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 her father stopped attending church. A scoffer at an early age, Gale wrote in her unfinished autobiography that when her mother told her, at the age of 5, how Santa Claus comes down the chimney to deliver toys, she replied, “You can’t make me believe any such stuff as that.”

She received a degree in literature from the University of Wisconsin in 1895, then worked for two daily 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. Gale’s series of sentimental stories, “Friendship Village,” about small-town life, appeared in major periodicals and the stories were later published in four volumes (1908-19).

She moved back to Wisconsin in 1911 and became an ardent supporter of progressive Sen. Robert M. La Follette, writing for his magazine. Her pacifism during World War I further radicalized her. She 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 best-seller. 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 at age 64 from pneumonia. (D. 1938)

Freedom From Religion Foundation