Mary Hallock Foote

Mary Hallock Foote
Mary Hallock Foote

Mary Hallock Foote (1847–1938) was an American author and illustrator. She is best known for her illustrated short stories and novels portraying life in the mining communities of the turn-of-the-century American West.




Mary Hallock was born November 9, 1847, in Milton, New York, of English Quaker ancestry. A singular girl and youth, she attended the Female Collegiate Seminary in Poughkeepsie, New York, then studied art in New York City at the new Cooper Institute School of Design for Women. By her early twenties she had become established in New York City as an accomplished artist-illustrator for notable publishers there.[1]

In 1876 Hallock married a young mining engineer, Arthur De Wint Foote,[2] then moved cross-continent to live with him at the New Almaden mine near San Jose, California. Subsequently, as Arthur pursued his engineering career, she followed him throughout the West; to Leadville, Colorado, to Deadwood, South Dakota, then to Boise, Idaho, where Arthur originated a major irrigation project on the Boise River; then to Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico, and finally to Grass Valley, California, where Arthur advanced to managing the North Star mine, and retired there.

Arthur and Mary Foote were married nearly sixty years. In the early years of their marriage she gave birth to three children; a son, Arthur Burling Foote, and two daughters, Betty and Agnes.[3]


After departing her beloved East with great reluctance, Mary Hallock Foote found herself inspired by the "real West" country and the varying peoples she encountered there. She soon was drawing it, and writing and telling about it.[4] Recording her travels, Foote wrote stories for 'back-East' readers as a correspondent to The Century Magazine and other periodicals, illustrating them with woodcuts and drawings. She is best known for her stories of place, in which she portrayed the rough, picturesque life she experienced and observed in the old West, especially that in the early mining towns. She wrote several novels, and illustrated stories and novels by other authors for various publishers. Her letters provide a biography of her husband as well as her autobiography; they were collected by Rodman Paul, who published them in 1972 as the memoir A Victorian Gentlewoman in the Far West.

Death and legacy

Mary Hallock Foote died June 25, 1938, at age 90. Her legacy in American history is as a stalwart of the American Old West and a teller of its stories. Her work—the numerous stories for books and periodicals, with her drawings and woodcut illustrations; the correspondence from western outposts; her novels and nonfiction—gained her notice as a skilled observer of the frontier and an accomplished writer. Her life expressed the civilizing influence of the educated eastern gentlewoman on life in the chaotic mining and 'ditch' camps of the early American West and, conversely, the stimulating effect of those (old West) environs on the prepared mind, i.e., one educated for illustrating and telling the story. (NB: 'ditch' camps are irrigation-project construction camps.)


Wallace Stegner's novel Angle of Repose (Pulitzer Prize, 1971) is based directly upon Mary Hallock Foote's extensive personal correspondence. Stegner used the outline of her life with permission from members of Foote's family—on proviso that he disguise the source, which, in his judgement, he did. After publication, however, some descendants objected to "the great liberties" taken by Stegner in using Foote's story.[1] On the opposite hand—in disguising his source—Stegner used passages taken directly from Foote's letters without providing specific credit; this resulted in controversy that still today haunts his reputation within the literary community.[5][6]

Andrew Imbrie wrote an opera based upon Stegner's novel, which was performed in San Francisco in 1976. A collection of prints by Foote is on permanent exhibit at the Boise Public Library.

Selected works

  • Led-Horse Claim : A Romance of a Mining Camp (1883)
  • In Exile and Other Stories (1894)
  • Coeur d'Alene (1894)
  • The Prodigal (1900)
  • The Desert and the Sown (1902)
  • A Touch of Sun and Other Stories (1903)
  • Royal Americans (1910)
  • The Valley Road (1915)
  • A Victorian Gentlewoman in the Far West: The Reminiscences of Mary Hallock Foote, edited by Rodman W. Paul, ISBN 0-87328-057-1 (1972)
  • The Idaho Stories and Far-West Illustrations of Mary Hallock Foote, edited by Barbara Cragg, Dennis M. Walsh, and Mary Ellen Walsh. (1988)


  1. ^ a b Bush, Casey (2003). "Artist-Author Mary Hallock Foote and her Angle of Repose". Retrieved 2011-07-15. 
  2. ^ Rickard, Thomas Arthur (1922). Interviews with Mining Engineers. San Francisco: Mining and Scientific Press. p. 174. OCLC 2664362. Retrieved 2011-07-15. 
  3. ^ Egli, Ida Rae (1997). No Rooms of Their Own: Women Writers of Early California, 1849–1869. Berkeley, California: Heyday Books. p. 221. ISBN 1890771015.,M1. Retrieved 2011-07-15. 
  4. ^ Egli;pp. 221;223
  5. ^ Susan Salter Reynolds (23 March 2003). "Tangle of Repose". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  6. ^ Philip L. Fradkin (February 3, 2008). "A Classic, or A Fraud? Plagiarism allegations aimed at Stegner's Angle of Repose won't be put to rest". sec. M, p. 8: The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2008-12-28
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  • Mary Hallock Foote, James Maguire, Boise State College Western Writers Series Number 2, 1972
  • Mary Hallock Foote, Lee Ann Johnson, Twain Publishers, Boston, 1980
  • "Angle of Repose and the Writings of Mary Hallock Foote: A Source Study," Mary Ellen Walsh, in Critical Essays on Wallace Stegner, edited by Anthony Arthur, G. K. Hall & Co., pp. 184–209, 1982
  • Conversations with Wallace Stegner on Western History and Literature, Wallace Stegner and Richard Etulain, University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, 1983
  • Mary Hallock Foote Author-Illustrator of the American West, Darlis Miller, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2002
  • Cultural Clearcut: The Lost Novels of Mary Hallock Foote, Casey Bush, The Bear Deluxe 2003

External links

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