Bess Streeter Aldrich was born in 1881 to a pioneer family in Cedar Falls, Iowa. A writer since early childhood, she won a writing contest at age fourteen and another at seventeen. After graduating from Iowa State Normal School (now the University of Northern Iowa), she taught school in Marshalltown, Iowa, and in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Later returning to Cedar Falls in 1906 to earn an advanced degree in education she was named the assistant supervisor of the Iowa State Normal School. Shortly after, she married Charles S. Aldrich, a banker and lawyer.
In 1909, the Aldrich’s and Bess’s sister and brother-in-law, Clara and John Cobb, bought the American Exchange Bank in Elmwood, Nebraska, and moved there with the Aldrich’s two-month old daughter, Bess’s widowed mother, and the Cobbs. Three more children would be born to the family. Elmwood would become the locale, by whatever name she called it, of her many short stories, and it would also be the setting for some of her books.
During her first two years in Elmwood, Aldrich was too busy with local activities to write. Then, in 1911, when the Ladies’ Home Journal
advertised a fiction contest, she entered and won. She wrote the story in a few afternoons while her baby napped. Her story was one of six chosen from among some two thousand entries. From that time on, Aldrich wrote whenever she could find a moment between caring for her growing family and her household chores. Prior to 1918, she wrote under her pen name, Margaret Dean Stephens. Shortly before Aldrich’s first novel, Rim of the Prairie
, was published in 1925, her husband, Charles died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage. Aldrich was now a widow with four children ages four to sixteen. She took up writing as a means of supporting her family and continued to live in Elmwood, where most of her writing took place. Through her writing she was able to put all four of her children through college. She later built a home in Lincoln, Nebraska next door to her daughter in the late 1940s.
In 1934, Aldrich was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters from the University of Nebraska, and in 1949, she received the Iowa Authors Outstanding Contributions to Literature Award. During her writing career, she wrote one hundred short stories and articles, nine novels, one novella and two books of short stories. Her work appeared in such magazines as The American, Saturday Evening Post, Ladies’ Home Journal, Collier’s, Cosmopolitan, McCall’s
. In her work, she emphasized family values and recorded accurately Midwest pioneering history. One of her books, Miss Bishop
, was made into the movie, Cheers for Miss Bishop
; and her short story, The Silent Stars Go By
, became the television show, The Gift of Love
, starring Lee Remick and Angela Lansbury. Aldrich also served as a writer and consultant in Hollywood for Paramount Pictures.
Bess Streeter Aldrich died in 1954 and is buried in the Elmwood cemetery. She was posthumously inducted into the Nebraska Hall of Fame in 1973.