Mary Hallock Foote

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Mary Hallock Foote
Mary Hallock Foote (c.1874)
Mary Hallock Foote (c.1874)
Born(1847-11-09)November 9, 1847
Milton, New York
DiedJune 25, 1938(1938-06-25) (aged 90)
Hingham, Massachusetts
OccupationWriter, Illustrator
EducationCooper Institute School of Design for Women
Arthur De Wint Foote
(m. 1876)

Mary Hallock Foote (1847–1938) was an American author and illustrator. She is best known for her illustrated short stories and novels portraying life in the mining communities of the turn-of-the-century American West.



Mary Hallock was born November 9, 1847, in Milton, New York, of English Quaker ancestry. A singular girl and youth, she attended the Female Collegiate Seminary in Poughkeepsie, New York, then studied art in New York City at the new Cooper Institute School of Design for Women. By her early twenties she had become established in New York City as an accomplished artist-illustrator for notable publishers there.[1]

In 1876 Hallock married a young mining engineer, Arthur De Wint Foote, [2] then moved cross-continent to live with him at the New Almaden mine near San Jose, California. Subsequently, as Arthur pursued his engineering career, she followed him throughout the West: to Leadville, Colorado; to Deadwood, South Dakota; then to Boise, Idaho, where Arthur originated a major irrigation project on the Boise River; then to Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico; and finally to Grass Valley, California, where Arthur advanced to managing the North Star mine, and retired there.

Portrait sketch of Mary Hallock Foote, by her daughter, Elisabeth Foote

Arthur and Mary Foote were married nearly sixty years. In the early years of their marriage she gave birth to three children: a son, Arthur Burling Foote, and two daughters, Betty and Agnes.[3]


As a student Mary Hallock Foote befriended American artist Helena de Kay Gilder. The two maintained a very close friendship throughout their lives, shared a lengthy correspondence via letter, and used each other for critiquing their work. Mary Hallock Foote also benefitted from Gilder's husband Richard Watson Gilder, who commissioned her art while he was an editor for Scribner's Monthly. It was through the Gilders that Mary Hallock Foote was also introduced to a circle of fellow artists including, Mary L. Stone, Mary Birney, Maria Oakey, and several popular writers.[4]

After departing her beloved East with great reluctance, Mary Hallock Foote found herself inspired by the "real West" country and the varying peoples she encountered there. She soon was drawing it, and writing and telling about it. [5] Recording her travels, Foote wrote stories for 'back-East' readers as a correspondent to The Century Magazine and other periodicals, illustrating them with wood engravings made from her drawings. She wrote several novels and is best known for her stories of place, in which she portrayed the rough, picturesque life she experienced and observed in the old West, especially that in the early mining towns.

She was one of America's best-known women illustrators in the 1870s and 1880s. She illustrated stories and novels by other authors including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Louisa May Alcott, Bret Harte, and others.[6][7] Foote exhibited her work at The Woman's Building at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois.[8]

Mary Foote gained renown as a welcoming and sophisticated hostess to dignitaries and celebrities traveling through the environs of her (successive) homesteads in the West. After 1905, when she and her husband built North Star House (also known as Foote Mansion) and made permanent settlement in Grass Valley, California, she presided for some 30 years over many historic social and civic events there.[1][9]

After her death, Foote fell into obscurity. Thirty-four years after her death, historian Rodman Paul's 1972 edition of Foote's unpublished memoir, A Victorian Gentlewoman in the Far West, helped to spur renewed interest in her life and work.[10] However, her letters—which provide what amounts to a biography of her husband as well as her own autobiography—have never been published except as brief excerpts in various areas of research.

Death and legacy[edit]

Mary Hallock Foote died June 25, 1938, at age 90. Her legacy in American history is as a stalwart of the American Old West and a teller of its stories. Her work—the numerous stories for books and periodicals, with her drawings and woodcut illustrations; the correspondence from western outposts; her novels and nonfiction—gained her notice as a skilled observer of the frontier and an accomplished writer. Her life expressed the civilizing influence of the educated eastern gentlewoman on life in the chaotic mining and "ditch" camps (irrigation-project construction camps) of the early American West and, conversely, the stimulating effect of those "old West" environs on the prepared mind, that is, one educated for illustrating and telling the story.


Wallace Stegner's novel Angle of Repose (Pulitzer Prize, 1972) is based directly upon Mary Hallock Foote's extensive personal correspondence. Stegner used the outline of her life ostensibly with permission from members of Foote's family—on proviso that he disguise the source, which, in his judgment, he did. After publication, however, some descendants objected to "the great liberties" taken by Stegner in using Foote's story.[1] On the opposite hand, Stegner used passages taken directly from Foote's letters and her reminiscences without providing specific credit; this resulted in controversy that still today haunts his reputation within the literary community. [11] [12]

Andrew Imbrie wrote an opera based upon Stegner's novel, which was performed in San Francisco in 1976. A collection of prints by Foote is on permanent exhibit at the Boise Public Library.

Selected works[edit]

  • Led-Horse Claim: A Romance of a Mining Camp (1883)
  • In Exile and Other Stories (1894)
  • Coeur d'Alene (1894)
  • The Prodigal (1900)
  • The Desert and the Sown (1902)
  • A Touch of Sun and Other Stories (1903)
  • Royal Americans (1910)
  • The Valley Road (1915)
  • The Ground Swell (1919)
  • A Victorian Gentlewoman in the Far West The Reminiscences of Mary Hallock Foote, edited by Rodman W. Paul, ISBN 0-87328-057-1 (1972)
  • The Idaho Stories and Far-West Illustrations of Mary Hallock Foote, edited by Barbara Cragg, Dennis M. Walsh, and Mary Ellen Walsh. (1988)
  • The Little Fig-Tree Stories (1899)
  • The Desert and the Town (1902)
  • The Last Assembly Ball (1889)
  • A California Mining Camp (1878)
  • A Sea-Port on the Pacific (1878)
  • The Eleventh Hour (1906)
  • Pilgrims to Mecca (1899)
  • How the Pump Stopped at Morning Watch (1899)
  • A Diligence Journey in Mexico (1881)
  • From Morelia to Mexico City on Horseback (1882)
  • The Borrowed Shift (1898)


  1. ^ a b c Bush, Casey (2003). "Artist-Author Mary Hallock Foote and her Angle of Repose". Retrieved 2011-07-15.
  2. ^ Rickard, Thomas Arthur (1922). Interviews with Mining Engineers. San Francisco: Mining and Scientific Press. p. 174. OCLC 2664362. Retrieved 2011-07-15. Arthur De Wint Foote.
  3. ^ Egli, Ida Rae (1997). No Rooms of Their Own: Women Writers of Early California, 1849–1869. Berkeley, California: Heyday Books. p. 221. ISBN 978-1-890771-01-0. Retrieved 2011-07-15. Arthur De Wint Foote.
  4. ^ Rainey, Sue (June 2007). "Mary Hallock Foote". Winterthur Portfolio. 41 (2/3): 97–140. doi:10.1086/518924. ISSN 0084-0416. S2CID 162721129.
  5. ^ Egli;pp. 221;223
  6. ^ "Artwork of Mary Hallock Foote". The North Star House. Retrieved 2022-06-20.
  7. ^ Emerita, Marcia Martinek Editor. "Leadville inspired Hallock Foote's writing". The Herald Democrat. Retrieved 2022-06-20. {{cite web}}: |first= has generic name (help)
  8. ^ Nichols, K. L. "Women's Art at the World's Columbian Fair & Exposition, Chicago 1893". Retrieved 2019-01-02.
  9. ^ "The North Star House, the Julia Morgan-designed home of Mary Hallock and Arthur DeWint Foote". Retrieved 2011-12-28.
  10. ^ Floyd, Janet. "Mining the West: Bret Harte and Mary Hallock Foote". In Karen L. Kilcup, Soft Canons: American Women Writers. University of Iowa Press, 1999.
  11. ^ Susan Salter Reynolds (23 March 2003). "Tangle of Repose". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 15 May 2011.
  12. ^ Philip L. Fradkin (Feb 3, 2008). "A Classic, or A Fraud? Plagiarism allegations aimed at Stegner's Angle of Repose won't be put to rest". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-06-22.


Further reading[edit]

  • Mary Hallock Foote, James Maguire, Boise State College Western Writers Series Number 2, 1972
  • Mary Hallock Foote, Lee Ann Johnson, Twain Publishers, Boston, 1980
  • "Angle of Repose and the Writings of Mary Hallock Foote: A Source Study," Mary Ellen Walsh, in Critical Essays on Wallace Stegner, edited by Anthony Arthur, G. K. Hall & Co., pp. 184–209, 1982
  • Conversations with Wallace Stegner on Western History and Literature, Wallace Stegner and Richard Etulain, University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, 1983
  • Mary Hallock Foote Author-Illustrator of the American West, Darlis Miller, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2002
  • Cultural Clearcut: The Lost Novels of Mary Hallock Foote, Casey Bush, The Bear Deluxe 2003
  • "Mary Hallock Foote: A Leading Illustrator of the 1870s and 1880s", Sue Rainey, Winterthur Portfolio, Summer/Autumn 2007 (vol. 41, no. 2/3), pp. 97–139.

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