(August 26, 1874-December 27, 1938)
A native of Portage, Wisconsin, Zona Gale was a journalist, novelist, essayist and playwright who often set her work in the Midwest in which she grew up. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin, she worked as a reporter for several years before turning her hand to fiction and drama. Gale would eventually publish numerous plays and more than twenty volumes of prose. She lived in New York City for a decade and often visited there, but most of her life was spent in Portage.
Gale first gained fame with her “Friendship Village” stories, a series of works about small town life. As the name implies, these charming but sentimental stories painted the small town as a place where neighborliness overrides the occasional problems of prejudice and provincialism. Her best works, however, including Miss Lulu Bett, the novel Birth (adapted into the play Mister Pitt) and Faint Perfume strip off the façade of rural geniality to show the underlying petty tyrannies. In company with Sherwood Anderson, Sinclair Lewis, and Edgar Lee Masters, Gale exposed the dreary core of the middle America so many idealized.
Despite her mother’s advice to “let that mess of women alone,” Gale was an active champion of women’s suffrage, a participant in the Women’s Peace Party, a drafter of the 1932 Wisconsin Equal Rights Law, and a member of the executive committee of the Lucy Stone League, which urged women to retain their own names when they married. (Gale herself was 53 when she wed.) She continued writing up until her death in Chicago in 1938; her last novel, Magna, was published posthumously.