Ruth Sawyer

1880 - 1970

Author & Storyteller


Ruth Sawyer
Many people consider Ruth Sawyer to be the great lady of American storytelling.  She had an ability to take old narratives and infuse them with new life so as to make them accessible to a new generation of listeners.  She was born on August 5, 1880, in Boston, Massachusetts.  Initially, she trained to become a teacher at the Garland Kindergarten Training School.  Her training took her to Cuba where she helped organize kindergartens for orphans of the Spanish-American War.  During her expedition in Cuba, she began collecting and telling stories which eventually secured her a scholarship to Columbia University to study folklore and storytelling.  She graduate from Teachers College in 1904 and became a professional storyteller.  In 1905, she began writing feature articles for the New York Sun which in turn led to more traveling and story collecting.  Then in 1910, she started the New York Public Library's first storytelling program for children.  She married Albert C. Durand in 1911 and her career as a writer began a few years later.  Throughout her life, she continued to write, lecture on storytelling, collect stories, and share her gift for telling stories with the people around her.   Her philosophy of storytelling was passed down to the next generation through her book The Way of the Storyteller.  She died on June 3, 1970.

Photograph from Something About the Author (Commire, 1979, p. 207)

  • Newbery Award, American Library Association, 1937
  • Regina Medal, Catholic Library Association, 1965
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, 1965
  • A Storytelling Festival was held in her honor in May of 1965
Selected Works
  • The Primrose Ring, Harper, 1915
  • A Child's Year-Book, Harper and Brothers, 1917
  • Roller Skates, illustrated by Valenti Angelo, Viking Press, 1936 - Newbery Award Book
  • The Way of the Storyteller, Viking Press, 1942
  • The Christmas Anna Angel, illustrated by Kate Seredy, Viking Press, 1944 - Caldecott Honor Book
  • Maggie Rose: Her Birthday Christmas, illustrated by Maurice Sendak, Harper and brothers, 1952
  • Journey Cake, Ho!, illustrated by Robert McCloskey, Viking Press, 1953 - Caldecott Honor Book
  • Commire, A. (Ed). (1979). Sawyer, Ruth. In Something about the author (Vol. 17, pp. 207-211). Detroit, MI: Gale Research.
  • Greene, E. (1996). Storytelling: Art and technique (3rd ed., pp. 89, 188, 16-18). New Providence, NJ: R. R. Bowker.
  • Helbig, A. K. (1988). Ruth Sawyer. In J. M. Bingham (Ed.), Writers for children (pp. 511-517). New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.

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Last Modified: May 6, 2002