A. D. T. Whitney spent her youth among the privileged classes of New England. Born on September 15, 1824, she was the daughter of Adeline Dutton and Colonel Enoch Train, a successful Boston shipping merchant. In her later works, such as the advice book for girls Friendly Letters to Girl Friends ( 1896), Whitney praised the traditional emphasis of her early education; at the respected girls' school run by George B. Emerson, she and her classmates were purportedly trained to be good daughters, sisters, neighbors, wives, and mothers.
After marrying Seth Whitney, a businessman over fifteen years her senior, Whitney moved to neighboring Milton, Massachusetts, and lived there until her death. She had four children (one died in infancy) and began her writing career only after her children were grown. Whitney's first major publication was Mother Goose for Grown Folks ( 1860), which explores adult lessons within the children's rhymes. According to one biographical essay, after the success of Mother Goose, her publishers urged her to write fiction ( Halsey182); the result was a series of more than twenty novels, most of them aimed at a young, female readership.
Whitney first popular work, Mother Goose for Grown Folks, raises many of the major themes that her later novels explore: In "Little Jack Homer," for example, she pokes fun at the upper classes; "Missions" advises women to focus their energies in the home; and "Humpty Dumpty" considers the ways unmarried, older women might make themselves useful to society.