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Mary Hallock Foote


Mary Hallock Foote (1847-1938), American author and illustrator wrote Edith Bonham (1917).

A Victorian Gentlewoman in the Far West: The Reminiscences of Mary Hallock Foote (posthumous 1972) is Foote's memoir of her travels and life as wife, mother, author, and illustrator, raised with the values and morals of the genteel upper class of the east, confronted with the frontier and pioneering spirit of the American West. In it she also tells of her aunt Sarah H. Hallock, anti-slavery and women's rights activist, who often had many influential visitors to the Foote residence when she was young. Mary herself did not mature to fully embrace such movements as women's suffrage, as suggested in a letter she wrote Susan B. Stockham M.D. on 15 August 1887, that she merely wanted her works to be considered at face value, not marketed specifically as "woman's work".

Mary Anna Hallock Foote was born on 19 November 1847 on the farm of her parents Nathaniel Hallock and Ann Burling. Their farmhouse on the Hudson River in Milton, New York State was a hub of activity whilst Mary was growing up. She attended a Quaker school first, then went on to the Poughkeepsie, New York Female Collegiate Seminary, ending up at the Cooper School of Design in New York City where she excelled in fine art.

It was not soon after that her woodcut illustrations were gracing the pages of many popular books of the day. She married mining engineer Arthur Foote in 1876, with whom she'd have a son Arthur (b.1877), and daughters Elizabeth (b.1882) and Agnes (b.1886-d.1904). "No girl ever wanted less to 'go West' with any man, or paid a man a greater compliment by doing so." While Mary was well-attached to her close-knit family and sophisticated lifestyle, she reluctantly left the east with Arthur and travelled west to the states of California, Colorado, and Mexico to live in a number of mining towns. She was soon immersed in the study of the regions and peoples, writing short sketches, essays, and stories. A number of them appeared in the pages of Century and the Atlantic Monthly magazines to an appreciative audience. Her first novel The Led-Horse Claim: A Romance of a Mining Camp appeared in 1883 and a year later the family settled in Boise, Idaho.

Canyon House was their residence for the next twelve years and Mary quickly set up her desk to continue her writing and illustration. She soon developed her gift of portraying authentic depictions of community life in the mining camps, gleaning material from her husband and his team who were designing irrigation systems in the Boise valley. Adding an element of romance, her characters also deal with the hardships and challenges of settling in a sometimes harsh and isolating world. John Bodewin's Testimony (1886) was followed by The Last Assembly Ball (1889) but it was not until The Chosen Valley (1892) that she was fully recognized as a successful author back east. In Exile and Other Stories (1894) was followed by her admittedly pot-boiler Coeur d'Alene (1894). The Foote's suffered some lean years whilst Arthur continued to seek long-term employment, and Mary's royalties were the only thing sustaining them for a while. In 1896 they moved to Grass Valley, California, which Foote's semi-autobiographical The Valley Road (1915) is based on.


Arthur finally settled with North Star gold mining company and Mary continued to write. The Prodigal (1900) was followed by A Touch of Sun and other Stories (1903). Her daughter Agnes died in 1904, sending Mary into a long period of grief, emerging with the publication of her historical romance about the American Revolution, The Royal Americans (1910). A Picked Company (1912) is set in the 1840s. In honour of the memory of her daughter Agnes she wrote The Ground Swell (1919).

In 1932 the Foote’s moved to Hingham, Massachusetts, to live with their daughter Betty. Mary Anna Hallock Foote died on 25 June 1938 in Hingham, Massachusetts.

Biography written by C.D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc 2006. All Rights Reserved.

The above biography is copyrighted. Do not republish it without permission.

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