Skinner, Constance Lindsay (1877–1939)
Skinner, Constance Lindsay (1877–1939)
Canadian-born American author and historian. Born Constance Annie Skinner on December 7, 1877, in Quesnel, British Columbia, Canada; died from arteriosclerosis and coronary occlusion on March 27, 1939, in New York City; daughter of Robert James Skinner (an agent for the Hudson's Bay Company) and Annie (Lindsay) Skinner; educated in private schools in Vancouver and California; never married.
David (play, 1910); Good Morning, Rosamund! (play, 1917); Pioneers of the Old Southwest (1919); Adventurers of Oregon (1920); Adventures in the Wilderness (with C. Wissler and W.C.H. Wood, 1925); Silent Scot, Frontier Scout (1925); Becky Landers, Frontier Warrior (1926); White Leader (1926); Roselle of the North (1927); Tiger Who Walks Alone (1927); Andy Breaks Trail (1928); Ranch of the Golden Flowers (1928); The Search Relentless (1928); Red Willows (1929); Red Man's Luck (1930); Songs of the Coast Dwellers (1930); Debby Barnes, Trader (1932); Beaver, Kings and Cabins (1933); Rob Roy, the Frontier Twins (1934).
Constance Lindsay Skinner was born in rural British Columbia, Canada, in 1877, the daughter of Robert James Skinner and Annie Lindsay Skinner . Robert was a British agent for the Hudson's Bay Company, so she grew up among pioneers of the Western frontier at a Canadian Northwest fur-trading post near the Peace River. Skinner was educated at home until the age of 14, when her family moved to Vancouver and enrolled her in private schools. She also began publishing short stories in Vancouver newspapers. Two years later, she moved to an aunt's house in California because of frail health. She would live in the United States for the rest of her life, although her memories of her frontier upbringing and exposure to local Indians strongly influenced her and her writing.
Upon moving to California, Skinner began working as a journalist for newspapers there, soon taking as her middle name the maiden name of her mother, who was descended from Scottish poet Lady Anne Lindsay . She became a music and theater critic while also covering fires and murders for such papers as the San Francisco Examiner and the Los Angeles Times. (She also became friendly with actress Helena Modjeska after interviewing her, and lived for a summer at Modjeska's house in La Jolla.) In 1910, a play she wrote called David was produced at the Forest Theater in Carmel, California. Skinner later spent three years in Chicago, writing for the Chicago American, before moving to New
York City. There she found work writing poetry and essays for Bookman, the North American Review, Poetry, and other magazines, garnering poetry prizes from both Poetry and London's Bookman. After her second play, Good Morning, Rosamund!, was produced in Manhattan in 1917, she wrote in Bookman that her plays, which espoused patriotic themes, helped "Americanize our non-reading amusement-seekers of foreign birth and foreign ideas."
Skinner's reputation as a historical writer grew when she was asked to contribute to the 50-volume Yale University "Chronicles of America" series, for which she wrote Pioneers of the Old Southwest (1919) and Adventurers of Oregon (1920). Later, she collaborated with Clark Wissler and William C.H. Wood on Adventures in the Wilderness (1925), published by the Yale "Pageant of America" series. Although Skinner's historical works received praise for being readable and lively, some were criticized for falling short of historical accuracy. "The effort to maintain a swiftly moving narrative has betrayed the author into sacrificing clarity," wrote a critic in the September 1920 Mississippi Valley Historical Review.
Undaunted by the criticism, Skinner produced a popular series of historical adventure tales for children, all based on frontier life, drawn from the experiences of her own childhood; among these were Silent Scot, Frontier Scout (1925), Becky Landers, Frontier Warrior (1926), Ranch of the Golden Flowers (1928), and Debby Barnes, Trader (1932). Of Skinner's children's books, librarian and critic Anne Carroll Moore wrote that Skinner was "essentially a poet and historian whose childhood remains vivid and whose understanding and appreciation of primal people—the Indians, the voyagers, the coureurs-de-bois—is instinctive and secure."
In 1930, Skinner published a well-received collection of poetry, Songs of the Coast Dwellers, that drew on legends of the Squamish Indians of British Columbia. Her history of the fur trade in North America, Beaver, Kings and Cabins, was published three years later. In 1935, Skinner began editing a series of historical books for Farrar & Rinehart, designed to highlight the importance of America's major rivers and the roles they had played in the country's history. The series grew out of an idea she had had for documenting the historical importance of rivers throughout the world; in its focus on America, she said, she hoped the books would "kindle imagination and … reveal American folk to one another." The series proved quite popular and eventually included over forty volumes, but Skinner herself lived to see only six published. She was unable to finish her own book on the Missouri River before she died in New York City on March 27, 1939, surrounded by frontier artifacts in her Park Avenue apartment. One year later, the annual Constance Lindsay Skinner Award, a bronze plaque awarded to a woman who has made "an outstanding contribution to the world of books," was established by the Women's National Book Association.
James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.
Kunitz, Stanley J., and Howard Haycraft, eds. Twentieth Century Authors. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1942.
McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1980.
Lisa C. Groshong , freelance writer, Columbia, Missouri