Born on a farm in Wabash County on Aug. 17, 1863, Geneva Grace Stratton was the youngest of 12 children. Gene’s mother died in 1875 after suffering from typhoid fever, and her father was left to raise the couple’s many children by himself. Living in a rural area, Gene received little formal schooling and instead made nature her classroom.
Gene showed an interest in nature and wildlife from an early age. She enjoyed playing with birds and feeding them in their nests. Gene’s father, a farmer and part-time preacher, also taught her that plants and animals were gifts from God and should be treated with respect.
At the age of 11, Gene’s family moved to Wabash, and Gene began attending school regularly. Still, she dropped out of high school shortly before graduation, frustrated with the rigid structure of the public school system.
On April 21, 1886, Gene married Charles D. Porter, a druggist in Geneva, Ind. The couple had one child, Jeannette, who was born in 1887. When oil was discovered on some farmland that Mr. Porter owned, Gene used the newfound family wealth to build a 14-room home that she had designed herself. “Limberlost Cabin,” as Gene called it, was located near the Limberlost Swamp.
Gene was not like most women of her time. Instead of staying home and sewing or cooking, Gene preferred to go exploring in the Limberlost Swamp. There, using a camera given to her as a Christmas present by her daughter, she photographed the colorful birds and animals in their natural habitat. When she set out to explore the swamp, she carried with her the camera and a gun, just in case any poisonous snakes crossed her path. Gene submitted her nature photographs and articles to outdoor magazines, such as Recreation and Outing.
Soon, Gene decided to try writing fiction as a way to appeal to a larger audience. Her first novel, Song of the Cardinal, was published in 1903, and a second, Freckles, came out in 1904. In all, Gene authored 12 novels, seven nature books, two books of poetry, children’s books and numerous magazine articles. Though her novels were wildly popular, many critics complained that they were overly sentimental and romantic.
In 1912, saddened by the draining of her precious Limberlost Swamp, Gene moved to Sylvan Lake at Rome City, Ind., where she built “The Cabin at Wildflower Woods.” However, her years of hard work took a toll on her and in 1918, exhausted, she checked herself into a clinic in New York. The next year, she moved to California to recuperate in a sunny climate. There, she opened a movie production company to make some of her novels into movies. She was killed in a tragic car accident in 1924.
“Gene Stratton Porter” bibliographic essay prepared by the Indiana Historical Society staff.
“Gene Stratton Porter Cabin.” Indiana State Museum.
Price, Nelson. Indiana Legends: Famous Hoosiers from Johnny Appleseed to David Letterman.Carmel, Indiana: Guild Press of Indiana, 1997.
“Our Land, Our Literature.” This Ball State University site includes biographic information about Gene Stratton-Porter as well as discussion of some of her writings.
“Gene Stratton-Porter and her Limberlost.” Web site for the Gene Stratton-Porter Limberlost State Historic Site in Geneva, Ind.