Our Land, Our Literature
Our Land, Our Literature Home
Search our Site
Environment Regions Contacts and Links About Us  

Gene Stratton-PorterGene Stratton-Porter

Hoosier Connection: Gene Stratton-Porter wrote extensively about Indiana’s environment. She put Geneva, Indiana, on the map by writing about the Limberlost Swamp and created a haven for endangered plants at her home in Rome City.

Works Discussed: Fiction: Song of the Cardinal, Freckles, At the Foot of the Rainbow, A Girl of the Limberlost, The Harvester, Laddie; Non-Fiction: What I Have Done With Birds/Friends of Feathers, Birds of the Bible, Music of the Wild, Moths of the Limberlost, Homing With the Birds, Wings, Tales You Won’t Believe, Let Us Highly Resolve; Magazines Articles : "Why the Biggest One Got Away," "Bird Architecture," "Photographing the Belted Kingfisher," "A Study of the Black Vulture," "Sight and Scent in Birds and Animals," "The Music of the Marsh," "Under My Fig Tree," "Why I Wrote A Girl of the Limberlost," "The Healing Influence of Gardens"


As one of Indiana’s best-known authors, Gene Stratton-Porter left an indelible mark on the state's history. Her writing started out as a way to make a little extra money, but it eventually made her a world famous author and naturalist. Most people know of Stratton-Porter from her two most famous novels, Freckles and A Girl of the Limberlost. However, many people are unaware that she wrote many of her novels to support her non-fiction writing.

Mark Stratton
Mark Stratton

Geneva Grace, later known as Gene, came as a surprise to her parents, Mark and Mary Stratton. On August 17, 1863, in the small town of Lagro, located in Wabash County, the couple gave birth to the youngest of their twelve children. Mary was not well in the years following Gene’s birth and with a family the size of the Strattons', there was little time to watch over the youngest. She learned to play by herself in the outdoors and this solitude became the foundation for her love of nature.

Mary Stratton
Mary Stratton

However, her happy times on the farm ended with a series of tragedies that began when she was eight years old. Her favorite brother, Laddie, drowned on July 6, 1872. Her brother’s death left a hole in Gene’s heart and a huge problem for her father. Laddie had been the only member of the family interested in continuing with farming. Mark Stratton was sixty years old at the time of his son’s death and was getting too old to farm. On top of it all, Mary was still very ill.

Gene Age 10
Gene Age 10

In 1875, the family moved from the dearly loved farm to Largo to stay with one of their daughters. Four months later, Mary died. After her death, the Stratton family moved often, living at the homes of Gene's siblings. When Gene was twenty, she met her future husband.

Charles Porter was a successful druggist and self-made businessman in Geneva, Indiana. He first saw Gene when they both attended a Chautauqua at Island Park Assembly, which was a religious revival, located on Sylvan Lake. They took up a writing correspondence and Charles soon asked her to marry him. On April 21, 1886, Geneva Grace Stratton married Charles Porter and the couple moved to Decatur, Indiana.

Gene was very unhappy in her first home. Her husband was constantly traveling between his two stores in Geneva and Ft. Wayne, leaving her alone with nothing to do in their small town. Thankfully, her loneliness did not last long; their first and only child, Jeannette Stratton-Porter, was born on August 27, 1887. Although Stratton-Porter was no longer lonely, she found the confined conditions of her home now unbearable with the new baby.

Limberlost Cabin
Limberlost Cabin.
Copyright, Indiana State Museum Shop.

Soon after the birth of Jeannette, the Stratton-Porter family moved to Geneva to be closer to one of Charles’s drug stores. Geneva was an ideal town for Stratton-Porter because it was near something she was familiar with-- the Wabash River and her old farmstead. In 1888, Charles Porter bought his wife a small cottage in the town near his drug store. The home proved to be too crowded for the family and they began to build Limberlost Cabin in 1894. In 1895, the very fine home, costing an astronomical amount, became the envy of the town.

Gene Stratton-Porter


Gene flourished in Geneva but also became very frustrated with the naturalists of her time. There were very few books written about nature and no books available could answer her questions. In order to find the answers she sought, Gene Stratton-Porter began to study the birdlife of the upper Wabash and record her observations. By conducting these studies, she was able to answer questions about bird physiology and habits.

Gene’s next problem involved photography. The only photographs ever taken of birds or animals portrayed subjects that were dead and stuffed. Gene wanted realistic photos and sought these pictures in the Limberlost Swamp. She would photograph and study the wildlife in the Limberlost for years, recording her findings and turning those observations into both fiction and non-fiction books. The Limberlost became a favorite place for Gene and she despaired when the beautiful trees and natural habitats were cleared for farmland. Oil drilling also destroyed the land, and she opposed this practice as well, in spite of the fact that her husband owned many oil rigs.

When Gene started putting her observations into books, she found out there were few publishers that would accept her naturalist writings. To make her nature books possible, an agreement was made between Stratton-Porter and her different publishers, such as Bobbs-Merrill, Doubleday, and Page and Company. Her publishers had serious doubts that her naturalist books would sell as well as her fiction, so she agreed to write novels to compensate for the money she lost on her non-fiction works. Although these non-fiction works never sold as well as her novels, they were very popular among some readers.

For example, Moths of the Limberlost is a natural history study that describes in detail the work Stratton-Porter accomplished with the moths around her home. The work was written when readers demanded more information on the moths found in her novel, A Girl of the Limberlost. Similarly, What I Have Done With Birds started out as a study published in a few articles of Ladies Home Journal, but due to public demand for more information, Stratton-Porter happily wrote the work to tell all she knew.

Wildflower Woods
Wildflower Woods. Copyright, Indiana State Museum.

With each work she published, Stratton-Porter’s fame grew. The public wanted to know more about this strange woman who ignored social protocol for proper ladies and instead trodded through dangerous swamps to find more information on all types of wildlife. Stratton-Porter fans were flocking to Geneva to visit the famous author. Although their intentions were well-meant, they soon began to crowd the very private Stratton-Porter. To escape the attention of her fans, she left Geneva in 1912 for Sylvan Lake in Rome City. Here, she bought a small cottage for a short time before searching for land to build a new house. In October, she found the land she wanted and began construction on Wildflower Woods. “Out of more than fourteen thousand trees, vines, shrubs, and wildflowers that she found or bought and planted, 90 percent were set by her own fingers” (Long 196). Many of the plants found at Wildflower Woods were endangered. However, because of the habitat created by Stratton-Porter, these plants are now flourishing.

Stratton-Porter remained at Wildflower Woods, planting and creating havens for her bird friends until 1918, when she could take the destruction of the land around her no longer. She moved to the beautiful landscape of southern California and remained there, writing several more books, producing quite a few movies, and even starting to publish some of her poetry. However, her poetry does not focus on Indiana's environment. Stratton-Porter lived in California until her death at the age of sixty, on December 6, 1924, when she suffered fatal injuries from an automobile accident.


Gene Stratton-Porter is best known for her novels Freckles (1904) and A Girl of the Limberlost (1909), which put Geneva, Indiana, and the Limberlost Swamp on the map. Of all her books, these two have most successfully brought attention to Indiana's environmental concerns. Readers who are completely in tune with nature and who find fulfillment through its healing qualities are easily absorbed into the characters of her novels.

The Song of the Cardinal (read full text), published in 1903, was Gene Stratton-Porter’s first novel. It tells the story of a male cardinal living his life on the land of a farmer who has promised sanctuary for all birds residing there. Porter was inspired to write the book when she found a dead cardinal, the victim of thoughtless sport. She was so irate that she wrote this book in response.

The book centers around a cardinal who is separated from his family and must live on his own. He flies until he finds an orchard to live in, and there he meets Abram, who talks to him, offering advice and protection.

Abram, the farmer, was clearly based on Stratton-Porter's father, who in her childhood promised her all the birds on his land as a gift. They would be protected from hunters as long as he owned the land.

Abram regards the cardinal as an equal, and this concept of equality is explored as the book progresses. Through the song of the cardinal, Abram and Maria, his wife, gain a stronger appreciation of nature.

[Abram’s] heart was big with happiness. It was the golden springtime of his later life. The sky never had seemed so blue, or the earth so beautiful. The Cardinal had opened the fountains of his soul.... (103) (extended quote)

Another manifestation of this appreciation is apparent when at one point in the novel, a young man is caught hunting on the land, and Abram explains to him why he should not kill for sport. The boy is so sorry for his actions that he confesses his wrongdoing, drops his gun, and runs off of the property.

Stratton-Porter's next novel, Freckles (read full text), was published in 1904. It is the story of a young orphan, nicknamed Freckles, who has only one hand. Because he is different, Freckles has faced harsh treatment throughout his life, but he eventually obtains a job working for McLean, the manager of a big lumber company. Freckles must live in the Limberlost and protect it for the next year. Although he is alone, the experience of living in the swamp proves to be beneficial.

When the first breath of spring touched the Limberlost... and the pulse of the newly resurrected season beat strong in the heart of nature, something new stirred in the breast of the boy.

Nature always levies her tribute. Now she laid a powerful hand on the soul of Freckles, to which the boy’s whole being responded, though he had not the least idea what was troubling him.... Clean, hot, and steady the blood pulsed in his veins. He was always hungry, and his hardest day’s work tired him not at all.... He had taken on flesh and colour, and developed a greater strength and endurance than any one could ever have guessed. (40-1) (extended quote)

Being in nature strengthens Freckles, both mentally and physically. He is bribed to let McLean's ex-workers cut down a few trees, but he refuses the money instead of betraying his duties.

Freckles meets and falls in love with Swamp Angel, a frail but beautiful young woman who lives in the Limberlost with the Bird Woman. This was a real-life nickname for Gene Stratton-Porter, and like the author, the Bird Woman photographs birds and collects insects.

“[The Bird Woman is] dead down on anybody that shoots a bird or tears up a nest. Why, she’s half killing herself in all kinds of places and whether to teach people to love and protect the birds. She’s that plum careful of them that Jim’s wife says she has Jim a standin’ like a big fool holding an ombrelly over them when they are young and tender until she gets a focus, what ever that is. Jim says there ain’t a bird on his place that don’t actually seem to like to have her around after she has wheedled them a few days, and the pictures she gets nobody would ever believe that didn’t stand by and see them taken.” (114)

Freckles helps the women with their nature studies and provides them protection. Like Stratton-Porter herself, the Swamp Angel condemns the destruction of the forests, as in this passage:

“Oh, what a shame!” cried the Angel. “They’ll clear out roads, cut down the beautiful trees, and tear up everything. They’ll drive away the birds and spoil the cathedral. When they have done their worst, then all these mills about here will follow in and take out the cheap timber. Then the land-owners will dig a few ditches, build some fires, and in two summers more the Limberlost will be in corn and potatoes.” (182-3)

At the Foot of the Rainbow, (read full text) published in 1907, is the story of two life-long friends, Jimmy Malone and Dannie Micnoun. They live near Rainbow Bottom along the Wabash River, where they hunt, fish, and tend their farms.

The two characters have many differences; Jimmy often misunderstands his surroundings, but Dannie is in touch with the Earth. By emphasizing their dissimilar approaches to nature, Stratton-Porter shows readers the value of appreciating the environment. Here Dannie expresses his wonder at the splendor of Rainbow Bottom:

“I dinna think there is ony place in all the world so guid as the place ye own,” Dannie said earnestly.... “I dinna give twa hoops fra the palaces men rig up, or the thing they call ‘landscape gardening.’ When did men ever compete with the work of God...? The thing God does is guid enough for me.” (103-5) (extended quote)

Jimmy is interested in material things, but Dannie finds the forest and all of nature fascinating and full of life. He prefers natural beauty over artificial “landscape gardening,” and he compares Rainbow Bottom to an endless pot of gold, a marvelous wealth of infinite beauty.

Stratton-Porter's most famous novel, A Girl of the Limberlost (read full text), was published in 1909. It is the story of Elnora Comstock, a girl who lives in the Limberlost with her widowed mother. (read quote)

Elnora convinces her mother to let her go to school, but when she arrives, she is embarrassed by her inferior clothes and lack of textbooks. Mrs. Comstock refuses to buy Elnora's books, so she sets out to earn the money herself.

Elnora responds to a sign in a bank window offering cash for caterpillars, cocoons, chrysalides, pupae cases, butterflies, moths, and Indian relics of all kinds. Having explored the Limberlost and amassed an extensive collection of insects and other specimens, Elnora finds the Bird Woman, who had posted the sign, and soon has the money she needs for school. (read quote) However, that money runs out over the next few years, so Elnora must once again begin collecting.

At one point, Mrs. Comstock spots an insect in the house and kills it before Elnora can stop her. The insect is a Yellow Emperor, a rare moth which Elnora needs to complete a set worth 300 dollars. To rectify her mistake, Mrs. Comstock goes into the Limberlost to search for a Yellow Emperor herself. As Elnora and her mother find insects together, their relationship grows stronger.

While searching with her mother one day, Elnora meets a man in the forest who offers to help her cut a cocoon from a log.

“It’s going to be a fair job to cut it out, but when it comes, it is not only beautiful, but worth a price; it will help you on your way. I think I’ll put up that rod and hunt moths." (264) (extended quote)

The man, named Philip Ammon, has been instructed by his doctor to spend time outdoors to recover from typhoid fever. He decides to help Elnora with her hunting since he must exercise outside anyway.

Philip and Elnora spend the summer together hunting moths and other insects. She obtains a job at the school teaching about the wilderness. Elnora and Philip become good friends and eventually get married.

The Harvester (read full text), published in 1911, tells of a man who lives his life in the woods collecting plants for medicinal use and selling them to chemists. The Harvester has a dream of a beautiful girl and devotes his time and effort to finding her. (read quote) He lives most of his life in the 600 acres of a forest called Medicine Woods, and collects plants from surrounding areas to grow on his own property.

Six years he had worked cultivating these beds, and hunting through the woods on the river banks, government land, the great Limberlost Swamp, and neglected corners of the earth for barks and roots. He occasionally made long trips across the country for rapidly diminishing plants he found in the woodland of men who did not care to bother with a few specimens, and many big beds of profitable herbs, extinct for miles around, now flourished on the banks of Loon Lake, in the marsh, and through the forest rising above. (26)

The Harvester eventually does find his “Dream Girl,” whose real name is Ruth Jameson. Ruth is ill when the Harvester first meets her, and he tries to cure her from her sickness, teaching her, in the process, about the forest and its many uses. They marry, but she does not yet love him. Again, Ruth becomes very ill and nearly dies, and when none of the doctors can help her, the Harvester treats her with a concoction of his own. He continues to care for her, and by healing her body and her soul, he finally wins her love.

Many aspects of the Harvester’s life in the woods affect his personality and actions throughout this book. They are his respect for nature and the way this respect is tied to his religion. (read quote)

He respects nature and does not take from it in excess. “I must have a mighty good reason before I kill…. I cannot give life; I have no right to take it away” (173).

As important as nature is to him, there is something that holds a higher priority: his religion. His is a simple religion but he is very devoted to it. His respect and wonder at nature stems from his religion. He expresses it in the woods where he works and lives. "My work keeps me in the woods so much I remain there for my religion also. Whenever I find these flowers I always pause for a little service of my own..." (183).(extended quote)

The Harvester ties together well the ideas of nature and religion. (read quote) This was a concept of which Stratton-Porter was very fond. Through this connection, greater importance is put on nature, which is what she wants to do in order to help preserve it. The Harvester conveys this idea to the reader.

In 1913, Stratton-Porter published Laddie: A True Blue Story (read full text), which is strongly based on her own life. The narrator, Little Sister, is a girl who lives on a farm with her older siblings. (read quote) The oldest of these siblings, Laddie, is a strong influence on her life.

Little Sister's is interested in nature and that interest can be clearly traced to her father:

Every few days I followed the lane as far back as the Big Gate. This stood where four fields cornered, and opened into the road leading to the woods. Beyond it, I had walked on Sunday afternoons with father while he taught me all the flowers, vines, and bushes he knew, only he didn't know some of the prettiest ones….(8) (extended quote)

As Little Sister grows, she realizes the value of experience in learning about nature. Although schooling and books teach her the names of plants and animals, it is only by being outside and observing her environment that she truly learns about nature. (read quote)

Like Stratton-Porter, Little Sister was not meant for a life indoors. Her joy in life is being with nature, not living and working in confined rooms. (read quote) This novel is a good one to read to understand Stratton-Porter’s childhood and how it later affected her life and work. It is as important as a biography, because it is written by Stratton-Porter about herself.

Stratton-Porter's novels have touched the lives of countless Hoosiers, as well as many others. Her fictional works reveal an environment where many of her characters have grown and been healed by nature. Unfortunately much of that environment no longer exists today.



Gene Stratton-Porter may be best known for her novels, but her true love was writing about natural history. Most of her novels were only written to fund her nature writing.“[I]t was her clear objective to promote the preservation of the physical landscape that inspired…her” (Vanausdall 103). She could often be found in the swamp, photographing, studying, and writing about the animals around her. The biographer Frederic Cooper commented:

Gene Stratton-Porter lives in a swamp, arrays herself in man’s clothes, and sallies forth in all weathers to study the secrets of nature. I believe she knows every bug, bird, and beast in the woods…She is primarily a naturalist, one of the foremost in America and has published a number of books on flora and fauna… These books—which are closest to her heart—have only a moderate sale. (670)

Several of her natural history books contain her photography of living specimens she found in the Limberlost swamp. Birds and moths were her favorite subjects to write about and photograph, but her interest reached beyond these creatures. She became an expert on Indiana’s natural world, particularly her beloved Limberlost. In Gene Stratton-Porter: A Lovely Light, she is quoted:

I was born in this state, have always lived here and hope to die here. It is my belief that to do strong work any writer must stick to the things he truly knows, the simple, common things of life as he has lived them. So I stick to Indiana (82).

Her first natural history work was What I Have Done with Birds: Character Studies of Native American Birds. This book was published in 1907, and a revised edition was published in 1917 as Friends in Feathers. The book is an account of many species of birds that Stratton-Porter studied over the course of five years, including photographs that she took. In each chapter, she discusses a different species of bird and her experiences in the field with that species. She describes in intimate detail her encounters with birds in the Limberlost and how she photographed them in their natural habitat. Her strong feelings against harming an animal or its surroundings for the sake of nature study or photography are evident.

The greatest brutality ever practiced on brooding birds consists in cutting down, tearing out and placing nests of helpless young for one’s own convenience. Any such picture has no earthly value, as it does not reproduce a bird’s location or characteristics. (13)

Birds of the Bible was published in 1909. In this work Stratton-Porter meticulously discusses psalms and passages in the Bible that mention birds. She writes that birds are often a religious symbol because “[f]eathered creatures have a beauty of form and motion…[therefore] we love the birds, and whoever writes of them with a touch of the divine tenderness of poesy makes instant appeal to our hearts.” (115)

Only a year later, Music of the Wild, with reproduction of the performers, their instruments and festival halls, was published. This book contains over one hundred of Stratton-Porter’s photographs and is spilt into three sections: The Chorus of the Forest, Songs of the Fields, and Music of the Marsh. Here she refers to the natural song of the Limberlost: “[N]one…can sing sweeter songs or have more interest to the inch than the Limberlost” (289). She challenges her reader to listen to nature’s music and learn to hear each player and enjoy every note.

Always there is the call of the music; the best in the wide world, the spontaneous, day long, night long song of freedom and content. From a million gauze-winged magicians, from the entire aquatic orchestra singing to the accompaniment of the pattering rain, from the killdeer’s call trailing across the silver night, from the coot waking the red morning, from the chattering blackbird of golden noon, from the somber-robed performers of the gray evening,--comes the great call that above all lures men to return again, and yet again, to revel in it; comes the sweet note from the voice of the wild…. (426-7)

In 1912, one of Stratton-Porter’s better-known natural history books was published. Moths of the Limberlost (read full text) is a detailed natural history of her experiences and study of moths. The original edition of this book included many of Stratton-Porter’s photographs of moths in various stages of life. She describes in the book how the study of moths became one of her passions:

Primarily, I went to the swamp to study and reproduce the birds. I never thought they could have a rival in my heart. But these fragile night wanderers, these moonflowers of June's darkness, literally "thrust themselves upon me." When my cameras were placed before the home of a pair of birds…and clinging to them found a creature, often having the bird's sweep of wing…the feathered folk found a competitor that often outdistanced them in my affections, for I am captivated easily by colour, and beauty of form. (127)

Moths of the Limberlost has detailed descriptions of Stratton-Porter’s work in raising, studying and photographing moths. This book is a detailed natural history of the moths found in the Limberlost area. In this work, Stratton-Porter’s fascination with these insects is obvious. “If only one person enjoys this book one-tenth as much as I have loved the work of making it, then I am fully repaid”(386). She encourages her readers to help the moths and welcome them into their yard.

I think people need not fear planting trees on their premises that will be favourites with caterpillars…[I] never have been able to see the results by a single defoliated branch…If you care for moths you need not fear to encourage them; the birds will keep them within proper limits. (49)

Homing with the Birds, published in 1919, begins with stories about her childhood on her parents’ Hopewell Farm in Wabash County, Indiana. She describes her first experiences with birds and how she earned the title “little bird woman” early in her life. Later she talks about an important experience where her father gave her a life-changing gift.

…[H]e told me that he had something for me even finer and more precious than anything man had made or could ever make…he then preceded formally to present me with the personal and indisputable ownership of each bird of every description that made its home on his land. (21)

She also discusses many unusual things she had seen and photographed, as well as her interpretations of bird songs, languages and general natural history including instinct, courtship and nest-building. This book was written after she moved to her Limberlost Cabin North in Rome City, Indiana. Her move was a result of the disgust she felt as she watched the destruction of the Limberlost.

Through the work of farmers and lumbermen, my immediate territory had been cleared, drained, and put under cultivation, until the birds had flown, the flowers and moths were exterminated, there was not an interesting landscape to reproduce. (66)

She goes on to explain that even in Rome City there were people who lacked concern for the environment:

If these men do not take active conservation measures soon, I shall be forced to enter politics to plead for the conservation of the forests, wildflowers, the birds, and over and above everything else, the precious water on which our comfort, fertility, and life itself depend. (123)

Later in the book, she makes a plea for consciousness to the environmental issues connected to birds, such as eliminating exotic species and preserving endangered species. “I hope I have gone into sufficient detail to prove to anyone reading this book the sum of our indebtedness to the birds. The question now becomes: how can we pay our obligation?” (365). Stratton-Porter closes with a final entreaty, “In the writing of this book I have done my best. Now is the time for concerted action on the part of everyone who reads it” (376).

Wings was published in 1923. It was similar to the books she had published earlier about the natural history of birds and her experiences with them.

In 1925, after Stratton-Porter’s death, Tales You Won’t Believe was published, which was a collection of stories from her life in the field. She wrote this book almost entirely about her experiences at Limberlost Cabin North in Rome City, Indiana. She discusses her love for the land around her and its rich habitats and variety of wildlife. She writes of a beautiful wood duck that she comes upon while studying at Sylvan Lake. Sadly, the duck is shot later that same day.

The fact that June was the time for nesting; that they had broken the laws of man when they killed the mate of a brooding bird; they had broken the laws of God when they took the life of intense interest and exquisite beauty…because in all the work I have done in the woods and around the water, that is the only wood duck I have ever seen, and I am perfectly confident that none of us will ever see another. (153-4)

She also tells the story of the last passenger pigeon, an extinct species. In this story she also complains about the clearing of the land:

[M]an started to clear a piece of land he chopped down every tree on it, cut the trunks into sections, rolled them into a log heap, and burned them to get them out of his way…Now where was there even one man who had the vision to see that the forests would eventually come to an end…? (212)

She points out that this habitat destruction would have devastating results including climate change, “They had forgotten that draining the water from all these acres of swamp land would dry and heat the air…and they had not figured out for themselves how much rainfall they would take from their crops” (173). She continues: “[A]s the forests fell, the creeks and springs dried up…the work of changing the climatic conditions of a world was underway…the fur-bearing animals and all kinds of game birds were being driven farther and farther…” (213). She also discusses the environmental issues associated with agriculture: “I must gather all the beautiful things I could that lay in the way of clearing and draining on the individual land of each farmer who wanted to increase his tillable area” (172).

Her last natural history book, Let Us Highly Resolve, was published in 1927. It is a collection of environmental essays, the most stirring of which is entitled “Shall We Save Our Natural Beauty?” She explains the changes that Indiana’s environment has experienced:

I was accustomed to Indians at the door, to wild turkeys, wildcats, and bear and deer in the woods…We used to see pigeons come in such numbers that they broke down branches…There was an abundance of game of every kind…The resources of the country were so vast that it never occurred to any one to select the most valuable…and store them for the use of future generations. (181)

Stratton-Porter goes on to examine the negative effects of clearing and exploiting the land, pleading for nationwide conservation efforts:

The deer and fur-bearing animals are practically gone from the country I knew…The birds have been depleted in numbers until it is quite impossible to raise fruit of any kind without a continuous fight against slugs and aphis…With the cutting of timber has come a change in climate; weeks of drought in the summer…and winters so stringently cold that the fruit trees are killed outright. The even temperature and the rains every three or four days which we knew in childhood are things of the past…it has become necessary for the sons of the men who wasted the woods and the waters to put in overhead sprinkling systems… windmills and irrigation are becoming common…as a nation, [we] have already, in the most wanton and reckless waste the world has ever known, changed our climatic conditions and wasted a good part of our splendid heritage. The question now facing us is whether we shall do all that lies in our power to save comfortable living conditions for ourselves and the spots of natural beauty that remain for our children…If this is to be done, a nation-wide movement must be begun immediately...there may not be coal and iron, at the rate we are using it, to supply future generations…Certainly to plant trees and preserve trees, to preserve water, and to do all in our power to save every natural resource, both from the standpoint of utility and beauty, is a work that every man and woman should give immediate and earnest attention” (194).

From Stratton-Porter's natural history works, readers can gain a sense of the history of environmentalism in Indiana. The influence of her works was not contained by Indiana's borders. Her passion for the environment and her meticulous methods for studying it have inspired people around the world.



Gene Stratton-Porter was monumental in bringing the nature of Indiana into the homes of families around the United States. Her writings about a small town swamp and the environment outside her window brought new perspectives on nature to many Americans.

Stratton-Porter was unsatisfied with the money her husband allotted her, so she began writing her magazine articles to earn extra money. However, the public soon took to her writing, and Stratton-Porter found herself responding to the mail of eager fans by undertaking new studies and writing articles.

One of her very first articles, Why the Biggest One Got Away, published in Recreation Magazine, focused on the Wabash River and the fishing she and her family did in that area. She loved nature and tried to express in her writings the serenity she gained from spending time outdoors. Her love for birds also played heavily in many of her articles.

A few examples of Stratton-Porter's bird studies may be found throughout the Outing Magazine publications, most taking place in the Limberlost Swamp or surrounding areas. Published in the July 1901 issue, “Bird Architecture ” describes her study of the various birds found throughout the Limberlost Swamp. In the November 1901 copy, “Photographing the Belted Kingfisher, Stratton-Porter depicts the habits and characteristics of the Belted Kingfisher.

Black Vulture
Black Vulture. Photo by Gene Stratton-Porter

One of her more exciting studies involves the article, “A Study of the Black Vulture, published in December 1901. A rare find in the 1900s, a vulture nest was nearly impossible to spot and little was known about the bird. Stratton-Porter visited the spot of the nest for weeks, braving the terrible swamp with its bugs and poisonous snakes to present a new perspective on the often ill-regarded bird.

Stratton-Porter describes her observations of animals' senses in the June 1902 issue of “Sight and Scent in Birds and Animals” and creates a symphony of sounds with her September 1902 article, “The Music of the Marsh.

With these articles Stratton-Porter hoped to show people the often-overlooked beauty and complexity of wildlife. She felt that the people of her time were too concerned with propriety and social affairs, and she wanted them instead to appreciate the natural world. She stressed the importance of taking the time to observe nature to all her readers, whether they lived in the city or the countryside. Such opinions are found in the article, "Under My Fig Tree," published in The American Annual of Photography and Photographic Times Almanac for 1903. For example:

There come at home days when I do not know of a single location anywhere to tempt me abroad, and I say to myself, “To-day, about my veranda and orchard I will loaf and invite my soul.” It is of these days, under my own vine and fig tree, when most interesting subjects come and sit down in front of me, and as it were, compel my camera from its case and my lens to action, that I wish to write. (26)

A Girl of the Limberlost
A Girl of the Limberlost. Published by Doubleday Page and Company, 1909.

In the February 1910 issue of World’s Work Magazine, Stratton-Porter wrote the article “Why I Wrote A Girl of the Limberlost. Letters poured in after the publication of this novel and the public asked for more. Stratton-Porter wrote this article in response. In this article, she again notes her desire to bring the tranquility of nature and the forest to the public:

So I wrote “A Girl of the Limberlost,” to carry to workers inside city walls, to hospital cots, to those behind prison bars, and to scholars in their libraries, my story of earth and sky… I put in all the insects, flowers, vines and trees, birds, and animals that I know…. (12546)

Stratton-Porter continued to write about Indiana’s environment in popular magazines like Outing, Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, and McCall’s as well as many others, and showed people a new world waiting in the swamps and forests.

Although Stratton-Porter was sometimes criticized for being too sugary, this did not stop readers from devouring her work. In 1921, she signed a contract with McCall’s Magazine to write a monthly article called the Gene Stratton-Porter Page. As her audience was composed of mainly women, the articles gave advice on housekeeping as well as addressing nature topics. This column appeared in each issue of McCall’s from 1922-1927. Even after her death in 1924, the fans longed to read all she had to say, and the remainder of her articles were published posthumously. In December 1927, her final article, "The Healing Influence of Gardens," was published in McCall's. In this article, her daughter addressed the readers, making this statement about Stratton-Porter’s feelings toward the fans:

Jeanette Stratton-Porter

Jeannette Stratton-Porter, 1907.

I do not know which was dearer to my mother’s heart – Nature, with all the wealth of color and beauty that word implies – or you, women of America, two million strong, to whom she spoke each month through this page. That she loved you both I am certain. Her love for Nature – for flowers, for fields, for streams, for mountains, spoke through every word of her works. Her love for you shone through her life and illuminated each tiny, inconsequential daily task. You were always in her thoughts, you women of McCall’s street; your problems were her problems, your hopes her hopes and your triumphs she made her own. My mother is gone, but her love and her spirit, I am proudly confident, remain and will be forever with you. (120)

Stratton-Porter wrote her articles to give people a glimpse of the world outdoors. Their response to her editorials was one factor in her decision to expand many of her articles into books. For example, Freckles, Laddie, Moths of the Limberlost, What I Have Done With Birds, and The Song of the Cardinal all started out as articles. Stratton-Porter’s readers loved her writings so much, that they demanded her articles be published even after her death. Stratton-Porter contributed to the environment and literature by creating novels that educated as well as entertained their readers.



Cooper, Frederic Taber. "The Popularity of Gene Stratton-Porter." The Bookman 9 (1915): 670-71.

Gene Stratton-Porter: A Voice of the Limberlost. Producers Nancy Carlson and Ann Eldridge. Perf. Annette O’Toole. Ball State University, 1996.

King, Rollin. Gene Stratton-Porter: A Lovely Light. Chicago: Adams Press, 1979.

Long, Judith Reick. Gene Stratton-Porter: Novelist and Naturalist. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1990.

Richards, Bertrand F. Gene Stratton-Porter. Boston: Twayne, 1980.

Stratton-Porter, Gene. At the Foot of the Rainbow. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1907.

---. Birds of the Bible. Cincinnati: Jennings & Graham, 1909.

---. A Girl of the Limberlost. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1909.

---. Freckles. New York: Doubleday Page & Co., 1904.

---. The Harvester. New York: Doubleday Page & Co., 1911.

---. Homing with the Birds: The History of a Lifetime of Personal Experience with the Bird. New York: Doubleday Page & Co.,1919.

---. Laddie: A True Blue Story. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1913.

---. Let Us Highly Resolve. New York: Doubleday Page & Co., 1927.

---. Moths of the Limberlost. New York: Doubleday Page & Co., 1912.

---. Music of the Wild. Cincinnati: Jennings & Graham, 1910.

---. The Song of the Cardinal. New York: Doubleday Page & Co., 1915.

---. Tales You Won't Believe. New York: Doubleday Page & Co., 1925.

---. What I Have Done with Birds: Character Studies of Native American Birds. Rev. ed. as Friends in Feathers. New York: Doubleday Page & Co., 1917.

---. Wings. New York: Doubleday Page & Co., 1923.

Vanausdall, Jeanette. Pride and Protest: The Novel in Indiana. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1999.



Long, Judith Reick. Gene Stratton-Porter: Novelist and Naturalist. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1990. 22, 23, 67, 101, 116, 156. [Family photos and vulture picture.]

A Girl of the Limberlost. Rave Reviews: Bestselling Fiction in America Exhibit, U of Virginia Library. 15 November 2002 <http://www.lib.virginia.edu/speccol/exhibits/ rave_reviews/lg_html/1909-girloflimberlost-cove.html>.


Indiana Historical Society: Gene Stratton-Porter

Gene Stratton-Porter and Her Limberlost Swamp