Born 26 August 1874, Portage, Wisconsin; died 27 December 1938, Chicago, Illinois
Daughter of Charles F. and Eliza Beers Gale; married W. L.Breese, 1928
An only child, Zona Gale grew up in the sheltered smalltown environment that became the setting for her fiction. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1895. After working as a journalist in Milwaukee, Gale went on to New York in 1900 and began selling stories and poems. She returned permanently to Wisconsin after winning the 1910 Delineator short story prize of $2,000.
A longtime friend of Jane Addams, Gale was active with the Women's Peace Party, woman suffrage, La Follette Progressivism, the Wisconsin Dramatic Society, and the growing community theater movement. Throughout the 1930s, she continued to write fiction and to work for social reform and peace. She saw to the publication and wrote the introduction to The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman in 1935.
The women in Gale's work are remarkable for the consistency of their development. Calliope Marsh, the leading personality of the Friendship Village stories, was based on Gale's mother and represents the wisdom that Gale saw as basic to an ideal maternal model. Heart's Kindred (1915) and A Daughter of the Morning (1917) are declarations of Gale's own feminist awareness.
Her most successful novel is Miss Lulu Bett (1920), an unsentimental look at family and marriage customs. Lulu Bett, family "beast of burden," is shown in rebellion against the life her time and place have thrust upon her: this is a story of growth. There is no overt moralizing to interrupt the flow of the plot. Gale adapted this novel herself for the stage, and in 1921 won the Pulitzer Prize for drama. There was some controversy about the changes Gale made in the ending of the play after a trial run, but in a letter to the editor of the New York Tribune, Gale made it clear she understood the feelings that keep many Lulus locked in their shells for years until a dramatic emotional event sets them free.
Gale's short stories appeared in popular magazines and were then put out in book form; her novels were often serialized before appearing in complete form. She was a regular contributor to magazines, often on feminist topics. Besides adapting some of her other novels for the theater, she wrote a one-act play, The Neighbors (1914), which had great success with college and community groups across the country. Gale published one book of poetry, The Secret Way (1921), which reveals her search for deeper-than-surface reality.
Working from life as she observed it, Gale took ordinary occurrences and invested these events with power to affect the inner lives of her characters. Gale expressed her own basic philosophy as "life is more than we can ever know it to be." Consequently, some of her work is flawed by too heavy a reliance on mysticism: the stories cannot always sustain the transcendent events within their framework. When Gale is successful, however, she touches a response in the reader that rises above the sentimental.
Romance Island (1906). The Loves of Pelleas and Etarre (1907). Friendship Village (1908). Friendship Village Love Stories (1909). Mothers to Men (1911). Christmas (1912). Civic Improvement in the Little Towns (1913). When I Was a Little Girl (1913). Neighborhood Stories (1914). Birth (1918; dramatization by Gale, Mister Pitt, 1915). Peace in Friendship Village (1919). Uncle Jimmy (1922). What Women Won in Wisconsin (1922). Faint Perfume (1923; dramatization by Gale, 1934). Preface to a Life (1926). Yellow Gentians and Blue (1927). Portage, Wisconsin, and Other Essays (1928). Borgia (1929). Bridal Pond (1930). The Clouds (1932). Evening Clothes (1932). Old Fashioned Tales (1933). Papa La Fleur (1933). Light Woman (1937). Frank Miller of Mission Inn (1938). Magna (1939).
Derleth, A., Still Small Voice: The Biography of Zona Gale (1940). Gard, R., Grassroots Theater: A Search for Regional Arts in America (1955). Herron, I., The Small Town in American Literature (1939). MacDougall, P., Some Will Be Apples (film, 1974). Simonson, H. P., Zona Gale (1962). Sochen, J., Movers and Shakers: American Women Thinkers and Activists 1900-1970 (1974).
DAB. NAW (1971). NCAB. Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995). TCA.
American Magazine (June 1921). Madison (Wisconsin) Capital Times (29-31 May 1974, 3-4 June 1974). Turn of the Century Women (Winter 1984). Yale Review (March 1987).