Victor, Frances Fuller

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VICTOR, Frances Fuller

Born 23 May 1826, Rome, New York; died 14 November 1902, Portland, Oregon

Also wrote under: Frances Barritt, Dorothy D., Florence Fane, Frances Fuller

Daughter of Adonijah and Lucy A. Williams Fuller; married Jackson Barritt, 1853 (divorced 1862); Henry C. Victor, 1862 (died 1875)

Frances Fuller Victor was the eldest of five daughters, descended from an old colonial family. Victor and her sister Metta, with whom she wrote poetry, received their schooling at a young ladies seminary in Wooster, Ohio. At the age of nine she wrote verses on her slate and directed her fellow students in plays she had written. The publication of her verses in the Cleveland Herald in 1840 marked the beginning of a long writing career.

Victor's turbulent private life frequently interrupted her prolific writing career. When her father died in 1850, she stopped writing poetry and returned home to live with her family, who by then had moved to St. Clair, Michigan. Her first marriage broke up after a period of homesteading in Omaha, but Victor didn't obtain a divorce until March, 1862, two months before she married her sister's brother-in-law, Henry Clay Victor, a navy engineer. Victor and her husband moved to the West Coast, but his position in the navy often took him away for long periods of sea duty. Left alone, Victor embarked on a successful career as a historian, and continued it after her husband was drowned in 1875 in the wreck of the Pacific.

As teenagers, Victor and her sister Metta together wrote poetry and published it locally and eventually in the New York Home Journal. In 1848 they moved to New York, and in 1851 they published Poems of Sentiment and Imagination, a collection of descriptive and highly melodramatic poetry. The remainder of their poetry was written and published separately. After Victor moved west in 1862, she wrote numerous poems of a more descriptive quality for Western magazines.

In 1848 Victor published her first melodramatic romance, Anizetta, the Guajira; or, The Creole of Cuba. She abandoned this genre when she discovered she had more talent as a realistic dime novelist. For her brother-in-law's editions of Beadle's Dime Novels, Victor wrote East and West; or, The Beauty of Willard's Mill (1862) and The Land Claim: A Tale of the Upper Missouri (1862), both realistically treating Nebraska farm life, especially the hardships faced by women. Her short stories, published in the Western magazines, reflect this same concern for the hard lot of frontier women; the regional writing of Bret Harte was a major influence on these realistic short stories.

Victor's work as a satirist and crusader began when she moved to the West Coast in the 1860s. As Florence Fane, she took satiric pokes at all levels of society in regular contributions to the San Francisco Bulletin and the Golden Era. Her brief crusade as a temperance supporter resulted in one temperance tract, The Women's War with Whiskey (1874). She also served as a columnist for the Call-Bulletin under the name of Dorothy D.

The 30 years Victor spent as a historian and folklorist proved the most successful aspect of her writing career. She discovered history was her forte in 1864 when she began studying local Oregon history. She interviewed many Western pioneers and researched family papers and archives. The River of the West (1870), based on an interview with Joseph Meek, is his first person account of life as a Rocky Mountain trapper. Victor acknowledges in her introduction her debt to Washington Irving's Astoria (1836) and Captain Bonneville (1837), which reveal a romantic attachment to historical places.

Victor's second attempt at this new genre, All Over Oregon and Washington (1872) contains less folklore than The River of the West. The book covers the discovery, early history, natural features, resources, and business and social conditions of these two states. Victor's response to rapid social and economic change is nostalgic. She emphasizes her disappointment at the close of the frontier, but points with pride to the cultural developments of the Northwest Coast.

Victor's major historical endeavor was her contribution to Hubert Howe Bancroft's voluminous History of the Pacific States (1890); she contributed to all but two of the 28 volumes. Victor joined the staff as a chief assistant and its only woman in 1878, three years after the death of her husband. By this time, she had accumulated a wealth of journalistic, literary, and historic experience. As a member of Bancroft's staff, she prepared all of the two-volume history of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana and was the major writer and researcher for the history of Utah. She also wrote over half of the two California volumes and researched Northwest Coast and California Inter Pocula. The series is written in textbook style, but Victor's volumes, like her other historical works, exhibit a sensitive response to the aesthetics of the land and a nostalgia for the past.

Victor's historical accounts reflect a keen understanding of the economic and social elements of a slowly diminishing frontier; these works also reveal a seemingly contradictory perception of the West as a land of hardships and cherished memories. Her main contribution to American letters rests with these history and travel books and their blend of fact and romance. Her realistic dime novels and short stories, her sentimental and descriptive poetry, and her satiric and crusading pieces, however, also earn a place for her in American letters.

Other Works:

The New Penelope, and Other Stories and Poems (1877). Eleven Years in the Rocky Mountains (1879). The Early Indian Wars of Oregon (1894). Poems (1900). Letters to Matthew P. Deady, F. G. Young, and Others, 1866-1902 (1902).


Caughey, J. W., Hubert Howe Bancroft: Historian of the West (1946). Morris, W. A. "Historian of the Northwest: A Woman Who Loved Oregon," in In Memoriam: Frances Fuller Victor; Born May 23, 1826; Died November 14, 1902 (1902). Morris, W. A., "The Origin and Authorship of the Bancroft Pacific States Publications," in Oregon Historical Society Quarterly 5 (1903).

Reference works:

NAW (1971).


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Victor, Frances Fuller

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