Owen Wister

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Owen Wister
Owen Wister.jpg
Owen Wister, author of the Western novel The Virginian, and friend of Theodore Roosevelt
Born (1860-07-14)July 14, 1860
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US
Died July 21, 1938(1938-07-21) (aged 78)
Saunderstown, Rhode Island
Occupation Author; Attorney
Spouse(s) Mary "Molly" Channing Wister (married 1898–1913, her death)
Children Six children

Owen Wister (July 14, 1860 – July 21, 1938) was an American writer and "father" of western fiction. He is best remembered for writing The Virginian.


Early life[edit]

Birthplace of Owen Wister at 5203 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia

Owen Wister was born on July 14, 1860,[1] in Germantown, a well-known neighborhood in the northwestern part of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.[2] His father, Owen Jones Wister, was a wealthy physician raised at Grumblethorpe in Germantown.[3] He was a distant cousin of Sally Wister. His mother, Sarah Butler Wister, was the daughter of Fanny Kemble, a British actress, and Pierce Mease Butler.[4]


Wister briefly attended schools in Switzerland and Britain, and later studied at St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire and Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he was a member of the Hasty Pudding Theatricals, and a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon (Alpha chapter). Wister was also a member of The Porcellian Club, through which he became life long friends with Theodore Roosevelt. As a senior Wister wrote the Hasty Pudding's then most successful show, Dido and Aeneas, whose proceeds aided in the construction of their theater. Wister graduated from Harvard in 1882.

At first he aspired to a career in music and spent two years studying at a Paris conservatory. Thereafter, he worked briefly in a bank in New York before studying law; he graduated from Harvard Law School in 1888. Following this, he practiced with a Philadelphia firm but was never truly interested in that career. He was interested in politics, however, and was a staunch supporter of U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt. In the 1930s, Wister opposed President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal.

Writing career[edit]

Illustration in The Virginian

He began his literary work in 1891.[5] Wister had spent several summers out in the American West, making his first trip to Wyoming in 1885. Like his friend Teddy Roosevelt, Wister was fascinated with the culture, lore and terrain of the region. On an 1893 visit to Yellowstone, Wister met the western artist Frederic Remington; who remained a lifelong friend. When he started writing, he naturally inclined towards fiction set on the western frontier. Wister's most famous work remains the 1902 novel The Virginian, the loosely constructed story of a cowboy who is a natural aristocrat, set against a highly mythologized version of the Johnson County War and taking the side of the large land owners. This is widely regarded as being the first cowboy novel and was reprinted fourteen times in eight months.[6] The book was written in the library of The Philadelphia Club, where Wister was a member, and is dedicated to Theodore Roosevelt.

In 1904 Wister collaborated with Kirke La Shelle on a successful stage adaptation of The Virginian that featured Dustin Farnum in the title role.[7] Farnum reprised the role ten years later in Cecil B. DeMille's film adaptation of the play.[8]

He was a member of several literary societies and was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of the Board of Overseers of Harvard University.[5]

Personal life[edit]

In 1898, Wister married Mary Channing, his cousin.[9] The couple had six children. Wister's wife died during childbirth in 1913.[10] His daughter, Marina Wister,[11] married artist Andrew Dasburg in 1933.


Grave of Owen Wister, Laurel Hill Cemetery

In 1938, Wister died at his home in Saunderstown, Rhode Island. He is buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.


Since 1978, University of Wyoming Student Publications has released the literary and arts magazine Owen Wister Review. The magazine was published bi-annually until 1996. It became an annual publication in the spring of 1997.[citation needed]

Just within the western boundary of the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, there is an 11,490-foot mountain named Mount Wister named for Owen Wister.[12]

Near a house that Wister built near La Mesa, California, but never occupied due to his wife's death, is a street called "Wister Drive." In the same neighborhood are found "Virginian Lane" and "Molly Woods Avenue."[13][14]



  • The Dragon of Wantley: His Tale (1892)
  • Lin McLean (1897)
  • The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains (1902)
  • Philosophy 4: A Story of Harvard University (1903)
  • A Journey in Search of Christmas (1904)
  • Lady Baltimore (1906)
  • Padre Ignacio: or, the Song of Temptation (1911)
  • Romney: And Other New Works about Philadelphia (written 1912–1915; published incomplete 2001)


Story collections[edit]

  • Red Men and White (1895) (aka Salvation Gap and Other Western Classics)
  • The Jimmyjohn Boss and Other Stories (1900)
  • Members of the Family (1911) (Illus. H. T. Dunn)
  • Safe in the Arms of Croesus (1927)
  • When West Was West (1928)
  • The West of Owen Wister: Selected Short Stories (1972)

Short stories[edit]



  • "The Pale Cast of Thought" (1890)
  • "From Beyond the Sea" (1890)
  • "Autumn on Wind River" (1897)
  • "In Memoriam" (1902)
  • Done In The Open (1902) (Illus. by Frederic Remington)
  • "Serenade" (1910)
  • Indispensable Information for Infants: Or Easy Entrance to Education (1921)


  • Dido and Aeneas (1892)
  • Kenilworth (unpublished)
  • Listen to Binks (unpublished)
  • Montezuma (unpublished)
  • Villon (unpublished)
  • Watch Your Thirst: A Dry Opera in Three Acts (1923)


  • The Dragon of Wantley (unpublished)
  • The Honeymoonshiners (published in the story collection Safe in the Arms of Croesus)
  • Lin McLean (unpublished)
  • Slaves of the Ring (unpublished)
  • That Brings Luck (unpublished)
  • The Virginian (unpublished)

Works inspired by The Virginian[edit]


  1. ^ Nelson, Randy F. The Almanac of American Letters. Los Altos, California: William Kaufmann, Inc., 1981: 44. ISBN 0-86576-008-X
  2. ^ "Owen Wister". Pabook.libraries.psu.edu. Retrieved 2016-05-06. 
  3. ^ "Welcome to the La Salle Local History Web Page". Lasalle.edu. 1994-10-01. Retrieved 2016-05-06. 
  4. ^ "Owen Wister: Brief Life of a Mythmaker," Harvard Magazine, 2002. by Castle Freeman, Jr.
  5. ^ a b  Reynolds, Francis J., ed. (1921). "Wister, Owen". Collier's New Encyclopedia. New York: P.F. Collier & Son Company. 
  6. ^ Nelson, Randy F. The Almanac of American Letters. Los Altos, California: William Kaufmann, Inc., 1981: 287. ISBN 0-86576-008-X
  7. ^ The Virginian, Internet Broadway Database Retrieved June 20, 2014
  8. ^ The Virginian (1914), Internet Movie Database Retrieved June 20, 2014
  9. ^ "Welcome to the La Salle Local History Web Page". Lasalle.edu. Retrieved 2016-05-06. 
  10. ^ "Obituary". The New York Times. August 25, 1913. p. 5. 
  11. ^ Coke, Van Deren (1979). Andrew Dasburg. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. p. 94. ISBN 0826305164. 
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on February 17, 2008. Retrieved February 18, 2008. 
  13. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on October 14, 2013. Retrieved July 14, 2013. 
  14. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on August 6, 2007. Retrieved February 18, 2008. 
  15. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Swiss Family Robinson, The". Encyclopedia Americana. 


  • Cobbs, J. L. (1984). Owen Wister. Boston: Twayne. 
  • Payne, D. (1985). Owen Wister: Chronicler of the West, Gentleman of the East. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press. 

External links[edit]

Owen Wister at Find a Grave