No Rooms of Their Own: Women Writers in Early California

1992, Heyday Books, edited by Ida Rae Egli

“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

Years before Virginia Woolf penned this famous line, California writer Jesse Benton Frémont wrote that she wished for “a writing table and a room,” but managed to write five books without them. No Rooms of Their Own gathers together the writings of fifteen extraordinary women living in a remarkable time. The words of well-known early California writers like Ina Coolbrith and Dame Shirley mingle with the voices of less recognized women – women writing for themselves in the privacy of their diaries, minoity women, women too liberated for their time. Their essays, poems, and stories tell of threats to families and children, dangerous treks across the desert, grand or tragic love affairs, and battles for survival or equality. Their stories draw a new picture of early California and its true pioneers.

No Rooms of Their Own has enjoyed wide popularity. In its third edition, it has gone through several printings. More important, it has had a major impact on the literary history of California, especially as written by women in the nineteenth century. The widespread popularity of the book has prompted other scholars to delve into the lives of these fifteen women whose work is highlighted in the anthology. Separate biographies have since been issued for three of the women, and other related scholarly research has been published in journals and anthologies. And because the book has increased awareness about nineteenth century California literature, ordinary people whose ancestors came early to California are scouting basements, attics and old library bookshelves for other manuscripts that will further enrich our understanding of the wonders, disappointments and challenges that were California in earlier centuries.

Women of the Gold Rush: “The New Penelope” and Other Stories

Frances Fuller Victor, 1998, Heyday Books, edited with an introduction by Ida Rae Egli 

Frances Fuller Victor (1826-1902) was a popular and highly-praised writer of the early West, her works appearing in the Overland Monthly, the Golden Era, and other leading literary publications. Her stories, like those of Mark Twain and Bret Harte, are full of suspense, drama, humor, vivid characters, and sudden turns of plot. Yet, while no less entertaining, her stories differ from those of her male counterparts in one important respect. The women depicted in these pages are not the usual romantic stereotypes; rather, they are complex women drawn from real life, nourished and informed by the deeply-felt experiences of the author. 

In addition to writing fiction, Victor authored several books on Western history, and she worked for twelve years as a researcher and writer for Hubert Howe Bancroft. In the five stories collected in this volume, the skills of a popular fiction writer, the knowledge of a dedicated historian, and the experiences of a woman who lived on the California and Oregon frontiers combine to create a memorable, timely, and important book.