Katherine Abbott Sanborn was born in 1839 in Hanover, New Hampshire. Her father, Edwin David Sanborn, was professor of classics at Dartmouth College. Her mother, Mary Webster, was a relative of Daniel Webster. Sanborn did not attend school, but was educated at home. In Memoirs and Anecdotes, she wrote of an intellectually rich childhood in which she was exposed to the politicians, academics, and writers who visited her father.
After starting a day school for faculty children, Kate Sanborn continued her teaching career at Mary Institute in St Louis, Mo. when her father became president of Washington University, and later at the Packer Institute in Brooklyn, New York. She was also a newspaper and magazine correspondent who reviewed books for Scribner’s Magazine. In 1880, she was invited to teach English literature at Smith College. She left Smith in 1883.
A popular lecturer who became known for presenting literary topics in a humorous, entertaining manner, Sanborn traveled extensively throughout the country on speaking tours. In 1885, she wrote The Wit of Women, a collection of anecdotes and commentary that examined how women’s humor was shaped by social attitudes. She also edited several illustrated collections of verse and published the Sunshine Calendar series, a set of small calendar books featuring quotes from famous Americans. She designed and wrote a series of study guides to literature that were published by James R. Osgood and Co. of Boston as the “Round Table Series of English Literature. The set of 25 study packets ranges from ancient Celtic literature to Alfred Lord Tennyson and includes essay topics, quick reference material and special readings.
In 1888, Sanborn bought a dilapidated farm in Metcalf, (Holliston) Massachusetts, 25 miles from Boston. She wrote of her experiences and misadventures as a novice farm manager in Adopting an Abandoned Farm. Other farming books followed. She later wrote of selling that farm and moving to a nearby farm, Breezy Meadows, in Abandoning an Adopted Farm. Breezy Meadows, the setting of several light depictions of farm life, was Sanborn’s home until her death at 78 in 1917.
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