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Gene Stratton-Porter: the woman

Gene Stratton-Porter (1863 - 1924) was the youngest of 12 children born to Indiana pioneers Mark and Mary Stratton near Lagro, IN. She was a pioneer herself, accomplishing much that women of her time did not. She was a novelist, poet, conservationist, naturalist, entrepreneur, photographer, mother, wife, and started one of the first female-owned movie production companies in Hollywood.

Stratton-Porter published 12 novels, 7 nature studies, and 3 books of poetry in her life, in addition to numerous articles. Stratton-Porter first wrote in secret, without her daughter or husband’s knowledge, for fear of failure. From her letters, we know that she deposited money from her sales in an account without her husband’s knowledge, most likely for her own financial security.

Though by today’s standards her work might seem wholesome, in her day, Stratton-Porter was the object of small-town scrutiny. According to her letters, she was quite aware of how her neighbors felt about her. Unlike some women in her peer group, she enjoyed being out-of-doors. She took her camera gear and a pistol for protection into the dangerous Limberlost Swamp on a regular basis to get pictures of animals, birds, and moths.

After she was successfully published she had new problems with the locals: people would arrive on her doorstep at all hours of the day to meet the famous author and to bring her sick or injured animals

Two houses that were once homes of Stratton-Porter stand today as Indiana Historic Sites; both she had a hand in designing. The first is located in Geneva and was where she lived with her husband Charles Porter (13 years her senior) and her daughter, Jeannette.

After her books sales skyrocketed and the Limberlost Swamp was drained for farmland and oil, Stratton-Porter built her own modest 4000 square foot cabin in Rome City. She paid for the land and construction of the house entirely from her own income. She moved there in 1914, without her husband, who stayed behind in Geneva to tend his businesses.

Stratton-Porter met a tragic end in 1924 in Hollywood, CA. She had moved to California after visiting several years earlier. Stratton-Porter was in the process of building two new residences when her automobile (driven by her chauffeur, as she never learned to drive) was struck by a streetcar. She was thrown from the vehicle and died several hours later at the age of 61.

Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling has named Stratton-Porter as one of her top five most influential writers. By some accounts, if Stratton-Porter were publishing today, she would out-sell Rowling.

This post was previously published on the Pique Fort Wayne blog.

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