Zona Gale

On this date in 1874, Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist Zona Gale was born in Portage, Wisconsin. Following a siege of diphtheria, the once-stout child emerged with delicate health and a lifelong fragility, and turned to imaginative play. Her mother was an ultra-religious Presbyterian, but Zona's father stopped attending church. A scoffer at an early age, Zona wrote in her unfinished autobiography that when her mother told her, at the age of five, how Santa Claus comes down the chimney to deliver toys, Zona replied: "You can't make me believe any such stuff as that." Zona received a degree in literature from the University of Wisconsin in 1895, then worked for two daily Wisconsin newspapers. She earned her Master of Literature degree in 1899, while churning out gothic tales. In 1901, she became a reporter for the Evening World in New York City, then a freelance writer, subsisting on legendary birdlike meals while sending money home to her parents. Her first book, Romance Island, was published in 1906. Zona's series of sentimental stories, "Friendship Village," about small-town life, appeared in major periodicals, and the stories were later published in four volumes (1908-1919). Zona moved back to Wisconsin in 1911, and became an ardent supporter of Progressive Senator Robert LaFollette, writing for his magazine. Her pacifism during World War I radicalized her, as did her friendships with Jane Addams and Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Zona served as vice-president of the Wisconsin Woman Suffrage Association and the Wisconsin Peace Society, shifting her writing from the sentimental to realism. Her important tragedy, Birth, was published in 1918, and Miss Lulu Bett (1920), an ironic, feminist look at small-town life, was a bestseller. Her dramatization of that novel brought her the 1921 Pulitzer Prize for drama. In midlife, she married Will Breese. She continued working on progressive causes until her death from pneumonia. D. 1938.

'Who made bed-time?' I inquired irritably.
'S-h-h!' said Delia. 'God did.'
'I don't believe it,' I announced flatly.
'Well,' said Delia, 'anyway, he makes us sleep.'
This I also challenged. 'Then why am I sleepier when I go to church evenings than when I play Hide-and-go-seek in the Brice's barn evenings?' I submitted.


—Zona Gale, When I was a Little Girl.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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