Libbey, Laura Jean (1862–1925)

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Libbey, Laura Jean (1862–1925)

American author . Born on March 12, 1862, in Brooklyn, New York; died on October 25, 1925, in New York City; daughter of Thomas H. Libbey and Elizabeth (Nelson) Libbey; married Van Mater Stilwell, in 1898; no children.

Selected works:

A Fatal Wooing (1883); All for Love of a Fair Face; or, A Broken Betrothal (1885); Madolin Rivers; or, The Little Beauty of Red Oak Seminary; A Love Story (1885); A Forbidden Marriage; or, In Love with a Handsome Spendthrift (1888); Miss Middleton's Lover; or, Parted on Their Bridal Tour (1889); Leonie Locke: The Romance of a Beautiful New York Working Girl (1889); Willful Gaynell; or, The Little Beauty of the Passaic Cotton Mills (1890); Little Leafy, the Cloakmaker's Beautiful Daughter: A Romantic Story of a Lovely Working Girl in the City of New York (1891); A Master Workman's Oath; or, Coralie the Unfortunate: A Love Story Portraying the Life, Romance, and Strange Fate of a Beautiful New York Working Girl (1892); Only a Mechanic's Daughter: A Charming Story of Love and Passion (1892); Parted at the Altar (1893); A Handsome Engineer's Flirtation; or, How He Won the Hearts of Girls (190?); Was She Sweetheart or Wife (190?); Wooden Wives: Is It a Story for Philandering Husbands? (1923).

Specializing in the so-called "working-girl" novel, author Laura Jean Libbey began contributing stories to the New York Ledger while still in her teens and in the course of her 30-year career produced over 80 romantic novels, most of which were printed serially and then reproduced in cheap paperbound editions that sold for between 15 and 25 cents.

Since Libbey meticulously guarded her privacy, the facts of her life are obscure. What is known is that she was a life-long resident of Brooklyn, New York, although she traveled from time to time to promote her work. The product of a strict upbringing, she was dominated by her mother who forbade her to marry. Only after her mother's death did Libbey wed, and she then stopped writing for close to a decade. Ironically, her stories about young women struggling in low-paying factory jobs provided her with a yearly salary in the vicinity of $50,000, more than many of her heroines (or her readers for that matter) would earn in a lifetime.

Libbey, whose work was described by critics as melodramatic and repetitious, used the same plot and characters over and over again, and preached a standard message: "Virtue is its own reward"; or, if a girl remains virginal, she will ultimately marry a respectable man and live a happy, prosperous life. In any given story, the heroine ("Leafy," "Guelda," or "Faynie") is forced to leave her idyllic rural home to find low-paying work in the harsh city. Enduring a hostile workplace and the unsolicited attentions of less-than-desirable men, she is eventually rescued by the hero, a virtuous and prosperous gentleman who marries her and saves her from further victimization. Cathy N. Davidson , in American Women Writers, compares Libbey's stories to those of Horatio Alger (1832–1899). "Alger's heroes worked hard, took advantage of every opportunity, and, against all odds, realized the American dream. L's [Libbey's] heroines worked hard too. But the 19th-century business world held few opportunities for women. So real success for L.'s heroines came through successful marriage." Davidson further points out that although Libbey's work did not stand the test of time, she provided a much-needed outlet for the millions of women who joined the labor force in America following the Civil War.


Edgerly, Lois Stiles. Give Her This Day. Gardiner, ME: Tilbury House, 1990.

Mainiero, Lina, ed. American Women Writers. NY: Frederick Ungar, 1980.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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