Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Women writers of the West

It’s great to see women writers setting their stories in the Old West, and I am pleased that so many are being recognized for their contributions to the genre. I have mentioned a few here at BITS—Carol Buchanan, Jane Candia Coleman, and Julia Robb to name three—and have many more to acknowledge.

Women writing about the West is not something new, however. One-third of early western writers (1880-1915) were women, and their novels and stories range across all manner of subjects. Here’s a list of writers with titles of their first published fiction. 

  1. Mary Hallock Foote, The Led-Horse Claim (1883)
  2. Helen Hunt Jackson, Ramona (1884)
  3. Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton, The Squatter and the Don (1885)
  4. Emma Ghent Curtis, The Fate of a Fool (1888)
  5. Patience Stapleton, Babe Murphy (1890)
  6. Marah Ellis Ryan, Told in the Hills (1890)
  7. Emma Homan Thayer, The English American (1890)
  8. Mollie Davis, The Wire-Cutters (1899)
  9. Florence Finch Kelly, With Hoops of Steel (1900)
  10. Mary Etta Stickney, Brown of Lost River (1900)
  11. Gwendolen Overton, The Heritage of Unrest (1901)
  12. Frances McElrath, The Rustler (1902)
  13. Elizabeth Higgins, Out of the West (1902)
  14. Mary Maclane, The Story of Mary MacLane (1902)
  15. Frances Charles, In the Country God Forgot (1902)
  16. Pauline Bradford Mackie Hopkins, The Voice in the Desert (1903)
  17. Grace MacGowan Cooke and Alice MacGowan, Huldah (1904); also called Aunt Huldah in other editions
  18. Marie Manning, Judith of the Plains (1904)
  19. Mary Austin, Isidro (1905)
  20. B. M. Bower, Chip of the Flying U (1906)
  21. A. B. Ward (Alice Ward Bailey), The Sage Brush Parson (1906)
  22. Marguerite Merington, Scarlett of the Mounted (1906)
  23. Eleanor Gates, Alec Lloyd, Cowpuncher (1907)
  24. Hattie Horner Louthan, This Was a Man (1907)
  25. Kate Boyles, Langford of the Three Bars (1907); co-author, Virgil D. Boyles
  26. Nancy Mann Waddell Woodrow, The New Missioner (1907)
  27. Adeline Knapp, The Well in the Desert (1908)
  28. Ada Woodruff Anderson, The Heart of the Red Firs (1908)
  29. Pauline Wilson Worth, Death Valley Slim (stories) (1909)
  30. Elaine Goodale Eastman, Wigwam Evenings (1909); co-author, Charles A. Eastman
  31. Alice Harriman, A Man of Two Countries (1910)
  32. Agnes Laut, The Freebooters of the Wilderness (1910)
  33. Caroline Lockhart, Me—Smith (1911)
  34. Dell Munger, The Wind Before the Dawn (1912)
  35. Effie Graham, The Passin’-On Party (1912)
  36. Vingie Roe, The Heart of Night Wind (1913)
  37. Honoré Willsie Morrow, The Heart of the Desert (1913)
  38. Willa Cather, O Pioneers! (1913)
  39. Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil (1914)
  40. Marion Reid-Girardot, Steve of the Bar-G (1915)
Most of these books have been reviewed here and are available free online at google books and Internet Archive or for kindle and the nook.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Coming up: Ada Woodruff Anderson, The Heart of the Red Firs (1908)


  1. Great list. Many on here I need to explore, although I have read some.

  2. That is an amazing statistic. I guess romance out west or family life out west. accounted for a lot of these. But maybe I am wrong in that assumption

    1. Patti, when the central characters are women, they are typically young, unmarried, and independent. Romance may figure into the plot, but that was pretty much common among all the western writers of the time. It may help to think of them as writing mainstream popular fiction, with the themes and ideas you'd find anywhere but given a western setting.

  3. Wow, that's quite a list and to think they're available electronically for free

  4. Ron, this is really some list, thank you. I'm familiar with some of these women writers, like Marah Ellis Ryan, B.M. Bower, Gertrude Atherton and Helen Hunt Jackson, though I'm not sure I have read any of their western stories or novels. I have come across and even read a couple of mining camp stories in the backdrop of the Old West as well as heroic tales about life on the Frontier.

  5. A truly remarkable list. I've forwarded it to my English professor wife, who is interested in this.

  6. You know, another female author who touched on Western settings was, somewhat surprisingly, Lucy Maud Montgomery. Her novels were mostly set on Prince Edward Island. But I've been reading her short fiction, and she frequently mentions characters going out west to settle or work on a ranch on the Canadian prairie. She actually set a few short stories out there—a romance on a RCMP post, and a couple Christmas stories about homesteading families.