Saturday, May 3, 2008

Frances Fuller Victor, 1826-1902

Victor's best known work is her story "The New Penelope." There she challenges traditional gender views of the mid-nineteenth century by describing women who take advantage of the opportunities of the new West, yet refuse to submit to customary femininity. Throughout her short stories, Victor presents independent female characters and advises women to follow their model. She repeatedly attacked the "women's sphere" (home, children, piety) as narrow and ambiguous. [Photo courtesy of Oregon State University.]

Victor and her husband arrived in San Francisco in 1862, and published in both the prestigious Overland Monthly and San Francisco newspapers during her time in California. She also wrote an advice column and other woman-centered articles as "Frances Fane." The couple moved to Oregon in 1864, but she divorced her husband several years later.

What is less known about her is her contribution to Hubert Bancroft's massive history of the West. After moving to California again in 1878, she spent thirteen years working as a researcher and writer on his project. She is now acknowledged as author of The History of Oregon, The History of Washington, Idaho, and Montana, The History of Nevada, Colorado, and Wyoming, and substantial portions of others. To her understandable dismay, Bancroft claimed full authorship of these books, and mentioned her contribution only in an acknowledgment. At the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, she displayed these four volumes with her name added to the spines alongside Bancroft's.

Victor continued to write well-received books and stories until her death. She became known as the "Historian of Oregon," even though she dared to challenge the favored mythology concerning early settler Marcus Whitman. Though not a lifelong Californian, Victor's influence was nationwide, and her presence in the California publishing scene significant. She deserves new attention and a comprehensive biography.

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