The day after I wrote my last entry about filling the rest of March with posts from my literary trip to Nebraska, my desktop crashed. I wasn’t able to repair/recover it myself, so off to the repair shop it went. I’m happy to have it home and in tip-top shape. So here we go–
One of my favorite stops in Nebraska during this visit was FINALLY being able to tour the inside of Bess Streeter Aldrich’s home in Elmwood. The home was gifted to the Bess Steeter Aldrich Foundation in the early 1990s. Although they opened the house for tours while I lived in Lincoln in the mid-1990s I was never able to make it there when they were open. I regularly drove through Elmwood on my way from Lincoln to visit family in Plattsmouth, and could see The Elms from the road. I once stopped and tried to peek into the windows. This time I made it there forty-five minutes before closing time.
Not many people outside of Nebraska seem to know about Bess Steeter Aldrich these days. My aunt who lived in Plattsmouth told me about Aldrich shortly after I fell in love with Willa Cather. We went to the Cass County Museum in Plattsmouth on May 11, 1991 where she bought me a copy of A Lantern in Her Hand. I still have the book (hence knowing the date and location of the purchase). It’s a wonderful memento to have from my aunt who is no longer with us.
Aldrich was a popular writer in her day. The three best-sellers of 1931 were, in descending order, The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck, Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather, and A White Bird Flying by Bess Streeter Aldrich.
In 1933 her novel Miss Bishop came in at number eight for the year. That novel was made into a movie, Cheers for Miss Bishop, in 1941. At the height of her career, Aldrich was also one of the highest paid magazine writers and was published in outlets such as Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal, Collier’s, Cosmopolitan, McCall’s, and The Writer.
Aldrich published over 160 short stories & articles, nine novels, and other works. So far I’ve only read A Lantern in Her Hand and The Lieutenant’s Lady, but have a couple more of her novels on my shelves.
Aldrich was born in 1881 in Cedar Falls, Iowa. She attended college in Iowa and then taught for some years in Iowa & Utah. In 1909 Aldrich moved to Elmwood, Nebraska, where she lived until 1945 when she moved to Lincoln to be closer to her daughter. You can learn more about Aldrich on the Foundation’s website.
There’s also a good book-length biography written by Carol Miles Petersen: Bess Streeter Aldrich: The Dreams Are All Real.
Photos from The Elms
The star of my visit was seeing Aldrich’s writing desk. This sequence of photos shows the revelation of her typewriter, which I was not expecting.
The lanterns below are displayed in the A Lantern in Her Hand bedroom.
In the following photos, we’re back down stairs.
Visit The Elms:
204 East F Street
Bess Streeter Aldrich novels and books in chronological order:
Mother Mason 1924
The Rim of the Prairie 1925
The Cutters 1926
A Lantern in Her Hand 1928
A White Bird Flying 1931
Miss Bishop 1933
Spring Came on Forever 1935
The Man Who Caught the Weather 1936
Song of Years 1939
The Drum Goes Dead 1941
The Lieutenant’s Lady 1942
Journey Into Christmas 1949
The Bess Streeter Aldrich Reader 1950
A Bess Streeter Aldrich Treasury 1959
This post was first published on April 2, 2011 and updated on February 17, 2022.
[…] Last summer I won a copy of The Lieutenant’s Lady from the blog Frisbee: A Book Journal. I read it last month shortly after visiting Aldrich’s house. […]
Thank you for posting this. I discovered Bess Streeter Aldrich in 2012. That year I drove from Angle Fire, NM to attend my first semester in the University of Omaha Nebraska Lincoln low-residency MFA Program. (I didn’t last there). I was driving backroads and first noticed a sign to Red Cloud. I noodled why I knew the town name of Red Cloud all the way to Nebraska City where the MFA Program was housed at the Lied Lodge. Discovering that Red Cloud was home to Willa Cather, I planned my return trip, which took me through Elmwood. My friend, Mary and I toured the house, and I have a photograph of me sitting at the desk with the typewriter. I would have posted it, but your comment space does not allow it. I’ll send it along separately. I’ve been a member of the Bess Streeter Aldrich Foundation since. Her story and her prolific writing amaze me, as does the fact that she supported her family by writing after her husband passed. I’m thrilled to know A White Bird Flying was in the top three with Pearl S. Buck and Willa Cather. Of the three books, I’ve read the Good Earth.