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Crawford, Isabella Valancy

Main entryCrawford, Isabella Valancy
Birth placeDublin, Ireland
Birth date25 December 1850
Death placeToronto, Ontario
Death date12 February 1887
Birth nameIsabella Crawford
Alternate namesDenis Scott
Marital statussingle
Religious affiliationAnglican
BiographyAccording to Isabella Crawford (1850-1887) she was the sixth in a family of twelve children, few of whom survived to adulthood. Born in Dublin, Isabella appears to have immigrated in 1857 with her family to the village of Paisley in Bruce County, where Dr. Stephen Dennis Crawford (c1814-1875) practiced medicine (with dubious credentials) and his wife, Sydney (c1816-1894), purchased some land. Remaining in this village until 1861, Isabella was exposed to the various native groups in the area as well as receiving a thorough home education in English, Latin, French, and music. Accused of drunkenness, malpractice, and embezzlement, Crawford's father failed to gain a secure living in the area. In 1862 the family attempted to move back to Ireland but were persuaded by two sons of Samuel Strickland (brother of Susanna Moodie* and Catharine Parr Traill*) to move instead to North Douro (later known as Lakefield), where they lodged at a home owned by the Strickland family. Despite her father's continuing misfortunes, including incidents of bungled surgeries, Crawford had the good fortune to encounter the Strickland sisters and the example of their writing. In 1868, she moved with her family once again, this time to Peterborough, where her father's death in July 1875 was followed by that of her sister, Emma Naomi, six months later. While she lived in Peterborough Crawford's first known publications appeared —six stories in the FAVORITE and eleven poems in the TORONTO MAIL. Several fairy tales, found among the Crawford papers at Queen's University, seem to have been written much earlier, although no publication has been determined. Left as the main supporter of her invalid mother, Crawford published in the more lucrative American market from 1875 onward, while also placing some items in the Canadian press. From 1876 to 1887 she and her mother lived in Toronto, most likely to be closer to literary opportunities. Written about ten years earlier, her best narrative poem, "Malcolm's Katie," appeared in 1884 in her self-published volume, OLD SPOOKSES' PASS, MALCOLM'S KATIE, AND OTHER POEMS. Although it garnered favorable reviews and praise from Tennyson, it sold very poorly. Poverty-stricken and in ill health, Isabella died of a heart attack, in February 1887. She was buried at Peterborough's Little Lake Cemetery, at a grave left unmarked until 1900, when the community erected a large cross. Although she may have been planning to publish a second volume of poems, and editors have compiled modern editions of her unpublished materials, her only book to appear during her lifetime was her single volume of poetry. In 1947, she was designated a "Person of National Historical Significance" by the Government of Canada for her literary production.
Honours and awards$600 prize, unknown short story competition; Designated a Person of National Historical Significance (1947)
ResidencesDublin, Ireland (1850-c1857); Paisley, Ontario (1857-1861); Elderslie, Bruce, Ontario (1861); Smith Township, Lakefield (North Douro), Ontario (1862-1869); Peterborough, Ontario (1869-1881); Toronto, Ontario (1876-1887)
Geographic regionsOntario; Ireland
Primary genrespoetry; fairy tales
BooksOLD SPOOKSES' PASS, MALCOLM'S KATIE, AND OTHER POEMS (1884); A LITTLE BACCHANTE (1886), in serial form; THE COLLECTED POEMS, ed. John W. Garvin (1905); ISABELLA VALANCY CRAWFORD, ed. Hale (1923); SELECTED STORIES, ed. Penny Petrone (1975); FAIRY TALES, ed. Penny Petrone (1977); HUGH AND ION, ed. Glenn Clever (1977); THE HALTON BOYS, ed. Frank M. Tierney (1979); MALCOLM'S KATIE: A LOVE STORY, ed. Bentley (1987); COLLECTED SHORT STORIES, ed. Early & Peterman (2006); WINONA, OR THE FOSTER-SISTERS (2006)
Other publicationsAnthologized in: Broadus and Broadus, BOOK OF CANADIAN PROSE AND VERSE (1923); Burpee, FLOWERS FROM A CANADIAN GARDEN (1909); Campbell, OXFORD BOOK OF CANADIAN VERSE (1913); Carman and Pierce, OUR CANADIAN LITERATURE (1934); Caswell, CANADIAN SINGERS AND THEIR SONGS (1902, 1919, 1925); French, STANDARD CANADIAN RECITER (1918); Garvin, CANADIAN POETS (1916; 1926); Garvin, CANADIAN VERSE FOR BOYS AND GIRLS (1930); Garvin, CAP AND BELLS (1936); Gustafson, ANTHOLOGY OF CANADIAN POETRY (1942); Harrison, CANADIAN BIRTHDAY BOOK (1887); Lighthall, CANADIAN POEMS AND LAYS (c1892); Lighthall, SONGS OF THE GREAT DOMINION (1889); Rand, TREASURY OF CANADIAN VERSE (1900); Robins, POCKETFUL OF CANADA (1946); Smith, BOOK OF CANADIAN POETRY (1943); Stedman, A VICTORIAN ANTHOLOGY, 1837-1895 (1895); Stephen, GOLDEN TREASURY OF CANADIAN VERSE (1928); Stephen, VOICES OF CANADA (1926); Wetherall, LATER CANADIAN POEMS (1893); Whyte-Edgar, WREATH OF CANADIAN SONG (1910)
Other artsmusic
Father's nameDr. Stephen Dennis Crawford
Life dates of fatherc1814, Dublin, Ireland - 3 July 1875, Peterborough, Ontario
Father's notePaisley physician; Bruce county coroner; in Dublin, lawyer and surgeon (for East India Company), although records of credentials does not include any proving anything more than minimal coursework in each discipline
Mother's nameSydney Rebecca Scott
Life dates of motherc1816, Dublin, Ireland - 15 March 1894, Toronto, Ontario
Mother's noteInvalid
Biographical referencesDictionary of Literary Biography 92; Farmiloe, ISABELLA VALANCY CRAWFORD: THE LIFE AND THE LEGENDS (Ottawa: Tecumseh, 1983); Galvin, ISABELLA VALANCY CRAWFORD: WE SCARCELY KNEW HER (Toronto: Natural Heritage, 1994); Morgan, TYPES OF CANADIAN WOMEN (1903), p. 64; Garvin, CANADIAN POETS (1916), pp. 33-46; Vick, FROM QUILL TO BALLPOINT (1988); 1861 Census of Canada; 1871 Census of Canada; 1881 Census of Canada; Ontario, Canada, Deaths, 1869-1938 and Deaths Overseas, 1939-1947
Bibliographic referencesWatters, CHECKLIST OF CANADIAN LITERATURE...1620-1960 (1970), p. 51
Research referencescomplete
Archival referencesmanuscripts, Lorne and Edith Pierce collection, Queen's University Archives
Image creditsImage from Edward S. Caswell, ed., Canadian Singers and Their Songs: A Collection of Portraits, Autograph Poems and Brief Biographies, 3rd ed. (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1925).
CopyrightThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) at Please cite Canada's Early Women Writers. SFU Library Digital Collections. Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada. 1980-2014.