Ruth suckow -iowa writer presentation c darganPresentation Transcript
Iowa author and Storyteller of Life in
Iowa's Small Towns and Farms in the
Cherie Dargan, webmaster, www.ruthsuckow.org
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 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
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
• She taught at the local university (Iowa Teachers'
College, which later became the University of
• 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.
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.
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
Wikipedia articles on the various authors
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.
• Her father was a
pastor; the family
moved around Iowa.
• She had a sister, Emma.
Pictures of Ruth & the birthplace in Hawarden,
Pictures of Ruth as a young woman
Ruth and her family
Here is the Suckow
family: Emma stands,
mother Anna is
seated, while William
Ruth as a young woman
• She attended High
School in Grinnell,
graduating in 1910, and
then went to the
college there, but did
• Instead, she went to
Boston to study at the
Curry School of
Expression from 1913-
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
• Ruth began writing short stories in the early
1920s. Her work was praised by noted editor H. L.
• 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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
Visit to a farm family in Iowa
• 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
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
• She wrote to a friend that
Ferner likes cats too!
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.
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 extensively, going to a number of
writers’ workshops and retreats, living out west
in New Mexico and out East in New England.
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
• He also helped Wallace write a book.
• Ruth served on the Farm Tenancy Commission
for President Roosevelt.
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.
• A Brief description of their activities and friendships
Their life together
• When his father became ill,
Ruth and Ferner returned
to Cedar Falls, Iowa—his
• They made friends, got
involved in the community,
and enjoyed their life
together for almost a
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.
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
• 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
Ferner and Ruth in the later years
• 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
Retirement to California
• They ended up in
• Ruth continued to write.
• Ferner taught at the local
• They both became active in
the Friends (Quakers) and
Ferner began writing
pamphlets for the national
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
• 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
• Ruth is buried next to her father, William Suckow.
Suckow graves in Greenwood Cemetery
Ferner remarried & worked to preserve
• 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.
• They worked together to preserve Ruth's
legacy, collecting and organizing her papers
for the Special Collections at the University of
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 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
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
Georgia & Ferner die
• Georgia died in 1984; Ferner moved into a
retirement home in Claremont. He died at age 85
• After a funeral in California, his body was
returned to Iowa where he was buried beside his
beloved Ruth in Greenwood cemetery in Cedar
• However, it wasn’t until 2009 that a headstone
matching Ruth’s was put in place.
Suckow’s grave—between Ferner and her
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.
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
Here they are with Barbara,
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.
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
• 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.
Poem by Suckow Board Member
• Marsha Lehs wrote a poem about Ruth Suckow that was accepted
for publication in Lyrical Iowa, 2008.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
• 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
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
• Valuing family
• Taking care of those who have gone before
(decorating, caring for family graves)
• 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
• Cats appear frequently in her stories
• Ruth's husband, Ferner Nuhn, founded the Ruth
Suckow Memorial Association in 1966.
• Its mission is to preserve the legacy of Ruth
• As noted, they have worked to create several
memorials to her, based on where she lived in
Iowa Women's Hall of Fame
• 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
• The Suckow Website, http://www.ruthsuckow.org
• “Chronology of Ruth Suckow’s Life,” RSMA
• Kissane, Leedice McAnelly, Ruth Suckow,
1969. Twayne’s United States Authors Series.
• Obituary of Ruth Suckow, The New York
Times, January 24, 1960.
• “Ruth Suckow” (wikipedia entry, prepared by
Michael Dargan, based on information gathered by
Robert A. Mccown, University of Iowa Libraries and
RSMA Board member)
• Suckow, Ruth. “A Rural Community.” Archived on the
Ruth Suckow website. Available for download.
For More information,
• See the Ruth Suckow Website
• Ruth Suckow's papers are in the Special Collections,
University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City.
Prepared by Cherie Dargan, webmaster, RSMA