Constance Lindsay Skinner
Much like the resilient character of Becky Landers she created, the author Constance Lindsay Skinner, a Canadian born in 1882, grew up on the frontier. Her childhood was spent on the Hudson’s Bay trading post that her father ran, deep in the interior of British Columbia. Native Americans were her close associates; among them were the Indian children she played with and wise old Tselistah, the elder native who had taught Constance’s own father the ways of the wilderness. She grew up well acquainted with woods, rivers, mountains and wild creatures. Taught early at home, in the book-lined living room of the family’s log house, Constance later attended school in Vancouver. At the age of 16 she began to write for newspapers in British Columbia. Within two years she had moved to Los Angeles, having been accepted as a reporter on the Los Angeles Times. Her career as a journalist would lead her from the “wilds” of Los Angeles’ newspaper worlds, to Chicago and then New York, as she made a living for herself by writing. This was an exceptional achievement for a woman of that day.
Miss Skinner dared to try her hand at many literary genres. Drawing upon her own frontier experience, she began writing books for boys. The first of these was Silent Scot, serialized in the Boy Scouts’ magazine. Soon the editor of American Girl, the Girl Scout magazine, came to Constance and begged for a story for girls.
Miss Skinner looked her in the eye and asked, “Miss Ferris, do you actually want stories with guts in them?” Laughing, Miss Ferris said, the more guts the better. So Miss Skinner wrote Becky Landers. quoted in More Junior Authors, ed. Muriel Fuller, p 187 This and other of Miss Skinner’s stories, steeped in early American and Canadian frontier lore, “are credited with starting the trend to historical fiction for older girls” (More Junior Authors, p 187). Authentic settings, lively characters and tales, and the inclusion of historical figures made Miss Skinner’s books for young people a great success. Her heroes and heroines behave like real people and, moreover, are endowed with a strong sense of humor.
In the 1930s Miss Skinner conceived and undertook editorship of a major American book series on the Rivers of America. With the collaboration of other outstanding writers, eventually 52 books would be produced. These have been highly acclaimed and continue to be a wonderful resource for a study of America.
Constance Skinner’s own bold, warm and generous personality inspired fellow writers and won her many friends. The Constance Lindsay Skinner Medal was founded by the Women’s National Book Association in her memory in 1939, the year of her death.