Aldrich, Bess Streeter

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ALDRICH, Bess Streeter

Born 17 February 1881, Cedar Falls, Iowa; died 3 August 1954, Lincoln, Nebraska

Also wrote under: Margaret Dean Stephens

Daughter of James Wareham and Mary Anderson Streeter; married Charles Aldrich, 1907

Bess Streeter Aldrich's parents emigrated to frontier Iowa in the 1850s. The family's experiences there became the basis for Aldrich's most successful novels. After graduating from Iowa State Teachers' College in Cedar Falls in 1901, she wrote articles for teachers' magazines and stories for primary school children. When her husband died suddenly from a heart attack in 1925, Aldrich was the sole supporter of her children, and she began writing professionally.

In 1930 Aldrich became book editor of the Christian Herald. She was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Literature in 1935 from the University of Nebraska, and she was elected to the Nebraska Hall of Fame in 1973.

The Rim of the Prairie (1925), Aldrich's first novel, is a contemporary story of Nancy, a farm girl living near a small town remarkably similar to Elmwood, Nebraska. Through the recollections of the old people, Aunt Biney and Uncle Jud Moore, Aldrich recounts details of settling in this part of the country, as civilization and modern farming overtake the wild prairie. The author's knowledge and love of nature, her descriptions of the rolling hills and the flowers of the prairie are well expressed here, as in all of her books.

A Lantern in Her Hand (1928) is a much better work, perhaps because several actual events from her family history form its basis. The character of Abbie Deal, who moves from Illinois to Iowa in 1854, then marries and homesteads with her husband in Nebraska, is based on her mother. In spite of sorrow, hardship, and lack of opportunity to develop her talents, Abbie has a happy life. The "lantern in her hand" has lighted her children's way. The novel, perhaps Aldrich's best book, was immensely popular and a bestseller for years. Later works are sometimes variations of its theme, setting, and events.

Aldrich's work is romantic, optimistic, and "wholesome." Her stories usually end happily, her romances join those people who should be joined; some of them are sentimental. Nevertheless, they display certain strengths—characterization is often excellent, as are her descriptions of nature. The background is always the Midwest, and she describes it precisely and accurately. Although Aldrich is most noted for her stories of the settling of the Midwest, her short stories give fine details of middle class family life in the small towns of the 1920s and 1930s. Her stories and articles were published in many of the leading periodicals.

Aldrich's style is not mannered or dated; neither is it remarkably original. The careful attention Aldrich gives to details—dates, clothing styles, food, customs—are strong points, creating a realistic background. The hardships of settling the frontier and of country living, such as the back-breaking labor, particularly for the women, the lack of refinements, the inconvenient kitchens, the bare and ugly houses, are details such as Hamlin Garland often gives. But whereas Garland points out the hopelessness of the unremitting hard labor in fighting poverty, dirt, and squalor, Aldrich affirms life, and her characters find, usually, some reason for happiness, be it through love or belief in honor and duty.

Other Works:

Mother Mason (1924). The Cutters (1926). A White Bird Flying (1931). Miss Bishop (1933). Spring Came on Forever (1935). The Man Who Caught the Weather (1936). Song of Years (1939). The Drum Goes Dead (1941). The Lieutenant's Lady (1942). Journey into Christmas, and Other Stories (1949). The Bess Streeter Aldrich Reader (1950). A Bess Streeter Aldrich Treasury (ed. R. S. Aldrich, 1959).


Aldrich, R., A Bess Streeter Aldrich Treasury (1959). Marble, A. R., A Daughter of Pioneers: Bess Streeter Aldrich and Her Books (n.d.). Martin, A., Bess Streeter Aldrich (1992). Meier, A. M., "Bess Streeter Aldrich: Her Life and Works" (Master's thesis, Kearney State College, 1968). Peterson, C. M., Bess Streeter Aldrich: The Dreams Are All Real (1995). Reinke, M. F., Bess Streeter Aldrich: A Pictoiral History, 1881-1925 (1986). Thomas, J., Bess Streeter Aldrich: Conflict Between Home and Career in A Lantern in Her Hand, A White Bird Flying, and Miss Bishop (1994). Williams, B.C., Bess Streeter Aldrich, Novelist (n.d.).

Other reference:

Appleton's Book Chat (1 Feb. 1930, 21 Nov. 1931). WLB (April 1929). Women Writers of the GreatPlains, #1: Willa Cather, Mari Sandoz and Bess Streeter Aldrich (video, 1985).


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Aldrich, Bess Streeter

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