books · writing

The Disappearance of a Writer: Barbara Newhall Follett

barbara-newhall-follett

Writers often lead strange lives, but sometimes that strangeness means they leave behind mysteries that the world is unable to solve. Barbara Newhall Follett was one such writer. Follett was born in New Hampshire in 1914, published her first novel at age 12 in 1927, and disappeared without a trace at age 25 in 1939.

Follett was a prodigy in every sense of the word. She began writing poetry at age four, and continued to play with words throughout her childhood. She published her first novel, House Without Windows, at age 12, and published her second book, The Voyage of the Norman D., at age 13. Both books were lauded by the press and received write ups in the New York Times.

Then the Great Depression shattered Follett’s world. While her family struggled to make ends meet, Follett went to New York where she worked as a secretary. During these years, she wrote several other manuscripts that were never published in her lifetime. At age 19, Follett married Nickerson Rogers. Though she loved her husband, Follett’s marriage was not a happy one. Rumors of her husband’s infidelity haunted her, and after one particularly terrible row, Follett walked out of their apartment with only the money in her pocket. She was 25 years old, and she was never seen again.

Follett’s disappearance occurred under extremely suspicious circumstances. For one thing, her husband didn’t report that she was missing until two weeks after she had left the house. It also was out of character for her to simply stop contacting her family. Though the police issued a missing persons bulletin, little else was done to find her. Follett’s mother searched for her daughter for years and years, but no one ever discovered her body or found any evidence linked to her disappearance.

Last Known Photo of Barbara Newhall Follett.jpg

As you may have gathered from the plot of my novel When We Go Missing, I’ve been thinking a lot about women who disappear. Though I want to be optimistic about Follett’s fate, it is unlikely that she had a happily ever after. Follett’s mother thought that Nickerson Rogers had either murdered Follett or placed her in an insane asylum under a false name, and she was probably right. Regardless, Follett will always live on through her novels, and they allow us to remember Follett as more than just a woman who disappeared.

—     —     —

You can read more about Barbara Follett at:

Barbara Newhall Follett Papers, 1919-1966, Columbia University Archive Collection.

Stefan Cooke, Barbara Newhall Follett: A Life in Letters, Somerville, MA: Farksolia, 2015.

Image Attribution: All images are from http://www.farksolia.org

 

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30 thoughts on “The Disappearance of a Writer: Barbara Newhall Follett

  1. I think I read about this on Electric Literature a few weeks ago, and I thought the same thing: the likelihood that someone who reportedly loved her family very much would just disappear without a trace and never again make contact with them is fairly low, and it’s far more likely that someone was involved in making her ‘disappear’. But it’s just a crazy story! Shame that she stopped writing too 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think Barbara escaped her failing marriage and assumed a new identity, severing ties with her old friends and family. Cruel, perhaps, but she lived for adventure and was fiercely independent and extraordinarily resourceful for a 25 year-old. She had escaped (New York City 1932), or tried to escape (San Francisco 1929) her current untenable circumstances before. I’m sure you posted this to coincide with the 77th anniversary of Barbara’s vanishing, and I admire your restraint for not mentioning it!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s a shame that things like this happen and what’s worse is that nothing is realized until it’s too late. It obviously sounds like there were a few signs, but it doesn’t seem to be enough. A shame. I hope she had a wonderful life. Maybe she went into witness protection because she knew some dastardly plan, but I understand the realistic side of my mind is not as optimistic. Why is it that the marvelous seem to leave us too young?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What an interesting story and she sound like a brilliant woman. It is sad that they never found her and from watching too many ID discovery shows, her mom can be correct about her husband placing her in an institution. I too am glad you brought this to our attention. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m not sure which fate would be worse: death or the asylum.

    Maybe I will find out in When We Go Missing. My copy arrived today! Now I just have to wait for my mother to mail it from the US to Brazil. Can’t wait to read and review!

    Liked by 1 person

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