Like many prominent nineteenth-century American writers, Constance Fenimore Woolson was born in New England. Unlike many of those writers, however, Woolson left New England when a child and never returned there to make a home. Throughout Woolson's life and within her stories and novels, we can see how profoundly these two facts influenced her: She thought of herself as a New Englander but had no New England home; she traveled widely in the United States and in Europe but always perceived herself as an outsider. The three major relocations in her life, from New England to Cleveland, from Cleveland to the American South, and from the South to Europe, were each driven by the death of family members.
Woolson was born in Claremont, New Hampshire, on March 5, 1840, but within weeks of her birth, three of her five sisters died of scarlet fever. To escape the pain of the losses, her parents moved with their surviving children to rapidly growing Cleveland, Ohio, where Constance attended Miss Hayden's School and the Cleveland Female Seminary before going to New York to finish her education at a fashionable boarding school, Madame Chegaray's, where she graduated at the head of her class in 1858. During the Civil War years and the remainder of the 1860s, she lived with her family in Cleveland and probably developed her writing skills. From this period of her life, she drew her knowledge of Mackinac Island in Lake Michigan and other Great Lakes regions, which became locations for sketches, stories, and novels. She did not publish, however, until after her father's death in 1869.
Woolson's publication history, which is interwoven with her continual relocations and travel, begins in 1870 with the appearance of her first sketches and