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Alice Jane Chandler McKinney (Webster)

Birthdate: (39)
Death: June 11, 1916 (39)
New York, New York, United States (complications from childbirth)
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Charles Luther Webster and Annie Webster
Wife of Glenn Ford McKinney and Glenn McKinney
Mother of Jean Webster McKinney
Sister of William Luther Webster and Samuel Charles Webster

Occupation: Author
Managed by: Karen Richardson
Last Updated:

About Jean Webster

Jean Webster: Humanitarian/ Author

A Woman Whose Words Should Not Be Forgotten

Jun 19, 2007 Melissa Howard

Jean Webster is an important American author. Not only for the lasting success of two of her books but also for her humanitarian efforts.

Jean Webster is most well known for her books Daddy-Long-Legs and Dear Enemy. The well-loved Daddy-Long-Legs has been translated into eighteen languages. Despite the popularity of these two books and her blue-blood literary lineage, her other works and even her biography have nearly vanished from the record.

Jean Webster was born July 24, 1876 to Annie Moffet Webster and Charles Luther Webster and was named Alice Jane Chandler Webster. Her family’s artistic and leadership heritage was valuable. Her uncle was Samuel Clemens. In addition to the prestige of her Uncle, Jean’s father was an author and a partner in Clemens’ publishing firm. Among other notable ancestors, Jean also counted Daniel Boone and Eli Whitney. When she went to college, she had a roommate with the name Alice and was asked to take her middle name. She complied and took the opportunity to update what seemed to her the old-fashioned name Jane to Jean.

She attended Vassar College where she did well. However, she was a terrible speller and when asked by a teacher “On what authority do you spell thus?” she replied by mocking her last name. “Webster,” she said even though she was not related to the Websters of dictionary fame. While at college, she majored in English and economics and prepared for a literary career. As part of her economics degree she visited homes for delinquent and destitute children, which became background material for her later writing. She had a vivid imagination and one time allowed her imagination full reign while working on a newspaper article and nearly lost her job over it.

After college, Jean wholly pursued her goal of being an independent writer. She compiled and published a collection of stories that she wrote while in college. The collection was titled When Patty Went to College. Jean had a wandering spirit and traveled often. While in Italy she found material for her books Jerry Junior and The Wheat Princess.

She was a hard worker and the quality of her writing had as much to do with her work ethic as any inherent genius. She would write volumes and then begin the arduous process of cutting, editing, and pruning. Daddy-Long-Legs was published in 1912, and was a critical and popular success. As a result, she converted the story to a play, which was also successful. The success of the play was used to promote charitable works and reform. The importance of the book and play in this regard cannot be underestimated as Daddy-Long-Leg dolls were sold to raise money so that suitable families could adopt orphans.

Read more at Suite101: Jean Webster: Humanitarian/ Author: A Woman Whose Words Should Not Be Forgotten


Jean Webster (pseudonym for Alice Jane Chandler Webster, July 24, 1876 – June 11, 1916) was an American writer and author of many books including Daddy-Long-Legs and Dear Enemy. Her best-known books feature lively and likeable young female protagonists who come of age intellectually, morally, and socially, but with enough humor, snappy dialogue, and gently biting social commentary to make her books palatable and enjoyable to contemporary readers.


Alice Jane Chandler Webster was born in Fredonia, New York. She was the eldest child of Annie Moffet Webster and Charles Luther Webster. She lived her early childhood in a strongly matriarchal and activist setting, with her great-grandmother, grandmother and mother all living under the same roof. Her great-grandmother worked on temperance issues and her grandmother on racial equality and women's suffrage.

Alice's mother was niece to Mark Twain, and her father was Twain's business manager and subsequently publisher of many of his books by Charles L. Webster Publishing, founded in 1884. Initially the business was successful, and when Alice was five the family moved to a large brownstone in New York, with a summer house in Long Island. However, the publishing company ran into difficulties, and increasingly the relationship with Mark Twain broke down. In 1888, her father had a breakdown and took a leave of absence, and the family moved back to Fredonia. He subsequently committed suicide in 1891 from a drug overdose.

Alice attended the Fredonia Normal School and graduated in 1894 in china painting. From 1894 to 1896, she attended the Lady Jane Grey School in Binghamton as a boarder. During her time there, the school taught academics, music, art, letter-writing, diction and manners to about 20 girls. The Lady Jane Grey School inspired many of the details of the school in Webster's novel Just Patty, including the layout of the school, the names of rooms (Sky Parlour, Paradise Alley), uniforms, and the girls' daily schedule and teachers. It was at the school that Alice became known as Jean. Since her roommate was also called Alice, the school asked if she could use another name. She chose "Jean", a variation on her middle name. Jean graduated from the school in June 1896 and returned to the Fredonia Normal School for a year in the college division.

College years

In 1897, Webster entered Vassar College as a member of the class of 1901. Majoring in English and economics, she took a course in welfare and penal reform and became interested in social issues. As part of her course she visited institutions for "delinquent and destitute children". She became involved in the College Settlement House that served poorer communities in New York, an interest she would maintain throughout her life. Her experiences at Vassar provided material for her books When Patty Went to College and Daddy-Long-Legs. Webster began a close friendship with the future poet Adelaide Crapsey who remained as her friend until Crapsey's death in 1914.

She participated with Crapsey in many extracurricular activities, including writing, drama, and politics. Webster and Crapsey supported the socialist candidate Eugene V. Debs during the 1900 presidential election, although as women they were not allowed to vote. She was a contributor of stories to the Vassar Miscellany and as part of her sophomore year English class, began writing a weekly column of Vassar news and stories for the Poughkeepsie Sunday Courier. Webster reported that she was "a shark in English" but her spelling was reportedly quite eccentric, and when a horrified teacher asked her authority for a spelling error, she replied "Webster", a play on name of the dictionary of the same name.

Webster spent a semester in her junior year in Europe, visiting France and the United Kingdom, but with Italy as her main destination, including visits to Rome, Naples, Venice and Florence. She traveled with two fellow Vassar students, and in Paris met Ethelyn McKinney and Lena Weinstein, also Americans, who were to become lifelong friends. While in Italy, Webster researched her senior economics thesis "Pauperism in Italy". She also wrote columns about her travels for the Poughkeepsie Sunday Courier, and gathered material for a short story, "Villa Gianini", which was published in the Vassar Miscellany in 1901. She later expanded it into a novel, The Wheat Princess. Returning to Vassar for her senior year, she was literary editor for her class yearbook, and graduated in June 1901.

Adult years

Back in Fredonia, Webster began writing When Patty Went to College, in which she described contemporary women's college life. After some struggles finding a publisher, it was issued in March 1903 to good reviews. Webster started writing the short stories that would make up Much Ado about Peter, and with her mother visited Italy for the winter of 1903–4 including a 6-week stay in a convent in Palestrina, while she wrote the Wheat Princess. It was subsequently published in 1905.

The following years brought a further trip to Italy and an eight month world tour to Egypt, India, Burma, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Hong Kong, China and Japan with Ethelyn McKinney, Lena Weinstein and two others, as well as the publication of Jerry Junior in 1907 and The Four Pools Mystery in 1908.

An increasing intimacy and a secret engagement developed between Webster and Ethelyn McKinney's brother, Glenn Ford McKinney. A lawyer, he had struggled to live up to the expectations of his wealthy and successful father. Mirroring a subplot of Dear Enemy, he had an unhappy marriage to an unstable woman, Annette Reynaud, who was frequently hospitalized for manic-depressive episodes. The McKinneys had a child, John, who also showed signs of mental instability. McKinney responded to these stresses with frequent escapes on hunting and yachting trips as well as alcohol abuse. He entered sanatoriums on several occasions as a result. The McKinneys separated in 1909, but in an era when divorce was uncommon and difficult to obtain, were not divorced until 1915. After his separation, McKinney continued to struggle with alcoholism, but had his addiction under control in the summer of 1912, when he traveled with Webster, Ethelyn McKinney and Lena Weinstein to Ireland.

During this period, Webster continued to write short stories and began adapting some of her books for the stage. In 1911, Just Patty was published, and Webster began writing the novel Daddy-Long-Legs while staying at an old farmhouse in Tyringham, Massachusetts. Webster's most famous work was originally published as a serial in the Ladies' Home Journal and tells the story of a girl named Jerusha Abbott, an orphan whose attendance at a women's college is sponsored by an anonymous benefactor. Apart from an introductory chapter, the novel takes the form of letters written by the newly-styled Judy to her benefactor. It was published in October 1912 to popular and critical acclaim.

Webster dramatized Daddy-Long-Legs during 1913, and in 1914 spent four months on tour with the play, which starred a young Ruth Chatterton as Judy. After tryouts in Atlantic City, Washington, Syracuse, Rochester, Indianapolis, and Chicago, the play opened at the Gaiety Theatre in New York City in September 1914 and ran until May 1915. It subsequently toured widely throughout the US. The book and play became a focus for efforts for charitable work and reform. "Daddy-Long-Legs" dolls were sold to raise money to fund the adoption of orphans into families.

Webster's success was overshadowed by her college friend Adelaide Crapsey's battle with tuberculosis, leading to Crapsey's death in October 1914. In June 1915, Glenn Ford McKinney was granted a divorce, and he and Webster were married in a quiet ceremony in September in Washington, Connecticut. They honeymooned at McKinney's camp near Quebec City, Canada, and were visited by former president Theodore Roosevelt, who invited himself, saying "I've always wanted to meet Jean Webster. We can put up a partition in the cabin."

Returning to the US, the newlyweds shared Webster's apartment overlooking Central Park and McKinney's Tymor farm, in Dutchess County, New York. In November 1915, Dear Enemy, a sequel to Daddy-Long-Legs, was published, and it too proved to be a bestseller. Also epistolary in form, it chronicles the adventures of a college friend of Judy's who becomes the superintendent of the orphanage in which Judy was raised. Webster became pregnant and according to family tradition, was warned that her pregnancy might be dangerous. She suffered severely from morning sickness, but by February 1916 was feeling better and was able to return to her many activities: social events, prison visits, and meetings about orphanage reform and women's suffrage. She also began a book and play set in Sri Lanka. Her friends reported that they had never seen her happier.


Jean Webster entered the Sloan Hospital for Women, New York on the afternoon of June 10, 1916. Glenn McKinney, recalled from his twenty-fifth reunion at Princeton University, arrived ninety minutes before Webster gave birth at 10:30 p.m to a six-and-a-quarter-pound daughter. All was well initially, but Jean Webster became ill and died of childbirth fever at 7:30 am on June 11, 1916. Her daughter was named Jean (Little Jean) in her honor.


Jean Webster was active political and socially, and often included issues of interest in her books.

Women's issues

Jean Webster supported women's suffrage and education for women. She participated in marches in support of votes for women, and having benefited from her education at Vassar, she remained actively involved with the college. Her novels also promoted the idea of education for women, and her major characters explicitly supported women's suffrage.

Eugenics and heredity

The eugenics movement was a hot-topic when Jean Webster was writing her novels. In particular, Richard L. Dugdale's 1877 book about the Juke family as well as Henry Goddard's 1912 study of the Kallikak family were widely read at the time. Webster's Dear Enemy mentions and summarizes the books approvingly, to some degree, although her protagonist, Sallie McBride, ultimately declares that she doesn't "believe that there's one thing in heredity," provided children are raised in a nurturing environment. Nevertheless, eugenics as an idea of 'scientific truth'— generally accepted by the intelligentsia of the time— does come through in the novel.

Institutional reform

From her college years, Webster was involved in reform movements, and was a member of the State Charities Aid association, including visiting orphanages, fundraising for dependent children and arranging for adoptions. In Dear Enemy she names as a model the Pleasantville Cottage School, a cottage-based orphanage that Webster had visited.


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Jean Webster's Timeline

June 24, 1876

Alice Jane WEBSTER daut of Chas. L. & Annie M. WEBSTER at Fredonia Chaut. Co. N.Y. July 24th 1876 at 6 p. m.

June 10, 1916
Age 39
New York, NY, United States

Jean WEBSTER McKINNEY, daughter of Glynn Ford McKINNEY and Jean WEBSTER McKINNEY in New York June 10th, 1916.

June 11, 1916
Age 39
New York, New York, United States
June 1916
Age 39