Dorothy Choate Herriman

Image from John. W. Garvin, ed., CANADIAN POETS (2nd ed., Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1926).

Dorothy Choate Herriman (1901-1978) was born in Lindsay on 1 September 1901 to Nellie J. Williams and Dr. William Choate Herriman. She was an only child.

Her father, William Choate Herriman was a third generation doctor. His father, Weston Leroy Herriman, uncle, Elbridge Albert Herriman, and grandfather, Luther Herriman practiced in the Port Hope area.

Just days before the birth of Dorothy, her great-uncle was killed when his horse backed the rig over a bridge and fell on him. (Watchman Warder, 29 August 1901.) Asa Choate was the brother of Mary Augusta (Choate) Herriman, wife of Dr. Weston Leroy Herriman. His death notice appeared alongside Dorothy’s birth notice in the Lindsay Weekly Post.

Weston. L. Herriman was a member of Lindsay’s town council and an incorporating member of the Children’s Aid Society in Lindsay in 1895 and served as its first secretary. He was instrumental in the creation of the medical program at Queen’s University.

Weston Leroy Herriman and Elbridge Albert Herriman, brothers, went to the Washington, D. C. area and served as surgeons in the American Civil war. When they returned, they set up practices side-by-side on Cambridge Street North across from the Baptist church at what is now 35 Cambridge Street North.

Lindsay Past and Present: souvenir of old home week, 1924. Courtesy of Kawartha Lakes Museum & Archives.

Around 1903, Elbridge left Lindsay and went to the U. S. At that time, Elbridge’s son, Wilfred D. took ownership of the house next door to Weston Leroy. Wilfred was also a practicing physician at this location for a few years, before he followed his father to the U.S.

Weston Leroy remained in Lindsay, and at one point owned both houses, until 7 October 1908 when he passed away at his home. His funeral was held at the home in Lindsay with interment in Port Hope.

Lindsay Weekly Post, 6 September 1901.

The Choate family was one of the pioneer families to Lindsay. Aaron, Jacob, Nathan and Thomas Choate were original patentees in the former Mariposa township.

All of this is to show that Dorothy Choate Herriman has long roots in Kawartha Lakes, even if she was only born here because of her grandmother’s brother’s death.

At the time of her birth, Dorothy’s parents were living in Kingston, where her father was a physician, a pioneer of psychiatry. He became assistant superintendent for the Toronto Hospital for the Insane before he was appointed Chief of Medical Staff at the Orillia Institution.

Dorothy attended school in both Orillia and Toronto, including the Ontario College of Art.

Her relationship with her mother was strained, but amicable with her father.

Her father believed in literature therapy, advising his patients to read. He shared his substantial library with his daughter, and encouraged her to write.

In 1926, at the age of twenty-five, Herriman became the youngest contributor to the revised edition of John Garvin’s influential anthology Canadian Poets. Garvin himself praised her as a ‘genuine talent’ from whom ‘we may expect much good verse in the future.’

Albert Braz. The Small Details of Life. 2002.

And yet, Dorothy published only one volume of poetry, Mater Silva, which she illustrated herself.

The volume was positively praised by tough critic, William Arthur Deacon (another Kawartha Lakes writer). In his letter to her in 1929, he said Mater Silva took her out of the “junior ranks.”

Dorothy was an active member of the Canadian Authors’ Association and served a term as secretary.

From 1926 to 1944, she filled eleven volumes of her diaries. But she never published another book.

I still mistrust myself and fling barbed words that tear, sharp words that sting. Better to cower beneath a glancing shield? be like a tortoise in himself concealed? Not yet for me the all defenseless, meek and humble spirit of the martyr who turns the other cheek.

Dorothy Choate Herriman. Diary entry for 29 December 1932. The Small Details of Life. 2002.

Dorothy never married or had children. She passed away in 1978. She was buried in Port Hope. Her fonds are in the custody of Trent University, having been donated there by Dorothy’s friend.


Windsor Magazine (July and August 1925)

Canadian Poets (1926)

Canadian Verse for Boys and Girls (1930)

Voices for Victory (1941)

Mater Silva (1929)

Further Reading:

“Dorothy Choate Herriman (1901-1978).” Albert Braz. The Small Details of Life: 20 diaries by women in Canada, 1830-1996. Ed. Kathryn Carter. (2002)

Lindsay Voters Lists, courtesy Kawartha Lakes Public Library

Weston Leroy Herriman’s obituary, Lindsay Post, 16 October 1908.

Canada’s Early Women Writers:

Dorothy Choate Herriman Fonds at Trent University:

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