Rivers of America

"Voyageur's Song" (French Canadian folk tune), a song about the Chicago River from Songs of Rivers of America, pp. 143-144:

[alternate link to sound file: click here]

Constance Lindsay Skinner, founding editor

Constance Lindsay Skinner
Constance Lindsay Skinner
Courtesy Constance Lindsay Skinner papers,
Manuscripts and Archives Division,
The New York Public Library,
Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations.

Constance Lindsay Skinner was born in 1877 on a trading post in British Columbia five hundred miles from the nearest railroad. She grew up among the Indian, English, and French traders and trappers that passed through the fort her father commanded for the Hudson Bay Company. The giant cedar and pine forests of British Columbia were home to salmon, red deer, bear and beaver.

The trading post on the Frasier River was the hub connecting a network of Indian and pioneer trappers. Skinner divided her time between the activities of the post and her father's 2000-volume library. The frontier experience and her voracious reading habits provided the material and the means for a remarkable literary career.

Always headstrong and independent, Skinner moved to Los Angeles at the age of twenty and began work as a general assignment reporter and drama critic. She moved to New York in 1912 and earned a reputation as a hardworking author prolific in a number of genres. Her reputation was such that Yale University asked her to contribute several volumes to their Chronicles of America series. Skinner's lively contributions to the series (Pioneers of the Old Southwest: A Chronicle of the Dark and Bloody Ground and Adventurers of Oregon: A Chronicle of the Fur Trade) further enhanced her reputation.

She continued to mine the literary vein of popular history, folklore, and geography with a special emphasis on Native Americans fueled by her personal experience. She wrote dozens of books and articles including Songs of the Coast Dwellers, a volume of poetry inspired by lyrical interpretations of the life and customs of the Squamish Indians.

In 1935 she approached the fledgling publishing house of Farrar & Rinehart with the idea for a series of books detailing the history and culture surrounding specific rivers in North America. The acceptance of Skinner as the series general editor moved her into the top ranks of the male-dominated publishing world. She outlined the particular vision of the series in her article "Rivers and American Folk" and toured the country lecturing and promoting the series. Skinner edited the first six volumes in the Rivers of America series. They set the standard for the series that was an immediate hit with the critics and public.

Although she died in 1939, Skinner's contribution to the series is so essential that her name is carried on the title page of every subsequent volume.

Title pages for The Chicago
Title pages for the series (left) and the book (right) in The Chicago, published in 1942.
Note that the series title page credits Skinner for originating the series.

-- Written by Matthew Paris


Fitzgerald, Carol. The Rivers of America: A Descriptive Bibliography. New Castle: Oak Knoll Press, 2001.

Song of Rivers of America. Edited by Carl Carmer; music arranged by Dr. Albert Sirmay. New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1942.

Skinner, Constance Lindsay. Adventurers of Oregon: A Chronicle of the Fur Trade. Chronicles of America, vol. 22. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1920.

Skinner, Constance Lindsay. Pioneers of the Old Southwest: A Chronicle of the Dark and Bloody Ground. Chronicles of America, vol. 18. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1919.

Skinner, Constance Lindsay. Songs of the Coast Dwellers. New York: Coward-McCann, 1930.