Gene Stratton-Porter

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Gene Stratton-Porter
GSP Portrait 01 - Front 4X6.jpg
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), born Geneva Grace Stratton, was an American author, early naturalist, nature photographer. 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. She wrote several best-selling novels and well-received columns in national magazines, such as McCall's. Her works were translated into several languages, including Braille, and Stratton-Porter was estimated to have had 50 million readers around the world.[1] Her novel, A Girl of the Limberlost, was adapted four times as a film.

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] They had a farm. Early on, her family shortened her name to Geneve, and she later shortened it further to Gene.

Despite not finishing high school, Stratton became an avid reader and a lifelong scholar of ecology and wildlife.

One of Gene Stratton-Porter's early nature photographs. Owls were one of her favorite birds to study and photograph.

Adult life[edit]

Gene's Cabin at Wildflower Woods, also called Limberlost North, is now the Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site. Located on Sylvan Lake in Rome City, Noble County, Indiana.

Stratton married Charles Dorwin 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.[3] They had one daughter, Jeannette, born in 1887.

To be closer to his businesses, the Porters built a large home in Geneva. They named the Queen Anne-style rustic home as "Limberlost Cabin," after the nearby swamp where Stratton-Porter liked to explore.[4]

She also spent much time photographing in the Limberlost Swamp. She set two of her most popular novels here, and it was the subject of many of her works of natural history. She became known as "The Bird Lady" and "The Lady of the Limberlost" to friends and readers.[5]

Between 1888 and 1910, local farmers encouraged agricultural development by draining the wetlands using a steam-powered dredge. The "reclaimed" area was cultivated as farmland from 1910 to 1992. Because its habitat had been disrupted, it frequently flooded, destroying crops along with the flora and fauna documented in Stratton-Porter's books.

In 1992, the marshland was purchased by five cooperating foundation and organizations. They renamed this section as the Loblolly Wetlands and began work to restore the land and habitat.[6]

After the Limberlost Swamp was developed, Stratton-Porter sought new inspiration. In 1912, she used profits from her best-selling novels to purchase 120 acres on Sylvan Lake in Rome City (Noble County), Indiana. She constructed her beloved "Cabin at Wildflower Woods," which she also called "Limberlost North".

Legacy and honors[edit]

  • Her first house, known as Limberlost Cabin, was later acquired by the state and designated the "Limberlost State Historic Site" in honor of Stratton-Porter. It is operated as a house museum.[4]
  • Limberlost North and the surrounding 150 acres have been designated as the "Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site" and are open to the public. In addition to Gene's Cabin, guests can explore the one-acre formal garden, hike trails through woods, and explore a newly restored 99-acre wetland and prairie (under construction as of 12/1/15).[7] The Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site is supported by the Gene Stratton-Porter Memorial Society, Inc.

After battling serious illnesses around 1919, Stratton-Porter began spending winters in Los Angeles, California. The more temperate climate (both environmentally and socially) appealed to her. Once there, she found that she was dissatisfied with the adaptation of her novels by movie studios and wanted more control of the work. She founded Gene Stratton-Porter Productions, Inc., one of the first female-owned studios, and developed her own film versions.

With increased business dealings, and enjoying the company of many writers, artists, sculptors and musicians, Stratton-Porter moved to California permanently in 1923. She maintained her home at Rome City, but she and her husband Charles had long since sold the Limberlost Cabin in Geneva. She owned homes in Los Angeles, built a workshop on Catalina Island, and was constructing a mansion in Bel-Air at the time of her death in 1924.

Stratton-Porter died after a streetcar hit her car while she was driving through Los Angeles to visit her brother, Jerome. She was 61 years old.


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 Swamp and Cabin at Wildflower Woods of Northeastern Indiana were the laboratories 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 (1905), met with great commercial success. Her novels Freckles, A Girl of the Limberlost, and The Harvester are set in the historic wooded wetlands and swamps of the 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.[4]

Stratton-Porter's novel, Laddie: A True Blue Story (1913), has many elements corresponding to particulars of her early life. The author described it as her most autobiographical novel. The narrative is told in the first person, with the story related by the twelfth child of the "Stanton" family, looking back as an adult. The name of the beloved older brother, (title character) "Laddie," is identical to Stratton-Porter's own cherished brother. He died in an accident when she was young. As in Stratton-Porter's own family, Laddie is connected with the land and identifies with their father's vocation.[8]

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 villain 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 world.

It is important to note that Gene Stratton-Porter incorporated every day occurrences and acquaintances into her works of fiction. Many of her works delve into difficult subject matter that was timely, and her writing reflected sentiments of the day which were not necessarily her own beliefs.

She was one of the first women to form a movie studio and production company, Gene Stratton-Porter Productions, Inc.

Legacy and honors[edit]

  • Adirondack Forest Service dedicated a memorial grove of 10,000 white pine trees at Tongue Mountain on Lake George, New York, 1924.
  • Stratton-Porter's two residences, "Limberlost Cabin", a large cabin in Geneva, Indiana, and the "Cabin at Wildflower Woods" in Rome City, Indiana, were each designated Indiana State Historic Sites, 1946, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[9] They are operated by the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites Corporation as house museums.[4]
  • A building on the campus of the Purdue University Calumet campus, built initially as a gradeschool in 1949,[10] bears her name.[11]
  • Gene was inducted into the Indiana Natural Resources Foundation's Hall of Fame (inaugural class) as an early conservationist in 2009.[12]
  • In 2015, Gene was inducted into the Wabash High School's Hall of Distinction for her contributions to literature, ecology and photography.

Film adaptations of her works[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.
  • Her granddaughter Gene Stratton Monroe starred in the 1925 version of The Keeper of the Bees as Little Scout. Gene had given the nickname of Little Scout to granddaughter Gene while her sister Jeannette was nicknamed Morning Face.[13]


Nature books[edit]

  • What I Have Done with Birds, 1907
  • Birds of the Bible, 1909
  • Music of the Wild, 1910
  • After the Flood, 1911
  • Moths of the Limberlost, 1912
  • Birds of the Limberlost, 1914
  • Friends in Feathers, 1917
  • Homing with the Birds, 1919
  • Wings, 1923
  • Tales You Won't Believe, 1925[14]

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[4]


  1. ^ a b c "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. ^ Albert D. Hart, Jr., "Our Folk: Porter Family" Genealogical information, Renderplus, accessed 11 Jan 2010
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Authors: Gene Stratton-Porter", Our Land, Our Literature, Ball State University, accessed 11 Jan 2010
  5. ^ Gaither, Mary E. (1988). Introduction. Laddie, A True Blue Story. By Stratton-Porter, Gene. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. pp. ix. ISBN 9780253331137. 
  6. ^ "Loblolly Marsh Preserve" (PDF). Retrieved May 15, 2016. 
  7. ^ "Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site Rome City, Indiana". Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site Rome City, Indiana. Retrieved 2015-11-28. 
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  10. ^ BIESEN, ROBIN. "History helps dedicate PUC building of". Retrieved 2016-08-17. 
  11. ^ "Facilities Services, 1950-2002 | Archive Repository". Retrieved 2015-11-29. 
  12. ^ "Indiana Natural Resources Foundation". Retrieved 2015-11-29. 
  13. ^ "The Indiana Historian" (PDF). 
  14. ^ "Authors: Gene Stratton Porter", Our Land, Our Literature, Ball State University, accessed 11 Jan 2010

External links[edit]