Harris, Clare Winger

Born: January 18, 1891
Died: October 26, 1968

Ohio connection: Former Resident

Lakewood

Not only was Clare Winger Harris one of the few women writers to publish in the first generation of American pulp/fantasy magazines, she was the first woman to publish under her own name. Born on January 18, 1891, in Freeport, Illinois, Harris was the daughter of Frank Stover Winger and Mary ‘May’ Porter Stover. Her maternal grandfather was D. C. Stover, an inventor who founded the Stover Manufacturing and Engine Company. After graduating from Chicago’s Lake View High School in 1910, Clare Winger attended Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. She ended her studies there and married Frank Clyde Harris on June 25, 1912. The couple lived in Iowa where Frank was an architect and engineer. During the early 1930s, the family moved to Ohio. They had three children.

As a young girl, Winger read the stories of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne and was probably inspired by such stories to write her own. However, it may have been her father, an electrical engineer, who in 1917 published the novel titled The Wizard of the Island; or, The Vindication of Prof. Waldinger that inspired her to publish. In 1923, Harris published Persephone of Eleusis: A Romance of Ancient Greece, a fantasy novel. It was the only novel she ever published.

Between 1910 and 1940 is the period science fiction became a clear and well-defined mode of storytelling. From 1923 until 1954, Weird Tales magazine published fantasy stories; Amazing Stories magazine published science fiction, exclusively from 1926 until 1960. An important influence of women science fiction writers, as a group, is that they brought more empathy and greater descriptions of their characters, especially aliens. Her work contained a preoccupation with creatures not quite human, cyborgs and ape-people in particular. Harris also wrote about women protagonists regularly in stories like “The Fifth Dimension” (Amazing Stories, December 1928).

The first published short story by Harris (attributed to “Mrs. F. C. Harris”) was “A Runaway World” in the July 1926 issue of Weird Tales magazine. Six months prior to her first short story being published, while living in Lakewood, Ohio, Harris submitted a story to a writing contest sponsored by Amazing Stories magazine—she signed it “Clare Winger Harris.” That was a momentous decision. There weren’t many women science fiction writers during this time and when submitting their stories, they often used a male pseudonym.  “The Fate of the Poseidonia,” which features a female lead, earned third place and was published in Amazing Stories in July 1927. Her stories were so popular that “Clare Winger Harris” often appeared on the cover of the magazines to draw more fans. She published stories in the science fiction/pulp magazines until 1930. After “The Ape Cycle,” Science Wonder Quarterly, May 1930, was published, Clare Winger Harris retired to focus on raising her children.

After Harris stopped publishing her stories, a young fan who lived in Cleveland, Ohio, wrote her a fan letter. He told her that he was working on his own magazine with his best friend and would like her to submit to it. Amazingly, Harris sent the young fan a story. It appeared in 1933 in the fifth and last issue of a stapled, mimeographed pamphlet called Science Fiction. The boy who wrote to her was Jerry Siegel and his friend was Joe Shuster. The pair would go on to create Superman.

Though her career was short, the stories of Clare Winger Harris were reprinted with regularity in other science fiction magazines. In 1947, she self-published Away from the Here and Now: Stories in Pseudo-Science, a collection of those short stories.

After her divorce from Frank, Clare Winger Harris moved to California. She died on October 26, 1968, in Pasadena.

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