Winnifred Eaton (writer)

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Winnifred Eaton
Winnifred Eaton c. 1903
Winnifred Eaton c. 1903
Born(1875-08-21)August 21, 1875
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
DiedApril 8, 1954(1954-04-08) (aged 78)
Butte, Montana, USA
Pen nameOnoto Watanna
Genrenovelist, screenwriter
Notable worksTama (1910)
Me, A Book of Remembrance
RelativesEdith Maude Eaton, sister

Winnifred Eaton was a Canadian author and screenwriter. Although she was of Chinese-British ancestry,[1] she published most of her early work under the Japanese pseudonym Onoto Watanna. Later in life, after remarrying, she published under Winnifred Reeve.


Eaton was the daughter of an English merchant, Edward Eaton, who met her Chinese mother in Shanghai. Her mother was Achuen "Grace" Amoy, who as a mui tsai toured the world with the "Chinese Magicians", an acrobatic troupe, until she was rescued from her abusive owner by Protestant missionaries in London, England in 1855.[2] In 1865, the Eaton family left England to live in New York, but stayed there only a short time before returning to England. They emigrated to New York again in 1868, but again returned to England. In 1872, they relocated permanently to Montreal, where Winnifred was born.[3]

Her father struggled to make a living, and the large family (12 children who survived infancy) went through difficult times. Nonetheless, the children were raised in an intellectually stimulating environment that saw Winnifred's eldest sister, Edith Maude Eaton, become a journalist and an author of stories about the struggles of impoverished Chinese immigrants under the pen name Sui Sin Far and her older sister Grace Helen Eaton marry fin-de-siecle editor Walter Blackburn Harte.

Literary career[edit]

Eaton claimed to be only 14 when one of her stories was accepted for publication by a Montreal newspaper that had already published pieces by her sister. In fact, she was almost 20 when Poor Devil was published in Metropolitan Magazine. Eaton left home at age 20 to take a job as a stenographer for a newspaper in Kingston, Jamaica. She remained there for less than a year, then moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, and then Chicago, Illinois, where for a time she worked as a typist while continuing to write short stories. Eventually, her compositions were accepted by the prestigious Saturday Evening Post as well as by other popular periodicals. She published her first novel, Miss Nume of Japan capitalizing on her mixed ancestry to pass herself off as a Japanese American by the name of Onoto Watanna (which sounds Japanese but is not Japanese at all).

In 1900, Eaton moved to New York City, where her second major novel, A Japanese Nightingale, was published. It proved extremely successful, being translated into several languages and eventually adapted both as a Broadway play and then, in 1918, as a motion picture. Her novel Tama (1910) was a runaway bestseller and her novel Me, A Book of Remembrance, a thinly disguised memoir, told a titillating tale of a woman's infidelities. Under her Japanese pseudonym, Eaton published many romance novels and short stories and journalistic works that were widely read throughout the United States. Over the course of her 40-year career, Eaton also had articles published in many popular magazines in the United States, notably the Ladies' Home Journal.

Poster for Klaw & Erlanger's production of A Japanese Nightingale in New York in 1903

In collaboration with Sara Bosse, Eaton also published the Chinese-Japanese Cookbook in 1914. The authors preface their history of Asian food and a representative selection of recipes with the reassurance that "When it is known how simple and clean are the ingredients used to make up these oriental dishes, the Westerner will cease to feel that natural repugnance which assails one when about to taste a strange dish of a new and strange land."[4]

While living in New York City, Eaton met and married journalist Bertrand Babcock, with whom she had four children (three sons and a daughter); Babcock was the son of Emma Whitcomb Babcock and Charles Almanzo Babcock. Their marriage ended in divorce, and in 1917, Eaton married Francis Fournier Reeve. Moving to Alberta in her native Canada, Eaton ranched with her husband while continuing to write fiction and journalism, mostly with an Albertan focus, until she returned to New York in 1924 to write screenplays for the burgeoning film industry at Universal Studios. In 1925, she moved to Hollywood to lead Universal Studio's scenario department. In 1932, Eaton returned to Calgary, where she became an active member of the artistic community, founding the Little Theatre Movement and serving as the president of the Calgary branch of the Canadian Authors' Association.

In 1954, while returning home from a vacation in California, Eaton fell ill and died of heart failure in Butte, Montana. Following her death, her husband donated funds to build the Reeve Theatre at the University of Calgary. A digital edition of her complete works is being built by Professor Mary Chapman at the University of British Columbia. Hundreds of Eaton's out-of-print works, including all her novels, have been collected so far in the Winnifred Eaton Archive

Partial bibliography[edit]

  • His Royal Nibs (1925)
  • Cattle (1923)
  • Sunny-San (1922) [5]
  • Marion: The Story of an Artist's Model (1916)
  • Me: A Book of Remembrance (1915)
  • Chinese-Japanese Cook Book with Sara Eaton Bosse (1914)
  • The Honorable Miss Moonlight (1912)
  • Tama (novel) (1910)
  • Diary of Delia (1907)
  • Daughters of Nijo (1907) [6]
  • A Japanese Blossom (1906)
  • The Love of Azalea (1904) [7]
  • The Heart of Hyacinth (1903) [8]
  • A Japanese Nightingale (1902)[9]
  • The Wooing of Wisteria (1902) [10]
  • Miss Nume of Japan (1899) [11]

Adapted from the article Winnifred Eaton, from Wikinfo, licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.

Selected filmography[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Diana Birchall, Onoto Watanna: The Story of Winnifred Eaton, U of Illinois P, 2001, ISBN 0-252-02607-1, p.4.
  2. ^ Chapman, Mary (2016). Becoming Sui Sin Far: Early Fiction, Journalism, and Travel Writing by Edith Maude Eaton. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press. pp. xvi. ISBN 978-0-7735-4721-6.
  3. ^ {{cite
  4. ^ (Chicago: Rand McNally, c1914)Available online [1].
  5. ^ Chapman, Mary; Lee-Cole, Jean. ""Sunny-San"". The Winnifred Eaton Archive. University of British Columbia. Retrieved December 1, 2020.
  6. ^ Chapman, Mary; Lee-Cole, Jean. ""Daughters of Nijo"". The Winnifred Eaton Archive. University of British Columbia. Retrieved December 1, 2020.
  7. ^ Chapman, Mary; Lee-Cole, Jean. ""The Love of Azalea"". The Winnifred Eaton Archive. University of British Columbia. Retrieved December 1, 2020.
  8. ^ Chapman, Mary; Lee Cole, Jean. ""The Heart of Hyacinth"". The Winnifred Eaton Archive. University of British Columbia. Retrieved December 1, 2020.
  9. ^ Chapman, Mary; Lee Cole, Jean. ""A Japanese Nightingale"". The Winnifred Eaton Archive. University of British Columbia. Retrieved December 1, 2020.
  10. ^ Chapman, Mary; Lee-Cole, Jean. ""The Wooing of Wistaria"". The Winnifred Eaton Archive. University of British Columbia. Retrieved December 1, 2020.
  11. ^ Chapman, Mary; Lee Cole, Jean. ""Miss Nume of Japan"". The Winnifred Eaton Archive. University of British Columbia. Retrieved December 1, 2020.

External links[edit]