Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Gene Stratton-Porter

Kathryn Page Camp
This year celebrates Indiana’s bicentennial. During January, the Indiana Writers’ Consortium blog will highlight several well-known Indiana writers, starting with Gene Stratton-Porter.

When I was in high school, I discovered The Girl of the Limberlost among the books that my mother had saved from her own high school years. I was always hungry for something new to read, and it didn’t take me long to devour this one.

On the surface, I had little in common with the protagonist, Elnora. She had a dead father and a cold mother. I had two living parents and knew that they loved me. Elnora fought her mother to attend high school, and my parents fought for a good education for each of their children. Elnora lived on the edge of a swamp in Indiana, and I lived in the middle of a small town in Michigan.

And yet, Gene Stratton-Porter found the commonality in our shared emotions and desires. Elnora wanted to fit in, and so did I. Elnora loved reading and music, and so did I. But mostly, Elnora wanted her mother’s love. Although I had that, I could imagine what life would be like without it, and I ached for her. I also rejoiced at those times when there was a glimmer of hope, such as when her mother packed a sumptuous lunch and Elnora exclaimed, “Sure as you’re born she loves me; only she hasn’t found it out yet!”

I won’t give away any more of the story because I would rather you read it yourself. Instead, I’ll tell you something about the author.

Gene Stratton-Porter was born on August 17, 1863 in Wabash County, Indiana. She did not finish high school, but she loved to read and was an ardent naturalist. Although she is best known for her novels, she wrote many books about nature and was also a wildlife photographer.

Gene married Charles Porter, a pharmacist, in 1886, and they had a daughter a year later. Charles owned pharmacies in Geneva and Fort Wayne, Indiana, so they built a home in Geneva near the Limberlost Swamp. When developers ruined the swamp, the family moved north and purchased the land to create their own wildlife refuge on Sylvan Lake in Noble County, Indiana. It is now the Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site and is open to the public. I visited it many years ago with my daughter and husband when my son was attending Camp Lutherhaven near Fort Wayne.

Unfortunately for all of us, Gene Stratton-Porter moved to California for her health and to found her own movie studio. She had only been there a few years when she was in an automobile accident that took her life. She died on December 6, 1924 at the age of 61.

Even though she spent the last few years of her life in California, Gene Stratton-Porter was a quintessential Indiana author. If you haven’t read her yet, you should. To paraphrase Elnora, “Sure as you’re born you’ll love her; only you haven’t found it out yet!”


The picture of Gene Stratton-Porter at the head of this post is in the public domain because of its age.


Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer. Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal was a Kirkus’ Indie Books of the Month Selection for April 2014. The second edition of Kathryn’s first book, In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court’s First Amendment Decisions Affect Organized Religion, was released on September 30, 2015. You can learn more about Kathryn at

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