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Mabel Osgood Wright

Ornithologist, Naturalist
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZC2-6087
Did you know that… ?
  • Mabel’s nature books for children often featured children who could magically speak to plants and animals?
  • Her semi-autobiographical “Barbara” novels revealed her social beliefs, including her dismay at changes occurring in New York society and her believe that women should be submissive to men?
  • In A Woman Errant, Mabel implied that women who sought careers and left the domestic sphere would become bisexual, and could end up killing people (i.e., their sons) if they went into certain careers (i.e., doctor)?
  • Some of Mabel’s “Barbara” novels were groundbreaking in that they unconventionally included diary entries, letters, autobiography, gardening information and social commentary, in addition to narrative?
Plate I, various birds | Birdcraft : A Field Book of Two Hundred Song, Game, and Water Birds, 1895, Biodiversity Heritage Library
  • 1859 Mabel is born in New York City.
  • 1884 She marries James O. Wright and they move to Connecticut.
  • 1895 Mabel’s book, Birdcraft, is published to good reception and is considered a successful field guide.
  • 1897 She collaborates with Elliott Coues to write Citizen Bird: Scenes from Bird-life in Plain English for Beginners, a very successful bird manual.
  • 1898 Mabel is made president of the Audubon Society of the State of Connecticut upon its creation.
  • 1899 She co-edits the Audubon portion of fellow ornithologist’s, Frank M. Chapman’s, Bird-Lore, journal until her death.
  • 1901-1913 She begins publishing a series of semi-autobiographical books, using the pseudonym “Barbara,” and referring to her husband in the books as “Evan;” the first of these is The Garden of a Commuter’s Wife.
  • 1934 Mabel passes away.

Born in New York, Mabel Osgood Wright (1859-1934) grew up near a farm and took vacations at the family summer home in the countryside.  She received home schooling and went to private school.  She fostered her naturalist interests as a child near the farm and at her summer home, observing different aspects of nature.
She moved to Connecticut as an adult and married rare books dealer James O. Wright (whom she referred to as “Evan” in her semi-autobiographical “Barbara” novels).  She was the first president of the Connecticut Audubon Society, a member of the American Ornithologists’ Union and the Connecticut Society of Colonial Dames.
Mabel’s first books were nature books, most of which were for children; adult versions included The Friendship of Nature (1894), Birdcraft (1895), and Flowers and Ferns in Their Haunts (1901).  Mabel’s Birdcraft is a precursor to the modern bird field guide, and was considered very successful by contemporary scientists.  The book included reproductions of prints by John James Audubon, while later printings attribute illustrations to Louis Agassiz Fuertes.  After writing ornithology and nature books, as well as novels, she passed away in 1934.