Monday, May 23, 2011

Women Writers in Weird Tales

It doesn't take long for the reader of Weird Tales to realize that women contributed a great deal to the magazine, including stories, poetry, letters to "The Eyrie," and of course Margaret Brundage's many cover illustrations. Conventional thought is that science fiction, fantasy, horror, and other pulp genres don't appeal to women and that male fans, writers, and editors of those genres may even be hostile to women. In 2006, historian Eric Leif Davin sought to dispel those myths in his book Partners in Wonder: Women and the Birth of Science Fiction, 1926-1965. It's clear to me that Weird Tales welcomed women writers and women readers, without bias or any hostility. "The Unique Magazine" may have been unique in that respect among pulp magazines. Nonetheless, Mr. Davin has done some interesting research, some worth repeating here.
  • Eric Leif Davin counted 127 writers he considered identifiable as women who contributed prose fiction to Weird Tales. That's about 17% of the total number of writers for the magazine. You can quibble with his count: Clinton Dangerfield--a woman--for example is not on his list. Terva Gaston Hubbard--whom I believe was a man (and is subject for a future posting)--is on his list. In any case, close enough.
  • According to his count, there were 2,712 stories and serials printed in Weird Tales between the years 1923 and 1954. Writers identifiable as women were responsible for 365 of those works, or about 13.5% of the total.
  • The most prolific of those writers were: Allison V. Harding (36 stories); Mary Elizabeth Counselman (30); G.G. Pendarves (19); Everil Worrell (18); Greye La Spina (16); C.L. Moore (16); Dorothy Quick (15); Bassett Morgan (13); Eli Colter (12); and Margaret St. Clair (10).
  • Mr. Davin also counted 63 poets identifiable as women, or 40% of the total number of poets who contributed to Weird Tales.
  • According to his count, "The Unique Magazine" published 575 poems, of which 170 were written by poets identifiable as women, or about 30% of the total.
  • The most prolific of those poets were: Dorothy Quick (25 poems); Leah Bodine Drake (23)*; and Cristel Hastings (18). You'll notice that Dorothy Quick is the only contributor on both of his lists. In fourth place for poets is Page Cooper with seven poems. (*The correct number is actually 24.)
  • In a long discussion on pseudonyms and supposed efforts on the part of female writers to hide their sex behind initials or masculine pseudonyms, Mr. Davin concludes in the case of C.L. Moore that she did not try to hide her sex from readers, she simply tried to hide her identity from her employer. I came to the same conclusion in my research. Simply put, it's a myth that C.L. Moore feared revealing the fact that she was a woman.
Mr. Davin closes his book with biographies of 133 women writers of science fiction, fantasy, and other pulp genres, including, from Weird Tales: Mary Elizabeth Counselman, Leah Bodine Drake, Sophie Wenzel Ellis, Frances Garfield, Clare Winger Harris, Hazel Heald, Minna Irving (Minna Odell), Amelia Reynolds Long, Mindret Lord (Mildred Loeb)***, Dorothy (Haynes) Madle, C.L. Moore, Maria Moravsky, Dorothy Quick, Margaret St. Clair, Frances Stevens (Gertrude Barrows Bennett), and Leslie F. Stone.

It's worth remembering, too, that the editor of Weird Tales between 1940 and 1954 was a woman, Dorothy McIlwraith, and as Mr. Davin points out, the most prolific contributor to "The Eyrie" was also a woman.** In short, Weird Tales appealed to women--women readers, women writers, women artists, and women correspondents--and it welcomed their work. And what work they produced.

**Update, October 28, 2011
According to a list of letter writers to the weird fiction magazines, compiled on The FictionMags Index website, the top six letter writers to Weird Tales were: Jack Darrow (35 letters), B.M Reynolds (33), Gertrude Hemken (32), Donald Allgeier (29), Henry Kuttner (28), and Robert Bloch (26). The website includes a disclaimer on its homepage, but if the count made on the site is correct, the most prolific writer of letters to Weird Tales was a man, the third most was a woman, and the second most could have been either a man or a woman.
***Update, April 25, 2016
Mindret Lord was actually a man, Mindred Loeb.

Margaret Brundage began drawing cover illustrations for Weird Tales with the September 1932 issue, and until the early 1940s, only J. Allen St. John could keep up with her. During one stretch, from June 1933 to August/September 1936, she drew thirty-nine straight covers for "The Unique Magazine." Here is her cover for the October 1933 issue, an image that has become an icon, and justly so. Could the creators of Batman have been influenced by Margaret Brundage's bat-woman?

Text and captions copyright 2011 Terence E. Hanley


  1. Looks like my "Weird Sisters" chapter from "Partners in Wonder" was interesting and useful to you! Glad you read my book and gave it such close attention. The women of Weird Tales deserve a book unto themselves. I'd thought of writing one just on them, but I have a lot on my plate already. Maybe you should do it. Someone would publish it. Thanks! -- Dr. Eric Leif Davin

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