Winnifred Eaton (writer)

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Winnifred Eaton
Winnifred Eaton c. 1903
Winnifred Eaton c. 1903
BornAugust 21, 1875
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
DiedApril 8, 1954
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 under the Japanese pseudonym Onoto Watanna and under the name Winifred Reeve.


Eaton was the daughter of an English merchant, Edward Eaton, who met her Chinese mother while on a business trip to Shanghai. Her mother was Grace "Lotus Blossom" Trefusis, the adopted daughter of English missionaries. In the early 1870s, the Eaton family left England to live in Hudson, New York, but stayed there only a short time before relocating to Montreal, where Winnifred was born.

Her father struggled to make a living, and the large family (14 children) went through difficult times. Nonetheless, the children were raised in an intellectually stimulating environment that saw Winnifred's elder 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.

Literary career[edit]

Winnifred was only 14 when one of her stories was accepted for publication by a Montreal newspaper that had already published pieces by her sister. Before long she also had articles published in several 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

She left home at 17 to take a job as a stenographer for a Canadian newspaper in Kingston, Jamaica. She remained there for a year, then moved to 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 moved from this to writing novels, 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). Under this pseudonym, she published romance novels and short stories that were widely read throughout the United States.

In 1900, she 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.

In collaboration with Sara Bosse, she wrote, also under the pseudonym Onoto Watanna, the Chinese-Japanese Cookbook, published in 1914. The authors preface their history of Oriental 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."[2]

While living in New York Winnifred Eaton met and married Bertrand Babcock, with whom she had four children (three sons and a daughter); he was the son of Emma Whitcomb Babcock and Charles Almanzo Babcock. The marriage ended in divorce, and in 1917, she married Francis Reeve. Moving to Calgary, Alberta in her native Canada, she continued to produce more successful novels until she returned to New York in 1924 to write screenplays for the burgeoning film industry. In 1932, she 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, Winnifred 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 collection of her works is maintained at the Glenbow Archives in Calgary. Dozens of Eaton's out-of-print works, including two novels, were reprinted in the University of Virginia's extext collection.

Partial bibliography[edit]

  • His Royal Nibs (1925)
  • Cattle (book)|Cattle (1923)
  • Sunny-San (1922)
  • 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)
  • A Japanese Blossom (1906)
  • The Love of Azalea (1904)
  • The Heart of Hyacinth (1903)
  • A Japanese Nightingale (1902)
  • The Wooing of Wisteria (1902)
  • Miss Nume of Japan (1899)

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. ^ (Chicago: Rand McNally, c1914)Available online "Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project" The Michigan State University Library.

External links[edit]