Gene Stratton Porter



Gene Stratton-Porter (August 17, 1863 – December 6, 1924) was an American author, amateur naturalist, wildlife photographer, and one of the earliest women to form a movie studio and production company. She wrote some best-selling novels and well-received columns in national magazines, such as McCalls. Her works were translated into several languages, including Braille, and Stratton-Porter was estimated to have 50 million readers around the world. She used her position and income as a well-known author to support conservation of Limberlost Swamp and other wetlands in the state of Indiana. Her novel A Girl of the Limberlost was adapted four times as a film, most recently in 1990 in a made-for-TV version.

She was born Geneva Grace Stratton in Wabash County, Indiana near Lagro. She was the twelfth and last child born to Mary and Mark Stratton. Stratton-Porter's novel Laddie corresponds in many particulars with her early life, and several details from the novel suggest that it is semi-autobiographical in nature. For example, the narrative takes place in the first person, with the story being related by the twelfth child of the "Stanton" family. The name of the beloved older brother (title character) "Laddie" is identical with Stratton-Porter's own treasured brother who died in an accident when she was young. As in Stratton-Porter's own family, the novelized Laddie is connected with the land and identifies with their father's vocation. Like the author, "Little Sister" (the unnamed narrator) has an affinity for the outdoors and wildlife, as well as her ill-suitedness for the confines of the traditional educational institutions. Despite not finishing high school, Geneva became an avid reader and lifelong scholar of ecology and wildlife.

Stratton married Charles D. Porter in 1886. Of Scots-Irish descent, he was the son of a doctor and became a pharmacist, with stores in Geneva and Fort Wayne, Indiana. They had one daughter, Jeannette.

After several years, the Porters built a large home near Geneva. The Queen Anne-style rustic home, which they named "Limberlost", was later designated the "Limberlost State Historic Site" in honor of Stratton-Porter. From here Stratton-Porter spent much time exploring the nearby Limberlost Swamp, where she set two of her most popular novels and many of her works of natural history.

Because the swamp was being drained and developed, in 1913 the Porters moved. They built a second house, the "Cabin in Wildflower Woods", on a 150-acre (0.61 km2) property near Rome City, Indiana, where Stratton-Porter planted 90 percent of the flowers. Designated the "Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site", the cabin and 20 acres (81,000 m2) of her original property are part of a 120-acre (0.49 km2) historic site.

In addition to writing works of natural history, Stratton-Porter became a wildlife photographer, specializing in the birds and moths in the Limberlost Swamp, one of the last of the wetlands of the lower Great Lakes Basin. The Limberlost and Wildflower Woods of northeastern Indiana were the laboratory for her studies and inspiration for her stories, novels, essays, photography, and movies.

There is evidence that Stratton-Porter's first book was Strike at Shane's (a sequel to Black Beauty), which was published anonymously. Her first attributed novel, The Song of the Cardinal, met with great commercial success. Her novels Freckles and A Girl of the Limberlost are set in the wooded wetlands and swamps of the disappearing central Indiana ecosystems. She knew and loved these, and documented them extensively.[ Stratton-Porter wrote more than 20 books, both novels and natural history.

Although Stratton-Porter wanted to focus on nature books, it was her romantic novels that gained her fame and revenue. These generated the income that allowed her to pursue her nature studies. She was estimated to have more than 50 million readers, as her novels were translated into several languages, as well as Braille. She was an accomplished author, artist and photographer.

One of Stratton-Porter's last novels, Her Father's Daughter (1921), was set outside Los Angeles, California. She had moved about 1920 for health reasons and to expand her business ventures into the movie industry. This novel presented a unique window into Stratton-Porter's feelings about World War I-era racism and nativism, especially relating to immigrants of Asian descent. Stratton-Porter died in Los Angeles in 1924 when her limousine was struck by a streetcar.