Morrow reports that found fact and much more about Stratton-Porter in her new book, “Nature's Storyteller: The Life of Gene Stratton-Porter” (Indiana Historical Society, $17.95). The book arrived just before Earth Day, which is being celebrated today.
Much has been written about Stratton-Porter, a pioneering outdoorswoman who grew up on a farm near Wabash and later lived in homes amid nature near Geneva and Rome City, both in northeast Indiana. But the most recent thorough book on her life had been published about 20 years ago, Morrow said. She saw an opportunity for a new book, especially one written for young adults.
“What I feel I was able to contribute was to pull together all this disparate (varied) information about her,” said Morrow, a longtime former journalist.
In the past, experts' opinions differed on whether she moved in 1914 or 1915. In one bit of information she found, Morrow said, Stratton-Porter herself recalled it had been Feb. 14, 1915, even though other information conflicts with that date.
One day, Morrow had spent a frustrating day attempting additional research at the Kendallville Public Library. She lamented her lack of success while conversing with a librarian, and the librarian asked if she had ever looked at the M.F. Owen scrapbook collection.
Morrow hadn't heard of it. But what a treasure trove of information it proved to be.
The original scrapbooks had been sitting in a garage for decades, Morrow learned. A Dekko Foundation grant helped pay for them to be copied and the copies bound in volumes — years 1880-1931 — for Kendallville library patrons' use.
As she turned the pages, Morrow found clippings about Stratton-Porter buying the land for Wildflower Woods and construction progress. Another clipping reported Stratton-Porter and her husband, Charles, had planned to move in by Thanksgiving in 1913, but work delays forced them to postpone their arrival.
Further on, Morrow found what she had hoped for — a newspaper clipping reporting Stratton-Porter moved into the home Feb. 14, 1914.
“It was fun to be able to track it down and put that to bed,” she said. “We now know with authority when she moved in there.”
Read by 50 million people
Meehan hadn't used the letters in chronological order, nor completely identified the person who had written to her mother or to whom her mother had sent a letter. Morrow said she followed the trails of the letters to learn more information, so her book presents the letters in chronological order with some context about who is writing to Stratton-Porter or receiving her letter.
Morrow also tracked down all the reviews she could find about Stratton-Porter's books, and organized them so readers can see what book critics thought of each of the works.
At her peak, Stratton-Porter had been read by 50 million people, Morrow said.
A growing interest
For example, a collection of her nature essays was published in the late 1990s, Morrow said. In 2007, Kent State University in Ohio published the first collection of her poetry. One of Stratton-Porter's essays also was included in a 2008 anthology of the most influential environmental writing of the past two centuries.
Morrow's book “kind of brings us up to date on what her standing is today,” she said.