Elsie Singmaster Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The fiction of Elsie Singmaster may be clearly charted in geography and time. She is the novelist of Pennsylvania, more particularly of the Pennsylvania German region from the colonial period to the present. First in time are her stories of the early settlements in A High Wind Rising and I Heard of a River, set against the years when French and Indian raiders swept over the Warrior Road and Carlisle and Lancaster stood on a disputed frontier between the French lands on the Ohio and English territory along the Schuylkill and the Delaware. Later the history of the state widens into the history of the nation in her Revolutionary War novel, Rifles for Washington, and in I Speak for Thaddeus Stevens and in her stories of the three bloody days at Gettysburg in 1863. For a later time she wrote novels and tales of small-town and country life. These are regional rather than historical, for in them she makes vivid and real the Pennsylvania German countryside of red barns and fieldstone houses, the landscape of the sturdy, patriarchal Mennonites, Dunkers, and Amish, with their religious dress and slow unchanging ways of conduct and belief. This was her own region as well, and she brought to it her vision and understanding as a writer.{$S[A]Lewars, Mrs. E. S.;Singmaster, Elsie}

Singmaster was born in the Lutheran parsonage at Schuylkill Haven, Pennsylvania. Her father, the Reverend John Alden Singmaster, had among his ancestors one who studied under Martin Luther and another who was the first Lutheran minister ordained in the United States. Part of her childhood was spent at Macungie, the Millerstown of her fiction, where her father had been called to a pastorate of six churches between Allentown and Reading. She gathered impressions of this locality as she drove about with him when he went to preach to the different congregations in his charge. English was always spoken in the Singmaster home, as her mother was a Quaker of English descent, but from playmates and neighbors the children learned the hybrid mixture of English and German known as Pennsylvania Dutch. This was the only language known to the first teacher who taught her rhetoric.

If her early education was at best rudimentary, there were always good books to read in her father’s library. By the...

(The entire section is 941 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Hart, James David, ed. The Oxford Companion to American Literature. 4th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1965. Singmaster has an entry devoted to her in this reference work.

Kohler, Dayton. “Elsie Singmaster and the Regional Tradition.” Commonwealth 1 (September, 1947). Singmaster’s place in the nineteenth century regional tradition is explored.

Kribbs, Jayne K. “Elsie Singmaster.” In American Novelists, 1910-1945, edited by James J. Martine. Vol. 9 in Dictionary of Literary Biography, edited by Matthew Bruccoli. Detroit: Gale Group, 1981. Contains biography and short critical analysis.

Wagenknecht, Edward. Cavalcade of the American Novel. New York: Holt, 1952. Singmaster is mentioned.

Warfel, Harry R. American Novelists of Today. 1951. Reprint. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1972. Contains a short profile of Singmaster.