20 women writing about the outdoors

10 of 21

12. Gene Stratton-Porter

While Zwinger left her initial home of Indiana for, eventually, the American West, others felt the need to describe the natural landscape of the Hoosier State. After all, the best scientists, naturalists, and artists know that there really are no small stories. No natural environment is too inconsequential or unworthy of attention — especially if that attention is focused on detail and can make connections to larger patterns.

Geneva Grace Stratton was born as the 12th and final child of Mary and Mark Stratton. Her parents were farmers who moved to Indiana in 1838. Her father also worked as a Methodist minister in the region. In 1874, Geneva, her parents, and her three unmarried siblings moved to Wabash, Indiana. She eventually started courting Charles Porter, during which time she shortened her name to Gene. They were married in 1886.

Birds and books

During her childhood on various homesteads and farms, she developed a strong interest in the natural world. She was particularly fascinated by birds, which she would often photograph once she gained access to a camera.

After her family moved to Wabash, she began attending school regularly. Though she became a voracious reader and took to art and music lessons, she also began to fail her classes. She quit before her final term at the high school, later claiming that she did so in order to care for a terminally ill sister.

While many of the other authors on this list have focused on nonfiction, some of Stratton-Porter’s best-known work is fiction. However, that does not mean her novels skimp on ecological detail. A Girl of the Limberlost, published in 1909, is one of her most popular works in part for this reason. It follows the young Elnora Comstock, who lives with her widowed mother on the edge of Indiana’s Limberlost Swamp. Elnora sounds quite a bit like Stratton-Porter; she’s smart and dedicated to the natural world around her.