Gene Stratton-Porter

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Gene Stratton-Porter
Gene Stratton-Porter.png
Born (1863-08-17)August 17, 1863
Lagro, Wabash County, Indiana
Died December 6, 1924(1924-12-06) (aged 61)
Los Angeles, California
Occupation Naturalist, Author, Photographer
Nationality American
Period 1900–1920
Genre Natural History
Subject Nature

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 had 50 million readers around the world.[1] 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.

Early life and education[edit]

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.[2] 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.[3] Despite not finishing high school, Geneva became an avid reader and lifelong scholar of ecology and wildlife.

Marriage and family[edit]

Limberlost Cabin

Stratton married Charles D. Porter in 1889. Of Scots-Irish descent, he was the son of a doctor and became a pharmacist, with stores in Geneva and Fort Wayne, Indiana.[4] 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.[5] 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.[1][6]


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 The Strike at Shane's which was published anonymously. Her first attributed novel, The Song of the Cardinal, met with great commercial success. Her novels Freckles, A Girl of the Limberlost, and The Harvester are set in the wooded wetlands and swamps of the disappearing central Indiana ecosystems. She knew and loved these, and documented them extensively.[1] Stratton-Porter wrote more than 20 books, both novels and natural history.[5]

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.[1] 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. 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. The lead character, Linda Strong, displays an ugly philosophy regarding Japanese immigrants, portraying them as pawns of the Japanese government, sent here to "steal" an American education, even though highly educated in Japan and far too old for the High School she attends. The Japanese are portrayed as copying American inventions, and the Japanese villan Oka Sayye, goes so far as to try to kill a classmate (Donald Whiting) to prevent being bested in the competition for first place. As encouragement to Donald to study harder, Linda describes a terrifying future where the other races, being only capable of imitating the innovations of the white man, will learn all the white man knows by studying harder, and by breeding at a higher rate, will remove the white man from his superior position in the wold.. Stratton-Porter died in Los Angeles in 1924 when her limousine was struck by a streetcar.[5]

Legacy and honors[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

  • A Girl of the Limberlost was adapted four times for film, first as a silent film in 1924 with Gloria Grey in the title role (produced by Stratton's own company), then again in 1934 starring Louise Dresser, in 1945 with Ruth Nelson, and most recently, a made-for-TV version in 1990 starring Joanna Cassidy.
  • The Keeper of the Bees has been adapted for film three times, first as a silent film in 1925 with Robert Frazer, then starring Neil Hamilton in 1935, and finally in 1947 in an adaptation so loosely based on the original novel that the connection seems to be simply an attempt to use the book's title and the names of the major characters.
  • Catherine Woolley, author of the Ginnie and Geneva series of children's books, may have named her character of "Geneva Porter" after Geneva Stratton-Porter.


Her daughter, Jeannette Stratton-Porter, published sequels to some of her mother's novels, including Freckles Comes Home, 1929

Nature Books[edit]

  • What I Have Done with Birds, 1907
  • Birds of the Bible, 1909
  • Music of the Wild, 1910
  • Moths of the Limberlost, 1912
  • After the Flood, 1912
  • Birds of the Limberlost, 1914
  • Homing with the Birds, 1919
  • Wings, 1923
  • Tales You Won't Believe, 1925[8]

Poetry and Essays[edit]

  • Morning Face, 1916
  • The Fire Bird, 1922
  • Jesus of the Emerald, 1923
  • Let Us Highly Resolve, 1927
  • Field o’ My Dreams: The Poetry of Gene-Stratton Porter, 2007[5]


  1. ^ a b c d "Gene Stratton Porter Cabin", Indiana State Museum, accessed 11 Jan 2010
  2. ^ "Gene Stratton-Porter & her Limberlost swamp", Gene Stratton-Porter Website, accessed 11 Jan 2010
  3. ^
  4. ^ Albert D. Hart, Jr., "Our Folk: Porter Family" Genealogical information, Renderplus, accessed 11 Jan 2010
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Authors: Gene Stratton-Porter", Our Land, Our Literature, Ball State University, accessed 11 Jan 2010
  6. ^ "Gene Stratton Porter State Memorial", Indiana State Parks, accessed 11 Jan 2010
  7. ^ Staff (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  8. ^ "Authors: Gene Stratton Porter", Our Land, Our Literature, Ball State University, accessed 11 Jan 2010

External links[edit]