Texas Originals, a co-production with Humanities Texas

Texas Originals: Dorothy Scarborough

Dorothy Scarborough, n.d. Courtesy The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, Texas.
A controversial novel with an anonymous author marks the beginning of a diverse career as a novelist, folklorist and catcher of songs.

DOROTHY SCARBOROUGH
(January 27, 1878–November 7, 1935)

 

In 1925, an anonymous novel called The Wind spotlighted the West Texas town of Sweetwater.  The Wind told the tragic tale of Letty Mason, a Virginian who moves to Sweetwater during the drought-stricken 1880s. By book's end, Letty has committed murder and suicide—driven in part by the relentless West Texas wind.

In 1925, Harper & Brothers first published The Wind anonymously 'as a marketing gimmick,' writes scholar Sylvia Grider. Image courtesy The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, Texas.In 1925, Harper & Brothers first published The Wind anonymously "as a marketing gimmick," writes scholar Sylvia Grider. Image courtesy The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, Texas.

Reviewers praised the book for depicting the West with "cold truth."  However, many Texas readers attacked The Wind — and argued that only a Yankee could have written it. 

The Wind's author was revealed to be Dorothy Scarborough, a native Texan.  She spent several childhood years in Sweetwater, but lived most of her career in New York, yet all seven of her novels were set in Texas.

By the time Lillian Gish starred in the 1928 film version of The Wind, the story included a happy ending—and Sweetwater's Chamber of Commerce invited Scarborough back for a visit.

Dorothy Scarborough was also a respected folklorist.  She called herself a "song catcher."  She believed radio threatened the survival of folk songs, and she traveled around the Appalachian Mountains recording centuries-old ballads with a hand-powered Dictaphone. She collected as many of these songs as she could before those who sang them died. Scarborough believed these folksongs told stories about a community's values and its collective history.

Novelist, folklorist, a catcher of songs, Dorothy Scarborough took inspiration from America's regional cultures and, in doing so, preserved the creative expressions of ordinary people from times past.

 

Sources:

Dawson, Joseph Martin. "A Visit to Dorothy Scarborough's Home. Her Summer Place, 'Towerdale' is in Connecticut Berkshires in the Midst of Writers’ Colony." Dallas Morning News, October 10, 1926.

"Dorothy Scarborough, Texas Novelist, Will Write Two More Novels on Cotton." Dallas News, July 15, 1923. Dorothy Scarborough Vertical File I, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.

"Dr. Scarborough, Author, 58, is Dead." The New York Times, November 8, 1935.

Grider, Sylvia. Foreword to The Wind by Dorothy Scarborough. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1979.

Loggins, Vernon. "The Earth's Anguish." Review of The Wind. In Saturday Review, 1925. Dorothy Scarborough Vertical File I, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.

"Publishers Tell Who Wrote 'The Wind.'" Dallas News, circa 1926. Dorothy Scarborough Vertical File I, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.

Raymond, Virginia Marie. "The Wind in the Literary Creation of West Texas." Master’s report, The University of Texas at Austin, 2003.

Scarborough, Dorothy, assisted by Ola Lee Gulledge. On the Trail of Negro Folk-Songs. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1925.

Scarborough, Dorothy. A Song Catcher in Southern Mountains: American Folk Songs of British Ancestry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1937.

Scarborough, Sheree. "Feminism in the Life and Work of Emily Dorothy Scarborough." Master’s thesis, The University of Texas at Austin, 1984.

"Texas Winds." The New York Times, October 25, 1925.

Van Gelder, Robert. "Books of the Times." The New York Times, April 15, 1937.

This episode first aired July 7, 2012.