Gertrude Atherton

Gertrude Atherton (Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton, October 30th, 1857 – June 14th, 1948) was an American author.

Gertrude Atherton2Her parents separated when she was two, and Atherton was raised by her maternal grandfather. She attended St. Mary’s Hall school in Benicia, California, and the Sayre Institute in Lexington, Kentucky.

In February 1876, she eloped with George Atherton, who had been courting her mother. They had two children, but the marriage was unhappy. After six-year-old son Georgie died of diphtheria, in 1882, Atherton started writing the story The Randolphs of Redwoods, which was published in the Argonaut, later that same year, under the pseudonym “Asmodeus”. Her family strongly disapproved of her writing, and Atherton was ostracized by them.

Her husband died in 1887, and she moved to New York to make a living by her pen. She travelled extensively through England, France, and Germany, made frinds with Henry James and Ambrose Bierce, and left her daughter Muriel behind with her grandmothers.

In 1888, Atherton published her novel What Dreams May Come, under the pen name “Frank Lin”. Her controversial novel Black Oxen (1923) was Atherton’s major success, and was made into a silent movie in 1923, directed by Frank Lloyd, starring Corinne Griffith and Clara Bow.

Atherton wrote more than 30 books, and also published stories and articles in various periodicals, such as Cosmopolitan, Lippincott’s, Harper’s, Yale Review, and The New York Times. In 1925, the French government recognized her wartime service with the Legion of Honour. She was awarded an honorary Doctor of Literature degree in 1935, from Mills College, as well as an honorary Doctor of Laws in 1937, from the University of California at Berkeley, and was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters, in 1938.

She supported suffragism, but was averse to militancy. She was also an anti-communist, expressed racist views, and was an advocate for eugenics.

Atherton died of a stroke in 1948.



  • What Dreams May Come (1888)
  • Cerritos (1890)
  • The Doomswoman (1895)
  • American Wives and English Husbands (1898)
  • The Valiant Runaways (1898)
  • A Daughter of the Vine (1899)
  • Senator North (1900)
  • The Aristocrats (1901)
  • The Conqueror (1902)
  • Pendleton’s Four-In-Hand (1903)
  • Rulers of Kings (1904)
  • The Travelling Thirds (1905)
  • Rezanov (1906)
  • Ancestors (1907)
  • Tower of Ivory (1910)
  • Julia France and Her Times (1912)
  • Perch of the Devil (1914)
  • Before the Gringo Came (1915)
  • Balfame (1916)
  • The White Morning (1918)
  • The Avalanche (1919)
  • The Sisters-in-Law (1921)
  • Sleeping Fires (1922)
  • Black Oxen (1923)
  • The Crystal Cup (1925)
  • The Gorgeous Isle (1927)
  • The Immortal Marriage (1927)
  • The Jealous Gods (1928)
  • Dido, Queen of Hearts (1929)
  • The Sophisticates (1931)
  • Golden Peacock (1936)
  • The House of Lee (1940)
  • The Horn Of Life (1942)

Short story collections

  • The Splendid Idle Forties (1902)
  • The Bell in the Fog (1905)
  • The Foghorn (1934)

Non fiction

  • The Living Present (1917)
  • Adventures of a Novelist (1932)
  • California, an Intimate History (1936)
  • Can Women Be Gentlemen? (1938)
  • Golden Gate Country (1945)
  • My San Francisco (1946)
  • The Californians (1968)


  • The Penguin Book of Classic Fantasy by Women, ed. Susan Williams (1977)
  • Witches’ Brew: Horror and Supernatural Stories by Women, ed. Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini (1984)
  • Haunting Women: Stories of Fear and Fantasy by Women Writers, ed. Alan Ryan (1988)
  • Weird Women – Volume 2: 1840-1925: Classic Supernatural Fiction by Groundbreaking Female Writers, ed. Lisa Morton and Leslie S. Klinger (2021)

About her

  • American women writers, 1900-1945: a bio-bibliographical critical sourcebook, ed. Laurie Champion and Emmanuel Sampath Nelson (2000)
  • California’s Daughter: Gertrude Atherton and Her Times by Emily Wortis Leider (1991)
  • American Short-Story Writers, 1880–1910, by Charlotte S. McClure (1989)
  • Gertrude Atherton, by Charlotte S. McClure (1979)
  • Eminent Women of the West, by Elinor Richey (1975)
  • Notable American Women, 1607–1950, ed. Paul Boyer (1971)

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