castigated American women writers as a "damned mob of scribbling women," revised his opinion after reading Ruth Hall. He wrote to his publisher in 1855:
In my last, I recollect, I bestowed some vituperation on female authors. I have since been reading "Ruth Hall" and I must say I enjoyed it a good deal. The woman writes as if the devil was in her; and that is the only condition under which a woman ever writes anything worth reading. Generally women write like emasculated men, and are only distinguished from male authors by greater feebleness and folly; but when they throw off the restraints of decency, and come before the public stark naked, as it were-- then their books are sure to possess character and value. Can you tell me anything about this Fanny Fern? If you meet her, I wish you would let her know how much I admire her. (1, 78)
One measure of Fern's celebrity is the price that she could command for her articles. In 1855, when Robert Bonner, the enterprising editor of the New York Ledger, was looking for ways to increase the circulation of his paper, he offered Fern $25 a column to write a serialized story for him. When she refused, he increased his offer until she accepted at the unprecedented price of $100 a column--which made her the most highly paid newspaper writer of her time.
Although Fern was well known during her day, by the twentieth century her works were out of print and her name was virtually unknown. If she was referred to at all, it was to be dismissed as one of the "mob of scribbling women." Fred Lewis Pattee , for example, in his book The Feminine Fifties ( 1940), apparently without reading Fern's work, disparaged the satirical Fanny Fern as "a sentimental nonentity" (110-118), and James D. Hart in The Popular Book ( 1950) called her "the grandmother of all sob sisters" (97). In recent years, however, Fern's work has been recovered. Rutgers reprinted her novel Ruth Hall and a selection of 100 of her newspaper articles in Ruth Hall and Other Writings in 1986. Joyce Warren biography Fanny Fern: An Independent Woman was published in 1992. And Fern has been the subject of numerous articles, conference papers, and doctoral dissertations.
James Parton Papers, Houghton Library, Harvard University.
Sara Parton Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College.
Boston Olive Branch, 1851- 1855. American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, MA.
Boston True Flag, 1851- 1855. American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, MA.