Skinner, Constance Lindsay

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SKINNER, Constance Lindsay

Born 7 December 1877, Quesnal, British Columbia, Canada; died 27 March 1937, New York, New York

Daughter of Robert J. and Annie Lindsay Skinner

Constance Lindsay Skinner was profoundly influenced by her childhood at a fur trading post in the Peace River area of the Canadian Northwest where her father held a position with the Hudson's Bay Company. Her best works have dealt with this area and the historical interaction of Native Americans and traders.

Skinner began as a journalist writing drama and music criticism for Los Angeles and San Francisco newspapers. She became a freelance writer in New York, writing reviews and poetry. In 1910 her first play, David, was produced, and in 1917 her second, in New York, Good Morning, Rosamund!

Her first historical works were two volumes in the Yale Chronicles of America, a series addressed to the general reader. The two works, Pioneers of the Old Southwest (1919) and Adventurers of Oregon (1921), were praised for their "gusto" and vitality. They showed her sense of the dramatic and her highly personalized approach to historical work. They were also criticized for their impressionist quality and lack of detailed scholarship.

Skinner placed strong emphasis on the environmentalist approach to history, reflecting the influence of Frederick Jackson Turner. In Pioneers of the Old Southwest, she argues that the "spirit of the frontier was modeling out of old clay a new Adam to answer the needs of a new earth." She traces with broad appreciation the development of the various ethnic groups into commonwealth builders. In Adventurers of Oregon, she sympathetically portrayed the "romance of the fur trade" and the interaction of American, British, and Native American lifestyles.

After the chronicles, Skinner turned to poetry and fiction to reveal her understanding of the origin of the American nation and the importance of the frontier. Her dramatic sense of history found an outlet especially in the 11 adventure stories she wrote for children between 1925 and 1934. In these works she stressed the courage and perseverance of women no less than men.

Beaver, Kings, and Cabins (1933), perhaps Skinner's most ambitious historical work, is an effort to recapture the lost world of the fur trader and his interaction with the natural world and with the Native Americans. Skinner's tone is essentially poetic and romantic; at times she dramatizes her narrative, occasionally inserting dialogue. Tracing the fur traders from their Atlantic coast origins to the Alaskan wilds, she gives primary attention to the era of imperial conflicts when the beaver trade was dominant.

Interspersed in some of Skinner's works are Native American poems. These are her own concepts, not translations; they grew out of her early childhood experiences with Native American culture. In 1930 she published a volume of such poems, Songs of the Coast Dwellers; the book won considerable acclaim for Skinner's interpretations of Native American moods and her basic empathy with Native American life.

Skinner's last significant venture in American history was the editing of the Rivers of America series. In an introductory statement, reprinted in most of the early volumes and issued in 1937 as Rivers and American Folk, Skinner sets forth her concerns in writing history. What is truly important, she argues, is "folk-centered" history and "history as literature." Her aim is to "kindle imagination and to reveal American Folk to one another." While her historical works lack the closely woven texture and the considered perspectives of trained historians, Skinner succeeded in her own aim. She did indeed "kindle imagination" and portrayed dramatically the frontier experiences of the American folk.

Other Works:

Adventures in the Wilderness (with C. Wister, 1925).


Reference works:

NAW (1971).

Other references:

American History Review (Oct. 1920). NYT (19 Oct. 1919, 5 Oct. 1930, 25 Sept. 1933). SR (31 May 1930, 30 Sept. 1933).