Zona Gale: The First Female Recipient of the Pulitzer Prize

For this year’s research portfolio, I will be researching the film Miss Lulu Bett. This 1921 silent comedy drama film was written by Clara Beranger and directed by William C. deMille. However, the story is based on the 1920 novel of the same title by Zona Gale. The novel was originally published in the United States and the United Kingdom with D. Appleton and Co. and was adapted as a play that opened on Broadway on December 27, 1920. It was warmly received by audiences­­­­ – for its original ending at least – and won Gale a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, making her the first woman ever to earn that distinction. This, nonetheless, was not Gale’s only work of pride. She wrote 11 other novels, 13 other short stories, 6 other plays, 1 poem, and 5 essays that established her name in the early 1900’s.

Gale was born in Portage, Wisconsin, a small village in the Midwestern United States, a place which she based most of her material. She received an extensive education with a Bachelor of Literature and a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin. Following college, she wrote for newspapers in Milwaukee and New York City. She then became a freelance writer and sold her first story to Success Magazine in 1903. For roughly six years, Gale wrote several stories, published her first novel Romance Island, and eventually earned a prize from Delineator magazine in 1911 for an “uncharacteristically realistic story” which enabled her to return to her hometown. This homecoming helped her realize that her experience of life in a Midwestern village would serve as most of her inspiration for writing and she concentrated full time on fiction in Portage.

This inspiration guided her to write Miss Lulu Bett – her award-winning novel and playwright based on a woman’s encounter with love and eventual self-assertion of independence. When the story was adopted as a play, however, she wrote two endings; one where the female protagonist decides to undertake adventures on her own, which won Gale the Pulitzer Prize, and another where the protagonist’s husband shows up in the nick of time and convinces her to stay with him. The latter was more commercially acceptable at the time and less challenging for audiences given women’s standing in society. At the time of its initial publication the story was a bestseller, but it gradually fell out of favor with changing tastes and social conditions.

In accordance with Gale’s original ending depicting female independence, she advocated heavily for women’s rights and was an ardent supporter of many liberal causes of the time. She was an active member of the National Women’s Party and lobbied diligently for the 1921 Wisconsin Equal Rights Law. Additionally, she was an Executive Member of the Lucy Stone League – one of the first feminist groups to arise from the suffrage movement. She believed that her activism on behalf of women was her way to solve a problem she returned to repeatedly in her novels: women’s frustration at their lack of opportunities (3). In 1938, Gale died of pneumonia in Chicago.


Play Script: http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/gale/lulu/lulu.html

Works Cited:

    1. Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Zona Gale.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 22 Aug. 2019, www.britannica.com/biography/Zona-Gale.
    2. Foundation, Wikimedia. “Miss Lulu Bett (Film).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Apr. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miss_Lulu_Bett_(film).
    3. Foundation, Wikimedia. “Zona Gale.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 22 Aug. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zona_Gale.
    4. Kramer, Fritzi. “Miss Lulu Bett.” MoviesSilently.com, Movies Silently, 22 Oct. 2016, i1.wp.com/moviessilently.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/miss-lulu-bett-adorkable-2.gif.


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