Margaret Deland was born Margaretta Wade Campbell in 1857 in rural Pennsylvania. She was orphaned within two weeks; her mother died in childbirth and her father shortly followed. She was thereafter raised by an aunt in Manchester, Pennsylvania, which, in a fictionalized form, became the setting for many of her later works. Her aunt’s charity also had an evident effect on Deland, who made a continued commitment to single mothers, orphans, and disenfranchised women.
A lifelong reader, Deland was sent to boarding school in New York at the age of sixteen. Upon her graduation, she was offered a position the Girls’ Normal School, which would later become Hunter College. She was eventually introduced to the brother of a fellow teacher, Lorin Fuller Deland; the two were married in 1880 and afterward settled in Boston.
Deland, who had written verse since she was a child, had many of her poems printed in greeting cards during this period. In 1885, one of Deland’s poems appeared in Harper’s Monthly, launching her career. Shortly after, she published a collection of her poems, and then a novel entitled John Ward, Preacher, about the conflict of faith between a Calvinist preacher and his wife. Due to its controversial subject matter, the book quickly gained popularity. She would go on to write more than a dozen novels, many set in the fictional town of “Old Chester,” and nearly all of which consider morality, religion, and the issues facing women at the time, including divorce and maternal rights. In addition, she wrote several collections of short stories, some of which are loosely based on her childhood, and a two-part autobiography.
Despite this enormous success, Deland continued to be a charitable figure in the community, taking orphans and unmarried women into her home on Mount Vernon Street, campaigning for Massachusetts libraries, and providing aid in France during World War I, for which she was given a medal the Legion of Honor. Later, she was elected to the National Institute for American Letters. She died in Boston at the age of 88.