Much like her contemporary Mari Sandoz, Bess Streeter Aldrich examines life on the Great Plains near the turn of the century. But unlike Sandoz’s novels which often focus on the decay of the promise of the West, Aldrich seeks to display the hope and optimism that defined those living on the frontier. She infuses her narratives with romance and adventure, as well-to-do women head West and are confronted with the beauty and danger of the uncharted territories and burgeoning towns.
Born in Cedar Falls, Iowa in 1881, Bess quickly showed her talent for writing short stories at a young age. She graduated from the University of Northern Iowa and became a teacher. In 1909 she moved with her husband’s family to Elmwood, Nebraska after they bought a bank in the town. After a few years of settling in and starting a family, Aldrich began to write short fiction for magazines in between her duties as a mother. Her first book, Mother Mason, published in 1924, is a collection of her short stories.
In 1925 her husband, Charles Aldrich, passed away, forcing Bess to use her writing to support her children. Thanks to her stories and novels she was able to put all four through college as she became one of the best paid magazine writers of the time. In 1934 she received an Honorary Doctor of Letters from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, eventually moving there to be near her daughter and her family.
Bess Streeter Aldrich died in 1954 and was buried in what became her hometown of Elmwood, where her house stands as a historical landmark. She was inducted into the Nebraska Hall of Fame in 1973, becoming the second woman and author to be inducted after Willa Cather. In her life she published fourteen novels and two collections of short stories.
Her stories reflect her love of family and the intoxicating atmosphere of the wide-open plains. Though the wilderness surrounds her pioneer families, they endure, relying on their individual grit and the security of each other to survive and thrive. They also accurately reflect life on the frontier with vivid detail of home life and work on the farm.
Several of Aldrich’s works are available at Bellevue University Library, located in the general collection. All books can be borrowed for 21 days with the option of renewal.