Ruth Suckow:
Iowa author and Storyteller of Life in
Iowa's Small Towns and Farms in the
1900s
Cherie Dargan, webmaster, ww...
Ruth Suckow, August 6, 1892-January 23, 1960
This presentation covers
• An overview of Ruth Suckow’s life and work
• Her marriage to Ferner Nuhn
• It includes a snippe...
Overview of Ruth Suckow’s life
• Ruth was a famous Iowa author who wrote
during the 1920s-1950s
• She lived in a number of...
Overview, cont.
• She taught at the local university (Iowa Teachers'
College, which later became the University of
Norther...
Towns she lived in around the state
Ruth was born in Hawarden.
Her father had churches in LeMars, Alden, Algona,
Forest Ci...
Other Writers with an Iowa Connection
Ruth Suckow -- Country People, The Folks (and others)
Bess Aldrich -- A Lantern in h...
Ruth Suckow, with her cat
Brief Bio of Ruth Suckow
• Born in Hawarden, IA
(up in the
Northwestern corner of
the state) to William
and Anna Suckow.
•...
Pictures of Ruth & the birthplace in Hawarden,
Iowa
Pictures of Ruth as a young woman
Ruth and her family
Here is the Suckow
family: Emma stands,
mother Anna is
seated, while William
holds Ruth.
Ruth as a young woman
• She attended High
School in Grinnell,
graduating in 1910, and
then went to the
college there, but ...
Move to Colorado
• Her mother and sister moved to Colorado for
health reasons. She joined them.
• She attended the Univers...
Early writing
• Ruth began writing short stories in the early
1920s. Her work was praised by noted editor H. L.
Menken
• H...
A Sample Story
• “A Rural Community” tells the story of Ralph, a
successful journalist who travels the world—and was
raise...
Sample story, cont.
• Ralph’s parents welcome him inside. He enjoys a meal,
a visit to the family cemetery, and a reunion ...
Snippet of description—”A Rural Community”
(As Ralph arrives in town, and walks to his parents’ house)
He looked beyond th...
Snippet of description, cont.
Along the farther ones, the woods lay like a colored
cloud, brown, russet, red and purple-ti...
The closing paragraphs
(Ralph walks back to the station to catch his train)
His lips were curved in a musing smile. Tomorr...
The closing paragraphs, cont.
The train came in – huge, noisy, threatening in the
silence. Ralph sprang expertly aboard. T...
Visit to a farm family in Iowa
Bee keeping
• Ruth learned about the bee keeping business in
Colorado; later, she established a business in
Earlville, Iow...
Suckow's husband: Ferner Nuhn
• Literary critic and author
• He was younger than Ruth
but they soon found they
had a lot i...
They met in Earlville
• Ruth learned about the apiary
(beekeeping) business in
Denver; she kept bees in
Earlville for 6 ye...
A Model T like Ferner’s car
Ferner and Ruth marry
• They married in 1929: he was in his mid 20s and
she was in her mid 30s.
• They traveled extensivel...
Work in Washington, D. C.
• They lived in Washington for two years in the mid
1930s, while Ferner worked for the Dept. of
...
World War II
• Ruth had not supported the first World War and
it created tension between her and her father.
• She reached...
Their life together
• When his father became ill,
Ruth and Ferner returned
to Cedar Falls, Iowa—his
hometown.
• They made ...
Ferner's picture of Ruth
• This portrait shows
Ruth holding a cat.
• It is part of a series of
water colors done
while at ...
Ruth and Cats
• Barbara Lounsberry, noted
Suckow scholar, writes:
• "Ruth Suckow loved cats.
In fact, a cat graces the
boo...
Health Problems
• Ruth developed arthritis and Ferner had allergies,
so in the late 1940s they moved west, hoping a
milder...
Ferner and Ruth in the later years
Moving West
• In the late 1940s Suckow and Nuhn left Cedar
Falls for health reasons: she had arthritis and he
had hay feve...
Retirement to California
• They ended up in
Claremont, California.
• Ruth continued to write.
• Ferner taught at the local...
Her later writing
• She published her memoir & a collection of short
stories in 1952, Some Others and Myself.
• In 1959 Vi...
Death
• Ruth died in 1960. She was at work on a new
novel at the point of her death.
• She is buried in Greenwood Cemetery...
Suckow graves in Greenwood Cemetery
Ferner remarried & worked to preserve
Ruth’s legacy
• After Ruth's death in 1960,
Ferner remarried a
wonderful woman named...
Ruth’s papers
• They worked together to preserve Ruth's
legacy, collecting and organizing her papers
for the Special Colle...
Special Collections, Iowa City
Tribute to Suckow—Iowa City
• Iowa City established a Literary Walk in 1999,
honoring 49 writers with ties to Iowa.
• As t...
Other Memorials to Ruth Suckow
• Ferner and Georgie worked with the Ruth
Suckow Memorial Association to establish several
...
Georgia & Ferner die
• Georgia died in 1984; Ferner moved into a
retirement home in Claremont. He died at age 85
in 1989.
...
Suckow’s grave—between Ferner and her
father
The Ruth Suckow Memorial Association
• Ferner and Georgie met with a group of people in
Earlville in the 1960s: they discu...
Hawarden: the Suckow birthplace
Earlville: the Ruth Suckow Park
Earlville: Ruth Suckow Memorial Library
Dedicating the Ruth Suckow Park
Ferner and Georgeanna were
there for the dedication of
the Suckow park in Earlville
in 198...
Her place in American literature
• Suckow is often called a regional writer, but she
did not like the label.
• She said th...
Why read Ruth Suckow today?
• Today her writing has value for readers who enjoy
good storytelling as well as for social hi...
Poem by Suckow Board Member
• Marsha Lehs wrote a poem about Ruth Suckow that was accepted
for publication in Lyrical Iowa...
Poem about Ruth Suckow, cont.
Though we were born fifty years apart
these are pages in my life, too
Your enduring images c...
Her books
Country People. New York: Knopf, 1924.
The Odyssey of a Nice Girl. New York: Knopf, 1925.
Iowa Interiors. New Yo...
Her books, cont.
The Folks. New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1934.
Carry-Over. New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1936.
New Hope. Ne...
Her Other Work
• She wrote 40 short stories and critical essays
• She also wrote Three novelettes
• She wrote numerous sho...
Her themes
• Aging and the generation gap
• The health crises of aging—and emerging medical
centers like Mayo clinic
• Old...
Her themes, cont.
• Women’s roles in the world
• The contrasts of life on the farm and life in town
• The value of hard wo...
Themes
• Courtship, Marriage, and relationships
• Women entering the workplace
• The daily routines of people in the early...
The RSMA
• Ruth's husband, Ferner Nuhn, founded the Ruth
Suckow Memorial Association in 1966.
• Its mission is to preserve...
Iowa Women's Hall of Fame
1978
• Day, Jacqueline Jacqueline Day
• Houghton, Dorothy Dorothy Houghton
• Pendray, Carolyn Ca...
• The Suckow Website, http://www.ruthsuckow.org
Sources
• “Chronology of Ruth Suckow’s Life,” RSMA
website
• http://www.ruthsuckow.org/home/chronolog
y-of-ruth-suckow-s-l...
Sources, cont.
• “Ruth Suckow” (wikipedia entry, prepared by
Michael Dargan, based on information gathered by
Robert A. Mc...
For More information,
• See the Ruth Suckow Website
• http://www.ruthsuckow.org
• Ruth Suckow's papers are in the Special ...
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Ruth suckow -iowa writer presentation c dargan

  1. 1. Ruth Suckow: Iowa author and Storyteller of Life in Iowa's Small Towns and Farms in the 1900s Cherie Dargan, webmaster, www.ruthsuckow.org Summer 2013
  2. 2. Ruth Suckow, August 6, 1892-January 23, 1960
  3. 3. This presentation covers • An overview of Ruth Suckow’s life and work • Her marriage to Ferner Nuhn • It includes a snippet of description and highlights of one of her short stories • It includes a poem about her and an overview of several tributes to her around the state of Iowa
  4. 4. Overview of Ruth Suckow’s life • Ruth was a famous Iowa author who wrote during the 1920s-1950s • She lived in a number of cities in Iowa • She also traveled extensively around the country, living in New York, New Mexico, Iowa, Massachusetts, Colorado, Arizona and California • She settled in Cedar Falls, where her husband, Ferner, worked in his father's business
  5. 5. Overview, cont. • She taught at the local university (Iowa Teachers' College, which later became the University of Northern Iowa). • Ruth and Ferner were active in the Quaker movement: they were opposed to WWII and visited conscientious objectors who had been sent to work camps in California.
  6. 6. Towns she lived in around the state Ruth was born in Hawarden. Her father had churches in LeMars, Alden, Algona, Forest City, Manchester, and Davenport. She attended high school and college in Grinnell. She kept bees in Earlville. She lived in Cedar Falls after she married Ferner Nuhn. She is buried in Greenwood Cemetary, in Cedar Falls.
  7. 7. Other Writers with an Iowa Connection Ruth Suckow -- Country People, The Folks (and others) Bess Aldrich -- A Lantern in her Hand, Miss Bishop Phil Stong -- State Fair Paul Frederick Corey -- the Mantz trilogy, Three Miles Square, The Road Returns, and County Seat J Hyatt Downing -- A Prayer for Tomorrow John Herbert Quick -- The Invisible Woman and One Man's Life Source: Retired Scholar/Librarian Robert A. McCown. RSMA Board Member Wikipedia articles on the various authors
  8. 8. Ruth Suckow, with her cat
  9. 9. Brief Bio of Ruth Suckow • Born in Hawarden, IA (up in the Northwestern corner of the state) to William and Anna Suckow. • Her father was a pastor; the family moved around Iowa. • She had a sister, Emma.
  10. 10. Pictures of Ruth & the birthplace in Hawarden, Iowa
  11. 11. Pictures of Ruth as a young woman
  12. 12. Ruth and her family Here is the Suckow family: Emma stands, mother Anna is seated, while William holds Ruth.
  13. 13. Ruth as a young woman • She attended High School in Grinnell, graduating in 1910, and then went to the college there, but did not graduate. • Instead, she went to Boston to study at the Curry School of Expression from 1913- 1915
  14. 14. Move to Colorado • Her mother and sister moved to Colorado for health reasons. She joined them. • She attended the University of Denver, graduating with a B.A. in English in 1917 and a M.A. in 1918
  15. 15. Early writing • Ruth began writing short stories in the early 1920s. Her work was praised by noted editor H. L. Menken • Her first novel was Country People, 1924. • She wrote a number of short stories, essays, reviews, and articles in addition to the books listed in this presentation.
  16. 16. A Sample Story • “A Rural Community” tells the story of Ralph, a successful journalist who travels the world—and was raised as a foster child on a farm in Iowa. He hasn’t been home in many years. • The story begins and ends with a train: he gets off the train in the morning to visit his parents, and he gets back on a train at midnight to continue on his journey. • His parents have retired & moved to town, so he has to get directions and walks to their house. • He greets his father first, who isn’t sure this stranger is Ralph, but then calls his wife with excitement.
  17. 17. Sample story, cont. • Ralph’s parents welcome him inside. He enjoys a meal, a visit to the family cemetery, and a reunion with his foster brothers and sisters. • He notices all that has changed in the town & his family—and all that has stayed the same. • He feels reconnected to his family and his mother’s phrase, “You’re one of us, sure you are” makes him reflect on his insecurity as a teenager. • He also feels deeply connected to the land. • When he gets back on the train, he feels changed by his experience.
  18. 18. Snippet of description—”A Rural Community” (As Ralph arrives in town, and walks to his parents’ house) He looked beyond the houses, at the line of low hills on the south. He stood still –almost caught his breath at the sudden stab of emotion. With a strange impulse he took off his cap, held it crushed in his hand. There they were still – the old eternal hills! How well he knew them, better than anything in the world. The “lay of the land” – something in that to stir the deepest feeling in a man. Low rolling hills, fold after fold, smooth brown and autumnal, some ploughed to soft earth colour, some set with corn stalks of pale tarnished gold.
  19. 19. Snippet of description, cont. Along the farther ones, the woods lay like a colored cloud, brown, russet, red and purple-tinged. As he walked on, the houses grew fewer, everything dwindled into pasture land. The feeling of autumn grew more poignant. There was a scent of dust in the stubble. The trees grew in scattered russet groups. One slender young cottonwood, yellow as a goldfinch and as lyric in its quality, stood in a meadow, alone. Not even spring beauty was so aching and so transient – like music fading away. Yet, under everything, something abiding and eternal.
  20. 20. The closing paragraphs (Ralph walks back to the station to catch his train) His lips were curved in a musing smile. Tomorrow, this little place would seem a million miles away – almost out of existence. But he was aware that since he had stepped off the train in the morning, the current of his thoughts had been changed. He felt steadied, deeply satisfied. He looked toward the dark pastures beyond the row of dusky willow trees. They widened slowly into the open country which lay silent, significant, motionless, immense, under the stars, with its sense of something abiding.
  21. 21. The closing paragraphs, cont. The train came in – huge, noisy, threatening in the silence. Ralph sprang expertly aboard. The familiar sense of travel engulfed him immediately. He had found his berth, arranged things swiftly, before the station of Walnut was left behind. He was alert, modern, a traveler again. But all night long, as he lay half sleeping, swinging lightly with the motion of the train, he was conscious of that silent spreading country outside, over which changes passed like the clouds above the pastures; and it gave him a deep quietude.
  22. 22. Visit to a farm family in Iowa
  23. 23. Bee keeping • Ruth learned about the bee keeping business in Colorado; later, she established a business in Earlville, Iowa, where her father served as pastor. • She used the money to support herself in New York during the winters, where she worked on her writing.
  24. 24. Suckow's husband: Ferner Nuhn • Literary critic and author • He was younger than Ruth but they soon found they had a lot in common, and enjoyed spending time together. • She wrote to a friend that Ferner likes cats too!
  25. 25. They met in Earlville • Ruth learned about the apiary (beekeeping) business in Denver; she kept bees in Earlville for 6 years or more, spending her winters in New York city, writing. • Ferner wrote to her and asked if he could meet her. • After exchanging letters, he drove his Model T to Earlville to meet Ruth in 1926.
  26. 26. A Model T like Ferner’s car
  27. 27. Ferner and Ruth marry • They married in 1929: he was in his mid 20s and she was in her mid 30s. • They traveled extensively, going to a number of writers’ workshops and retreats, living out west in New Mexico and out East in New England.
  28. 28. Work in Washington, D. C. • They lived in Washington for two years in the mid 1930s, while Ferner worked for the Dept. of Agriculture, under fellow Iowan Henry Wallace. • He wrote and edited articles, brochures, and other material. • He also helped Wallace write a book. • Ruth served on the Farm Tenancy Commission for President Roosevelt.
  29. 29. World War II • Ruth had not supported the first World War and it created tension between her and her father. • She reached out to the conscientious objectors in 1943 and visited several work camps where they were gathered on the West Coast. • http://www.powys-lannion.net/Powys/America/Suckow.htm • A Brief description of their activities and friendships
  30. 30. Their life together • When his father became ill, Ruth and Ferner returned to Cedar Falls, Iowa—his hometown. • They made friends, got involved in the community, and enjoyed their life together for almost a decade there.
  31. 31. Ferner's picture of Ruth • This portrait shows Ruth holding a cat. • It is part of a series of water colors done while at a retreat for writers and artists.
  32. 32. Ruth and Cats • Barbara Lounsberry, noted Suckow scholar, writes: • "Ruth Suckow loved cats. In fact, a cat graces the book plate she designed, with Ferner's help. Cats figure notably in numerous Suckow stories and novels—often symbolizing spirited independence."
  33. 33. Health Problems • Ruth developed arthritis and Ferner had allergies, so in the late 1940s they moved west, hoping a milder climate would help both of them. • They first settled in Arizona and later moved to California.
  34. 34. Ferner and Ruth in the later years
  35. 35. Moving West • In the late 1940s Suckow and Nuhn left Cedar Falls for health reasons: she had arthritis and he had hay fever. • First they moved to Arizona, where they lived in Tucson.
  36. 36. Retirement to California • They ended up in Claremont, California. • Ruth continued to write. • Ferner taught at the local college. • They both became active in the Friends (Quakers) and Ferner began writing pamphlets for the national organization
  37. 37. Her later writing • She published her memoir & a collection of short stories in 1952, Some Others and Myself. • In 1959 Viking Press brought out The John Wood Case, her last novel, which concerned an embezzlement case in a church. She died in 1960 at her home in Claremont. Source: Wikipedia article on Ruth Suckow
  38. 38. Death • Ruth died in 1960. She was at work on a new novel at the point of her death. • She is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Cedar Falls, Iowa. • Ruth is buried next to her father, William Suckow.
  39. 39. Suckow graves in Greenwood Cemetery
  40. 40. Ferner remarried & worked to preserve Ruth’s legacy • After Ruth's death in 1960, Ferner remarried a wonderful woman named Georgeanna, (or Georgia) who was also Ruth's cousin. • Her husband had died a few years earlier.
  41. 41. Ruth’s papers • They worked together to preserve Ruth's legacy, collecting and organizing her papers for the Special Collections at the University of Iowa library.
  42. 42. Special Collections, Iowa City
  43. 43. Tribute to Suckow—Iowa City • Iowa City established a Literary Walk in 1999, honoring 49 writers with ties to Iowa. • As the website explains, ”The "Author" section includes Literary Walk quotes as well as brief biographical information for each writer. • http://www.icgov.org/?id=1585 – city website for the literary walk • http://www.icgov.org/?id=1668 – Ruth Suckow’s entry
  44. 44. Other Memorials to Ruth Suckow • Ferner and Georgie worked with the Ruth Suckow Memorial Association to establish several memorials to Ruth: • The Park in Earlville, Iowa (on the grounds where Ruth’s cottage & apiary once stood) • The Library in Earlville, Iowa • The birthplace in Hawarden, Iowa
  45. 45. Georgia & Ferner die • Georgia died in 1984; Ferner moved into a retirement home in Claremont. He died at age 85 in 1989. • After a funeral in California, his body was returned to Iowa where he was buried beside his beloved Ruth in Greenwood cemetery in Cedar Falls. • However, it wasn’t until 2009 that a headstone matching Ruth’s was put in place.
  46. 46. Suckow’s grave—between Ferner and her father
  47. 47. The Ruth Suckow Memorial Association • Ferner and Georgie met with a group of people in Earlville in the 1960s: they discussed Suckow’s characters and stories and formed the Ruth Suckow Memorial Association (RSMA). • The RSMA still gathers each June: members come from all over the midwest.
  48. 48. Hawarden: the Suckow birthplace
  49. 49. Earlville: the Ruth Suckow Park
  50. 50. Earlville: Ruth Suckow Memorial Library
  51. 51. Dedicating the Ruth Suckow Park Ferner and Georgeanna were there for the dedication of the Suckow park in Earlville in 1982. Here they are with Barbara, Ferner's niece.
  52. 52. Her place in American literature • Suckow is often called a regional writer, but she did not like the label. • She said that she wrote about "people, situations, and their meaning." • Her stories take place in the small towns and farms of Iowa, but her characters and storylines make her work more universal.
  53. 53. Why read Ruth Suckow today? • Today her writing has value for readers who enjoy good storytelling as well as for social historians looking for details about life in the early 20th century, particularly in the small towns and farms of Iowa. • For those of us whose families have lived in Iowa for several generations, it is also a way to understand the daily lives of our great grandparents. • Her descriptions of the people and the land still evoke a response from modern readers.
  54. 54. Poem by Suckow Board Member • Marsha Lehs wrote a poem about Ruth Suckow that was accepted for publication in Lyrical Iowa, 2008. • Http://www.iowapoetry.com With permission by the poet, here is her poem • TO RUTH SUCKOW, IOWA AUTHOR Your Iowa-based novels sounded dated until I read them. You planted images of early Iowa German families, small town lives, strong quiet farm workers children forced to grow up fast, characters torn between right and wrong. You described native flowers, seasons, crops, rural landscapes, period events and timeless issues.
  55. 55. Poem about Ruth Suckow, cont. Though we were born fifty years apart these are pages in my life, too Your enduring images cycle like a reseeding annual flower from one native Iowan to another. Thank you for sharing stories which forever root me in this fertile Iowa loam.
  56. 56. Her books Country People. New York: Knopf, 1924. The Odyssey of a Nice Girl. New York: Knopf, 1925. Iowa Interiors. New York: Knopf, 1926. The Bonney Family. New York: Knopf, 1928. Cora. New York: Knopf, 1929. The Kramer Girls. New York: Knopf, 1930. Children and Older People. New York: Knopf, 1931.
  57. 57. Her books, cont. The Folks. New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1934. Carry-Over. New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1936. New Hope. New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1936. Some Others and Myself. New York: Rinehart, 1952. [short stories and "A Memoir"] The John Wood Case. New York: Viking, 1959.
  58. 58. Her Other Work • She wrote 40 short stories and critical essays • She also wrote Three novelettes • She wrote numerous short articles for a variety of publications
  59. 59. Her themes • Aging and the generation gap • The health crises of aging—and emerging medical centers like Mayo clinic • Older farmers moving to town and the oldest son taking over the family farm • Daughters who sacrifice to take care of parents, and parents who sacrifice to take care of children • Gender differences
  60. 60. Her themes, cont. • Women’s roles in the world • The contrasts of life on the farm and life in town • The value of hard work • The struggles of ordinary families during the depression • Valuing family • Taking care of those who have gone before (decorating, caring for family graves)
  61. 61. Themes • Courtship, Marriage, and relationships • Women entering the workplace • The daily routines of people in the early decades of the 1900s: school, church, and life in small towns and on the farm. • Travel and exploration (out west and out east alike) • Cats appear frequently in her stories
  62. 62. The RSMA • Ruth's husband, Ferner Nuhn, founded the Ruth Suckow Memorial Association in 1966. • Its mission is to preserve the legacy of Ruth Suckow’s stories. • As noted, they have worked to create several memorials to her, based on where she lived in Iowa.
  63. 63. Iowa Women's Hall of Fame 1978 • Day, Jacqueline Jacqueline Day • Houghton, Dorothy Dorothy Houghton • Pendray, Carolyn Carolyn Pendray • Suckow, Ruth Ruth Suckow She was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1978
  64. 64. • The Suckow Website, http://www.ruthsuckow.org
  65. 65. Sources • “Chronology of Ruth Suckow’s Life,” RSMA website • http://www.ruthsuckow.org/home/chronolog y-of-ruth-suckow-s-life • Kissane, Leedice McAnelly, Ruth Suckow, 1969. Twayne’s United States Authors Series. • Obituary of Ruth Suckow, The New York Times, January 24, 1960.
  66. 66. Sources, cont. • “Ruth Suckow” (wikipedia entry, prepared by Michael Dargan, based on information gathered by Robert A. Mccown, University of Iowa Libraries and RSMA Board member) • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruth_Suckow • Suckow, Ruth. “A Rural Community.” Archived on the Ruth Suckow website. Available for download. • http://www.ruthsuckow.org/home/ruth-suckow-s- short-stories
  67. 67. For More information, • See the Ruth Suckow Website • http://www.ruthsuckow.org • Ruth Suckow's papers are in the Special Collections, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City. • http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/spec- coll/msc/tomsc750/msc706/suckowaugust2005.htm Prepared by Cherie Dargan, webmaster, RSMA cheriedargan@gmail.com
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