Poetry, History, and Dime Novels: The Literary Works of the Fuller Sisters

Metta Victoria Fuller (source)

Metta Victoria Fuller (source)

Sisters Frances Auretta and Metta Victoria Fuller both made their mark on the literary world of the 19th century. Frances became well-known for writing history, particularly of the Northwest, while Metta wrote primarily popular fiction, including the newly popular Dime Novels. Although they made their mark writing in different genres, they began their careers in much the same way, writing for local publications in Ohio and for the Home Journal (now Town and Country), founded by Nathaniel Parker Willis and George Morris. By 1848, they had moved to New York City together where they met with immediate success.

“One in spirit and equal in genius, these most interesting and brilliant ladies – both still in earliest youth – are undoubtedly destined to occupy a very distinguished and permanent place among the native authors of this land.” ~ N. P. Willis

Frances was born in Rome, New York, on May 23, 1826, the oldest of five daughters of Adonijah and Lucy Fuller. The family moved several times, including to Erie, Pennsylvania, where Metta, the third daughter, was born on March 2, 1831. They finally settled in Wooster, Ohio in 1839, where the girls were able to attend a female seminary. There they both discovered a love of literature and a talent for writing. By the time they moved to New York City in 1848, they were both published and welcomed into literary circles.

Around the same time the sisters moved to New York, Frances published her first novel, Anizetta of Guajira: or The Creole of Cuba. In 1851, she published jointly with Metta a book of poetry, Poems of Sentiment and Imagination. Later in life, Frances referred to it as “mistaken kindness which induced  her friends to advise the publication of these youthful productions.” The time Frances spent in New York was shortened, however, because their father died in 1850 and she needed to return to Ohio to help the family,

Metta’s first novel, The Last Days of Tul, a story about Mayan civilization, had been published in 1847, when she was only fifteen. When Frances returned home, she decided to remain in New York and over the next couple of years her success surpassed that of her sister with the publication of several novels including, The Senator’s Son, or, The Maine Law; a Last Refuge (1853) a temperance novel, and Mormon Wives (1856) a fictional attack on polygamy. In 1856, she married Orville James Victor and began work with him as an editor of Cosmopolitan Art Journal. She also served as the editor at Home magazine, a Beadle & Company monthly.  In 1860, she took over editing the art journal so that Orville. would be free to develop a new series of books for Beadle in the new  “Dime novel” genre.

Together Metta and Orville had nine children, but it didn’t keep her from writing. In 1860 alone, she wrote three “dime novels” and she went on to publish over 100 under the pseudonym Seeley Regester. Her books were very popular. Two of her best-known works are Maum Guinea and Her Plantation “Children” (1862) and The Dead Letter (1866). She also wrote for periodicals of the time including Godey’s Lady’s Book. Over the decades she was able to adjust her style of writing to suit the times, from reform literature to satire and whimsey. By 1870, she supposedly received $25,000 for a group of stories.

Frances Fuller Victor (source)

Frances Fuller Victor (source)

After Frances left New York, the family moved to St. Clair, Michigan where she met Jackson Barritt from Pontiac. They were married on June 16, 1853, and took up homesteading near Omaha, Nebraska. The marriage didn’t survive and Frances decided to rejoin Metta in New York. When she arrived Orville had begun to edit Beadle’s dime novels and Frances fit right it. In 1862, she wrote two novels for the series that portrayed Nebraska farm life, East and West; or, The Beauty of Willard’s Mill (1862) and The Land Claim: A Tale of the Upper Missouri (1862). She also obtained a divorce in March of 1862 and in May married Orville’s brother Henry Clay Victor.

Henry was a naval officer and in 1863 was reassigned to San Francisco, California. There Frances became a regular contributor to the San Francisco Bulletin and the Golden Era, a literary weekly. One of her contributions was a series of society articles under the pseudonym Florence Fane which were evidently quite humorous.

In 1865, after Henry resigned from the navy, the couple moved to Oregon, where Frances discovered her literary strength in writing history. In addition to submitting stories and poems to western periodicals, she wrote The River of the West: The Adventures of Joe Meek (1870) a biography, and a travel book entitled All Over Oregon and Washington (1872). In doing her research, Frances conducted interviews with many of the pioneers who were still living as well as going through family papers and archives amassing a huge amount of material.

Henry was lost at sea in 1875 and Frances had to make her living through her writing. She collected many of her stories and poems written for periodicals and published them under the name The New Penelope (1877) through the Bancroft Publishing House. She had known Hubert Howe Bancroft for many years and he was aware of her writing and desire to publish a history of Oregon. He planned to publish a series of books on the History of the Pacific States and asked her to come work for him. In need of money, Frances took his offer and moved back to San Francisco.

Frances remained with Bancroft until 1790 through the publication of the twenty-eighth volume of a planned thirty-nine. Although Bancroft claimed authorship of the entire series, it has been established that Frances was the author of both volumes on Oregon; the volume on Washington, Idaho, and Montana; the volume on Nevada, Colorado, and Wyoming; and much of the material in the volumes on California, the Northwest Coast, and British Columbia.

In 1890, Frances returned to Oregon to live the remainder of her life. Metta had died of cancer on June 26, 1885, and Frances had no children, so she continued her literary efforts in the place she had come to love. She revised some of her earlier work and was commissioned by the state legislature to produce The Early Indian Wars of Oregon, published in 1894. She continued writing for the Oregon Historical Quarterly until her death on November 14, 1902.

The Oregon Daily Journal, Portland, Oregon, 15 Nov 1902, Sat • Page 6

The Oregon Daily Journal, Portland, Oregon, 15 Nov 1902, Sat • Page 6

Resources
“Victor, Frances Auretta Fuller” by Franklin Walker, Notable American Women, 1607–1950: A Biographical Dictionary, Volume III, eds. James, Edward T. et al.
“Victor, Metta Victoria Fuller” by William H. Taylor, Notable American Women, 1607–1950: A Biographical Dictionary, Volume III, eds. James, Edward T. et al.
Historian of the Northwest. A Woman Who Loved Oregon: Frances Fuller Victor” by William A. Morris, The Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society 3.
Victor, Metta Victoria Fuller“, by Orso, Miranda (2002).

7 thoughts on “Poetry, History, and Dime Novels: The Literary Works of the Fuller Sisters

    • I guess dime novels were the equivalent of what Susan H calls “potato chip books”. They go fast and you can’t read just one. And for Frances, at least she gets credit now for all that history writing she did, even if she didn’t get it at the time. Thanks for reading Tami!

  1. Frances was exceptional in seeking what I presume was a divorce? Although later marrying her sister’s brother-in-law was not in itself unusual. Thanks for finding these unusual (for their times) women.

    • Notable American Women says that Frances left her husband “although she did not obtain a divorce until 1862.” The only detailed reading I’ve done about the issue of divorce for women back then was in regards to Rachel Jackson, which was considerably earlier. At that time states had different laws concerning if/when a woman could obtain a divorce. They were very limited and then still at the discretion of the judge. I don’t know, but I suspect that Frances just left and her husband eventually filed and obtained the divorce. I would love to know though. If I find out anything more I will give an update.

    • I did a little snooping on ancestry and found a Jackson Barritt in the 1860 census living in CA as a boarder, but listed as married. He’s the right age and from Michigan. This same person has a headstone erected in Michigan by his father Hiram Barritt after he died in 1864 near Atlanta, GA, I imagine in the war. Can’t find any divorce records online though. But that’s not unusual, I found record of my great grandfather’s divorce in a newspaper article about his RE-marriage to my great grandmother! Thanks for reading Sandra!

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