On December 22, 1943, English writer, illustrator, and conservationist, Beatrix Potter, died. She is best known for her children’s tales and illustrations. The most notable of these is The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
Potter was born in London in 1866 to a lawyer and a wealthy merchant. Both her parents had artistic talents, which they passed on to their daughter. She was always a very solitary person, even as a child because her only brother was sent to a boarding school as soon as he came of age. She cared for a variety of animals as a child including frogs, rabbits, and bats. Because she spent the majority of her time alone with her animals, she honed the artistic skills she learned from her parents and began to draw her pets. Natural history also became a notable interest of Potter’s, and she would spend several hours drawing things like flowers and fungi.
Her interest in science was something Potter wanted to pursue professionally for a brief period of time. For a while, she worked on developing a theory of spore germination to demonstrate that algae and fungus were of the same family. Her uncle, who was a well-known chemist, tried to help her enroll in the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, but she was rejected for being female.
As Potter grew older, her parents tried to set her up with suitable men to marry, but she rejected all of them and stayed vehemently independent. She had no domestic aspirations because she thought her life would be too uneventful. Instead she stayed single and at home the majority of the time, working on her illustrations and developing them into children’s stories.
While still in her 20s, Potter made several attempts to get her stories published, but was unsuccessful for the most part. Frederick Warne & Company eventually took on Potter as a client. The company did not have high hopes for Potter’s stories, and turned the project over to Norman Warne, their youngest brother. They initially envisioned it to be a test for Norman, but he took on the project with a great amount of passion, and he developed a close relationship with Potter, carefully pouring over every detail of her book. Potter’s first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, was published in 1902 when she was 36, and was very successful. By the end of the year, 28,000 copies of the book had been printed. An excellent business woman, Potter patented a Peter Rabbit doll in 1903 and continued to make a profit from it, adding to her new found wealth.
Norman Warne and Potter developed a close relationship the more they worked together, and were engaged to be married in 1906. Tragically, Norman passed away from leukemia just a few months after the two were engaged.
She was devastated by his death, but made a promise to herself that she would start fresh and be happy again. With her love for nature and animals still very much alive, Potter bought Hill Top farm, in Sawry, Cumbria and continued to live there for the rest of her life. The beginning of her time living here was her most prolific writing period. It was here that she created some of her most popular characters like Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail. She personified them by dressing them in human clothing and having them go through normal trials and tribulations most people experienced at one point or another in their lives.
In 1909, when she set out to buy the nearby Castle Farm, she met her future husband William Heelis, who helped her purchase her new land. She was 47 when they married.
In the following years, her eyesight began to diminish and so did the time she spent writing and creating new illustrations. She spent the majority of her time acquiring new land and raising sheep.
On December 22, 1943, she died due to complications from pneumonia and heart disease. Due to an inheritance she had received from her father and the wealth she made from selling her stories, she bought a large amount of land towards the end of her life. Upon her death, she left over 4,000 acres of land, sixteen farms, cottages and herds of cattle and Herdwick sheep to the National Trust. Her’s was one of the biggest legacies ever made.