Writer Edna Ferber Got Her Start As Appleton Journalist

By Erika Janik | September 9, 2016


Listen Online

Best known now for the movies made from her books, Edna Ferber was one of the best-selling and most prolific writers of her era. 

Ferber wasn’t born in Wisconsin but she graduated high school in Appleton and got her first writing job, as a newspaper journalist, in Appleton and then Milwaukee.

Writing wasn’t Ferber’s initial goal. She wanted to be an actor and got the newspaper job to raise money to fund her training. But she soon began writing stories and gained tremendous popularity for a series of stories featuring a traveling saleswoman named Emma McChesney.

Despite their popularity, though, Ferber began to feel that these stories weren’t allowing her to grow as a writer so she turned to writing novels. She achieved her first great success with the novel “So Big,” which tells the story of a widowed mother’s struggle to forge a better a life for herself and her son. It doesn’t sound that innovative until you consider that she wrote frankly and openly about sexism and poverty in 1924. The novel won her a Pulitzer Prize.

The next year, Ferber wrote her best-known novel, “Show Boat,” which was later adapted in a musical. Many of her works made it to the movie screen as well, including “Show Boat” and her later novels “Giant,” “Cimarron,” and “Ice Palace.” Her works made her the most read American woman in the 1920s.

Ferber was disciplined and prolific, claiming that once a book had been started, nothing but death could separate her from it: “Clothes are unimportant. Teeth go unfilled. Your idea of bliss is to wake up on a Monday morning knowing that you haven’t a single engagement for the entire week. You are cradled in a white paper cocoon tied up with typewriter ribbon.”


Erika Janik

Erika Janik

Erika Janik is the co-creator and former executive director of Wisconsin Life. She is the author of six books, including Pistols and Petticoats: 175 Years of Lady Detectives in Fact and Fiction, Apple: A Global History, and  Marketplace of the Marvelous: The Strange Origins of Modern Medicine. She’s currently the executive...
2018-01-19T17:53:00-06:00Tags: , , |

Sign Up Form

Sign Up for Our Bi-Weekly Newsletter

Get your favorite Wisconsin Life stories, meet the crew, and go behind the scenes.

Our Favorite Collections

Storyteller Rodney Lambright II's comic series about the rich relationship between a single father, his young daughter and his retirement-age parents.
For the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, we discover how Wisconsinites experienced the war both at home and on the battlefield.
Ice, cold and winter are an integral part of what it means to live in Wisconsin. "Ice Week" explores the many ways that ice defines us.
Food plays a central part in many holiday traditions. This series honors the foods and meals that make the day.
Escape winter with a look at some of Wisconsin's favorite sports and games.
"Living the Wisconsin Life" is an online series exploring the little things that make living in Wisconsin fun, interesting and meaningful.