THE WILDER FAMILY
Thornton Wilder’s family was filled with successful, highly educated and accomplished people. His father, Amos Parker Wilder (1862-1936), was editor and part owner of the Wisconsin State Journal and the United States Consul General to Hong Kong and Shanghai. His mother, Isabella Thornton Niven Wilder (1873-1946), was a cultured, educated woman who instilled a love of literature, drama and languages in her children, and who wrote vivid poetry. Thornton’s older brother, Amos Niven Wilder, was a highly acclaimed professor of New Testament scholarship, an insightful essayist, and a distinguished poet, as well as a tennis champion. Thornton’s sister Charlotte was a professor of English and an award-winning poet. Sister Isabel was the author of three popular novels, a graduate of Yale School of Drama and the curator of Yale University’s theater archive. Thornton’s youngest sister, Janet Wilder Dakin, was a professor of biology, an author, and a noted environmentalist. Indeed, the Wilder family made its mark across generations and in many different fields.
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AMOS NIVEN WILDER (1895-1993), BROTHER
Thornton’s older brother Amos Niven Wilder (1895-1993) received his B.A., B.D., and Ph.D. from Yale and also studied at Oxford, the University of Brussels, and several other schools in Europe. During World War I, he served with the American Field Service (AFS) in France and Macedonia and as a corporal of artillery with the American Expeditionary Forces. He was ordained a Congregational American minister in 1926. Following a pastorate for several years in North Conway, New Hampshire, he went on to a teaching and scholarly career at Hamilton College, Andover Newton Theological School, Chicago Theological School, the University of Chicago, and finally Harvard Divinity School, where he became Hollis Professor of Divinity. Amos Wilder was also a prize-winning poet, literary critic, and nationally-ranked tennis player. At the time of his death, he was the oldest living man who had played on center court at Wimbledon. He married Catharine Kerlin in 1935. They had two children, Catharine Dix and Amos Tappan.
CHARLOTTE WILDER (1898-1980), SISTER
From the Thornton Wilder Society Website
Thornton Wilder’s oldest sister Charlotte Wilder (1898-1980) was a poet who shared the Shelley Memorial Award for Poetry in 1937 with Ben Belitt. She attended high schools in Berkeley, California, and in China, and graduated from Berkeley High School. She received an M.A. degree from Radcliffe, and went on to a teaching career at Wheaton College and Smith College. In 1934, Charlotte moved to New York to devote all her time to writing. In 1941, she suffered a severe nervous breakdown. With the exception of periods in the early 1950s, she remained in institutions the rest of her life.
ISABEL WILDER (1900 – 1995), SISTER
Thornton’s sister Isabel Wilder (1900-1995) attended some thirteen schools by the time she was twenty. As a result she never attended college. She was, however, a member of the first graduating class of the Yale School of Drama (1928) and wrote three successful novels in the 1930s. She never married. Of all the Wilder family members, Isabel was closest to Thornton, remaining his personal agent, spokesperson, hostess and representative in this country and abroad. After 1930, Isabel made her permanent residence with her parents and, following their deaths, with her brother Thornton in the family home in Hamden, Connecticut.
JANET WILDER DAKIN (1910-1994), SISTER
Thornton Wilder’s youngest sister, Janet Wilder (1910-1994), was the only Wilder child born in Berkeley, California. She attended schools in Berkeley and Oxford, England, and was graduated from New Haven High School in Connecticut. She then went to Mount Holyoke College, where she earned her B.A. degree in 1933, magna cum laude; she was also elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She earned an M.A. in biology in 1935, and completed a Ph.D. in zoology at the University of Chicago in 1939. She then returned to Mount Holyoke to teach.
In 1941, Janet Wilder married Winthrop Saltonstall (Toby) Dakin, an attorney and civic leader, and they lived in Amherst, Massachusetts. They had no children, and Janet devoted her energy to conservation issues, equestrians affairs, and animal rights. She wrote a book about raising a Morgan horse. At her death in 1994, she was remembered as “The First Lady of Amherst.”