Victor, Metta (1831–1885)

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Victor, Metta (1831–1885)

American writer . Name variations: Metta Victoria Fuller Victor. Born Metta Victoria Fuller on March 2, 1831, in Erie, Pennsylvania; died of cancer on June 26, 1885, in Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey; daughter of Adonijah Fuller and Lucy A. (Williams) Fuller; sister of Frances Victor (1826–1902); graduated from an all-female school in Wooster, Ohio; married Orville J. Victor (an editor), in July 1856; children: Lillian (b. 1857); Alice (b. 1859); Bertha (b. 1860); Winthrop (b. 1861); Lucy (b. 1863); Guy (b. 1865); Metta (b. 1866); twins Vivia and Florence (b. 1872).

Moved with sister Frances to New York City (1848); with husband, edited Cosmopolitan Art Journal (late 1850s); edited Home (from 1860); wrote over 100 dime novels and other works of fiction (1860–85).

Selected writings:

The Senator's Son, or, The Maine Law: A Last Refuge (1851); Mormon Wives (or Lives of the Female Mormons, 1856); Miss Slimmens' Window (1859); Alice Wilde, The Raftsman's Daughter (1860); The Backwoods Bride (1860); Maum Guinea, and Her Plantation "Children" (1862); Too True: A Story of To-Day (1868); The Blunders of a Bashful Man (1875); A Bad Boy's Diary (1880); A Naughty Girl's Diary (1884).

Even in her own day her name was hardly known, for she wrote anonymously or under a pseudonym, yet Metta Victor must be ranked as one of the founding figures of American popular culture. She was a prolific creator of dime novels, the action-packed mass entertainment phenomenon of the mid-to-late 19th century, and the readership of her more than 100 works included not only ordinary Americans but also one as renowned as President Abraham Lincoln. She was born Metta Victoria Fuller in 1831 in Erie, Pennsylvania, where she spent some of her childhood before moving to Wooster, Ohio. She and her older sister Frances Victor received formal schooling at an all-female institution in Wooster, and began to write. They sent stories to home-town newspapers, and Victor's first novel, a fanciful recreation of life in Mayan times called The Last Days of Tul, was published when she was 15. Emboldened by the acceptance for publication of one of their writings by a New York magazine called the Home Journal, the sisters moved to New York City in 1848, when Metta was only 17.

In New York, they made contacts in the literary world, particularly editor Rufus Wilmot Griswold, and published a volume entitled Poems of Sentiment and Imagination in 1851. That same year, Metta finished a pro-temperance novel, The Senator's Son, or, The Maine Law: A Last Refuge. It was published both in the United States and in England, appearing in a number of editions, and launched her literary career in earnest. By 1856, she had published at least two more full-length works, one of which was a condemnation of the lives of women in the polygamy-practicing Mormon Church. Her professional and personal lives converged fortuitously in July 1856, when she married an editor named Orville J. Victor.

The couple jointly edited the Cosmopolitan Art Journal, published first in Sandusky, Ohio, where they lived before moving to New York City in 1858. Her first child had been born in 1857, and she would have eight more by 1872, but Victor nonetheless became the editor of the monthly magazine Home, published by the house of Beadle and Adams, in 1859. She also speedily contributed a popular Dime Cook-Book to their catalogue. Her husband worked closely with the same publisher, and in 1860 he turned the art journal over to his wife so that he could devote full time to a new venture in mass-production publishing, the Beadle and Adams "Dime Novels."

"Dime Novels" took off, eventually becoming ubiquitous, and Metta Victor immediately tried her hand at them. By the end of 1860, she had written and published both Alice Wilde, The Raftsman's Daughter and The Backwoods Bride. She would go on to write nearly 100 more novels in the form; 1862's Maum Guinea, and Her Plantation "Children" (Dime Novel No. 33) was widely popular and played a role in the antislavery movement at the height of the Civil War. President Lincoln praised the book, although, like her other dime novels, its title page did not bear its author's name.

Victor became well established as a writer, and later in life was able to earn handsome prices for her work. She sometimes worked outside the dime novel genre, as with Miss Slimmens' Window (1859), a collection of short satires, and The Blunders of a Bashful Man (1875), and continued to contribute to the numerous periodicals of the day. Attuned to the tastes of the times, after the Civil War she abandoned the reform novels that no longer appealed to a war-weary public and turned instead to gentle humor and light domestic satire. One of her last books, A Naughty Girl's Diary, was published in 1884, only a year before her death from cancer at age 54, in Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1980.

James M. Manheim , freelance writer, Ann Arbor, Michigan

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