Mobile accused Strickland & Co. of owning and selling “incendiary” anti-slavery books like Harriet Beecher Stowe’s famous novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and “Bondage and Freedom” by Frederick Douglas. Trouble continued as Strickland & Co. had its signs painted over, and they were given five days to get out of town.

During this time, three angry men confronted Upson with a carriage and rope at Mobile’s Battle House Hotel with obvious intentions to hang him. Upson escaped hanging, but the Strickland & Co. store was mobbed as Upson and Strickland were driven from town. Two years later, Upson slipped back into Mobile to collect on some old debts, but quickly left after learning that there was still a large reward out for information on Strickland’s whereabouts.

After all that, Upson’s young daughter, Kate, ended up in New England, where she spent most of her childhood and formative years in Charlemont, Mass., a short drive from the Vermont border. In 1869, she graduated from Wheaton Female Seminar (now Wheaton College) in Norton, Mass. and then went on to graduate from the Westfield Normal School (now Westfield State University) in Westfield, Mass. in 1872.

She taught school for a time in Cleveland, Ohio and then married Edward Perkins Clark, the managing editor of The Springfield Republican newspaper, on Jan. 1, 1874. Kate later became the editor of The Republican and went on to serve as the editor of Good Cheer Magazine and the New York Evening Post. While helping to raise three sons, she also wrote a number of books (mostly for children), a novel, short stories and articles for Atlantic Monthly, Godey’s Lady’s Book, Harper’s Magazine, the Christian Herald and a variety of children’s magazines.

Her best-known books include “Bringing Up Boys” (1899), “White Butterflies” (1900), “How Dexter Paid His Way” (1901), “Move Upward” (1902), “Up the Witch Brook Road” (1902), “Donald’s Good Hen; the Nearly True Story of a Real Hen” (1905), “Art and Citizenship” (1907) and “The Dole Twins; or, Child Life in New England in 1807” (1907).

In the early 1900s, she also traveled all over the country lecturing and was heavily involved in the temperance and suffrage movements. While living in New York City, she founded the Brooklyn’s Women’s Republican Club, taught at Columbia University and served as a Wheaton College trustee for 28 years. In 1919, on the 50th anniversary of her graduation from Wheaton College, she received the college’s first honorary degree.

Kate died at the age of 83 in Brooklyn on Feb. 18, 1935 and was buried in Leavitt Cemetery in Charlemont. However, even after her death, she continued to receive awards and accolades. In 1960, Clark Hall on Wheaton’s campus was built and dedicated in her honor. There’s also a Clark Room on the second floor of the school’s main library, which was also named in her honor and is used for reserved reading services.

In the end, if you’re interested in learning more about Clark, you can find copies of her books online through popular retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Many of her works are also now in the public domain and can be read for free through a wide variety of “old book” sites like Google Books and Project Gutenberg.

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