Saturday, March 7, 2015

Clare Winger Harris (1891-1968)

Née Clare M. Winger
Aka Mrs. F.C. Harris
Born January 18, 1891, Freeport, Illinois
Died October 1968, Pasadena, California

Clare Winger Harris is credited as being the first woman to write science fiction for an American magazine under her own name. Her output was modest, but her place in the history of her field is secure. She was born on January 18, 1891, in Freeport, Illinois, and attended Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. In 1912, Clare Winger married a native Kansan, Frank Clyde Harris (1885-19?). His work as an architect, engineer, and college instructor carried the couple from place to place in the American Midwest. Together they had three sons.

Clare Winger's father was Frank Stover Winger (1865-1936), son of the founder of the Stover Manufacturing Company of Freeport, Illinois, (1) and more importantly, author of The Wizard of the Island, or The Vindication of Prof. Waldinger (1917). Frank Stover Winger's novel, a Jules Vernian story of super-science set in the South Seas, was published less than a decade before his daughter's first tale of fantasy. There are those who speculate that her interest in science fiction stems from her father's, but I don't see any reason why that interest could not have been shared, or even that she inspired him. (2) Clare's husband, described as "a visionary architect and engineer," (3) is also seen as an inspiration to her.

Clare Winger Harris's first published story, "A Runaway World," appeared in Weird Tales in July 1926. Her first story for an out-and-out science fiction magazine was "The Fate of the Poseidonia," published in Amazing Stories less than a year later, in June 1927. According to the website of Amazing Tales,
"The Fate of the Poseidonia" is . . . . simultaneously, the first publication of a story by its author in an sf magazine, the first story by a woman published in such a magazine, and a co-winner in the first contest ever held by a science fiction magazine.
"The Fate of the Poseidonia" actually won third place in that contest and was supposed to have earned its author some prize money. Whether editor Hugo Gernsback--a notorious chiseler--ever came across with the dough is another matter. More important than the prize, perhaps, is that the door was opened for Clare Winger Harris, and by extension other women science fiction writers. Over the next two years, she wrote half a dozen stories published in Amazing Tales. Her collaborator on one of those was Miles J. Breuer, M.D. (1889-1945).

In all, Clare Winger Harris wrote eleven stories published in Weird Tales, Amazing Stories, and Science Wonder Quarterly from 1926 to 1930. Her career was brief to say the least. She gave it up to rear her children. In 1947, Clare's eleven stories were collected in hardback in Away from the Here and Now: Stories in Pseudo-Science. A novel, Persephone of Eleusis: A Romance of Ancient Greece (1923), had preceded the publication of that book. Clare also wrote four published letters in the science fiction and fantasy pulps. The last, in Wonder Stories (Aug. 1931), was an attempt at classification of science fiction themes. That letter, one of the first documents of its kind, was also, apparently, the last of her original published works of or about science fiction. Clare's stories have been anthologized many times in the years since her death. She is a favorite among those interested in feminism and science fiction.

Clare Winger Harris died in October 1968 in Pasadena, California, at age seventy-seven.

Stories of Clare Winger Harris
(Stories in Weird Tales are in bold.)
"A Runaway World" (Weird Tales, July 1926)
"The Fate of the Poseidonia" (Amazing Stories, June 1927)
"A Certain Soldier" (Weird Tales, November 1927)
"The Miracle of the Lily" (Amazing Stories, April 1928)
"The Menace From Mars" (Amazing Stories, October 1928)
"The Fifth Dimension" (Amazing Stories, December 1928)
"The Diabolical Drug" (Amazing Stories, May 1929)
"The Artificial Man" (Science Wonder Quarterly, Fall 1929)
"A Baby on Neptune" (with Miles J. Breuer, M.D., Amazing Stories, December 1929)
"The Evolutionary Monstrosity" (Amazing Stories Quarterly, Winter 1929)
"The Ape Cycle" (Science Wonder Quarterly, Spring 1930)

Letters of Clare Winger Harris
(Her letter in Weird Tales is in bold.)
Letter (Amazing Stories, May 1929)
Letter (Air Wonder Stories, September 1929)
Letter to "The Eyrie" (Weird Tales, Mar. 1930)
Letter (Wonder Stories, August 1931)

Further Reading
There is a fair amount of information on Clare Winger Harris on the Internet, but not all of it is very good or very reliable. The Wikipedia entry is inadequate. The article on the website of Amazing Stories is much better. You can also read some of her works on line.

(1) Smokey Stover of the newspaper comics page may have been named after the Stover business. See my article, "Foo! Bill Holman and Smokey Stover" in Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History, Summer 2012.
It is almost certain that Harris herself was inspired to begin writing science fiction because her father, Frank Stover Winger, had written the lively, and clearly Jules Verne influenced early science fiction novel, Wizard of the Island (1917).
(3) Also from the website of Amazing Stories

On the cover of Amazing Stories, December 1926, the editor, Hugo Gernsback, announced a contest: "$500.00 for the Most Amazing Story Written Around This Picture." Somewhere out on this vast continent, Clare Winger Harris was watching.
Six months later, her entry in the contest, "The Fate of the Poseidonia," appeared in Amazing Tales, and for it, she won third place. However, her byline did not make the cover.
That would have to wait until October 1928, when "Menace from Mars" was published. So was this the first time that the name of a woman author appeared on the cover of a science fiction magazine? Whether it was or not, Weird Tales had been showing the bylines of its female contributors on the cover for years.
A gallery of covers with Clare Winger Harris' byline. From top to bottom: December 1928, May 1929, December 1929, and Winter 1929. The artist on all of the covers shown here was Frank R. Paul except for the December 1929 issue, which was done by H.W. Wesso.

In 1917, Clare Winger Harris' father, F.S. Winger, published his own story of super-science, The Wizard of the Island. I had hoped this book had been illustrated, but I haven't found any evidence of that. If it ever had a dust jacket, it's probably gone with the wind.
In 1926, with her first story in Weird Tales, Winger's daughter, Clare Winger Harris, followed her father into the realm of fantasy and science fiction. Thirty years after his book was published, hers was as well. Here and Now: Stories in Pseudo-Science, from 1947, collected Clare's eleven published stories in hardback. Note the flying saucer-like spaceship. This was 1947 after all. The artist was the otherwise uncredited J.M.

This is the second of three articles on women writers in observance of International Women's Day, Sunday, March 8, 2015. Thanks to La Contessa.
Text and captions copyright 2015, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

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