Lucy Fitch Perkins (1865-1937) was a successful artist and children’s author who came to Evanston in 1904 with her husband, architect Dwight Perkins. Educated at the art school of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, she also taught drawing at the Pratt Institute in New York. After a long and successful career as an artist and illustrator, Fitch Perkins took up writing at the age of forty-seven and quickly became one of the most popular children’s authors of her day. She was best known for her series of “Twins” books where she documented life around the world and in past times through stories of boy and girl twins. Fitch Perkins was active in many Evanston organizations, including the League of Women Voters and Zonta International.
Lucy Fitch Perkins was an artist, children’s author and social reformer who lived in Evanston from 1904 until 1937, and is credited by publishing authorities as the widest-read writer of children’s books in America. Although Perkins started her career as an artist, she utilized her position in the publishing world to instruct social change to children through her writing. As a child, Perkins showed an early interest in art and was encouraged by her aunt to attend The Museum of Fine Arts School in Boston, Massachusetts. While her parents were reluctant for their daughter to leave the confines of the Puritan values of their family, they agreed and so began a very successful career in the art world. After art school graduation she worked for the Louis Prang Educational Company in Massachusetts, illustrating educational material for approximately one year. She was asked by Walter Scott Perry to assist him with his new job as director of the recently opened Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, a manual arts and engineering school where she taught for four years. Lucy Fitch married Dwight Heald Perkins in 1891 in Massachusetts, and they moved to Chicago shortly afterwards as he embarked on an architectural career with Burnham and Root. Although Perkins admitted it was never her intention to work after she married, her work had become too rewarding for her to give up so she concentrated wholly on art. She did such work as the murals for the dining room of the old Chicago Beach Hotel and for homes of prestigious Chicago residents such as Harold Ickes and Secretary of the Interior in Hubbard Woods. In 1904, the Perkins family, along with their eleven year-old daughter, moved to a home in Evanston designed by Dwight Perkins; after a long battle with serious illness, Dwight resumed his architectural career. With the economic hardships that followed the closing of the Chicago’s World Columbian Exposition behind them, prosperous times lay ahead for the Perkins family and in 1908 their son was born. In 1911, inspired by a gift of a photograph depicting Dutch life, Perkins drew illustrations and made up stories for her four year old son, which attracted the attention of friend Edwin O Grover who encouraged her to turn the collection into a book. It was at this time Perkins’ talents for writing and illustration came together, and the fictional adventures of twin children started a series of books aimed at teaching children an appreciation for customs and cultures of children from other countries. Perkins firmly believed she could teach tolerance and mutual respect to children by appealing to their sympathies and engaging their imagination through fiction, and that despite the melting pot America was becoming, there could be peace among the different nationalities of children within Chicago and Evanston schools. She was deeply affected by the oppressed and depressed nations flocking to American shores and worried how a homogenous national could be made out of such heterogeneous material. She was inspired by the ability of Chicago school teachers who taught many different nationalities of children under one roof and seemed the children would be better fused together if they had an interest and understanding of their best qualities which they brought from their native land to the New World. Through her writing of the Twin series of children’s fiction, Perkins addressed significant issues such as the tremendous importance of land ownership, absentee landlordism, immigration, game preserves and themes of almost an adult nature. However, these gave the reader an appreciation of what was done historically in America to make it the country which attracted many nations to immigrate here, and demonstrated how a cohesive future could be created if cultures and customs were understood and respected. Although immensely private, Lucy Fitch Perkins was a member of the League of Women Voters, the Chicago Woman’s Club, the Midland Authors Club and Zonta International. Her books have been translated into several foreign languages as well as Braille. She died at age seventy-two of coronary thrombosis in her vacation home in Pasadena California.