Wister, Owen, 1860-1938)

Alternative names
Birth 1860-07-14
Death 1938-07-21

Biographical notes:

Born in Pennsylvania, raised in South Carolina, and educated at Harvard, Owen Wister travelled in the Western U.S. as a young man. Although he returned to the East and Harvard law school, he acted upon a friend's suggestion and began writing thrilling Western stories for Harper's. His well-researched stories, particularly The Virginian, helped establish the Western stereotypes that have become inculcated in the American psyche.

From the description of Owen Wister letter to Charles W. Eliot, 1915 Sept. 15. (Pennsylvania State University Libraries). WorldCat record id: 52221272

Owen Wister was the son of Sarah Butler Wister (1835-1908).

From the description of Article and Letters to Horace Howard Furness, Jr., ca. 1912-1928. (University of Pennsylvania Library). WorldCat record id: 155883922

Owen Wister was a prominent writer during the late 1800s and early 1900s. He is best known as the author of "The Virginian" (1902), which describes cowboy life in Wyoming. Wister was born to Dr. Owen Jones Wister and Sarah Butler Wister in Germantown (now part of Philadelphia), Pennsylvania on July 14, 1860. Wister graduated from Harvard University with a music degree in 1882 and from Harvard Law in 1888. Due to poor health, he came west in 1885 to spend a summer on a friend's ranch. Eventually, he would make many trips to the West before 1900. Wister married Mary Channing in 1898, who was a second cousin once removed. Owen Wister passes away on July 23, 1938.

From the description of Owen Wister papers, 1866-1982. (University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center). WorldCat record id: 28121570

Author born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Owen Wister was of Southern ancestry and practiced law in Charleston, South Carolina. Wister was the author of numerous pieces of short fiction and novels, including "Lady Baltimore," a novel about life in Charleston after the Civil War.

From the description of Letter : London, England, to Alston Deas, Mainz, Germany, 1921 Jan. 27. (The South Carolina Historical Society). WorldCat record id: 32144737

Author of The Virginian.

From the description of Letter from Owen Wister to Miss Peixotto, [19--]. (Utah State University). WorldCat record id: 49947176

Biographical note: Writer of western fiction, famous as author of the Virginian; Owen Wister visited Arizona several times.

From the description of Southeastern Arizona photographs, ca. 1893-1894. (Arizona Historical Society, Southern Arizona Division). WorldCat record id: 51332260

Author and writer of western novels.

From the description of Owen Wister papers, 1829-1966. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 70980262

Biographical Note

  • 1860, July 14: Born, Germantown, Pa.
  • 1870 - 1871 : Attended boarding school in Switzerland
  • 1871 - 1872 : Attended boarding school in England
  • 1873 - 1878 : Attended St. Paul's School,Concord, N.H.
  • 1882: B.A., Harvard College,Cambridge, Mass.
  • 1882 - 1883 : Europe Europe Mount Europe Alaskan European B And B De L'Europe EUROPE VILLA CORTES Hotel Gare de Lille - Europe Bureau de Poste de Parthenay Europe RESIDENCIAL CLUB EUROPEO Hotel Europe Hôtel residhome prestige val europe Hotel D Europe Avignon City Cen Hotel Centro Europeu Tourist Hotel Europe Carlton-Europe Hotel Bureau de Poste de Strasbourg Parlement Europeen Europe Bay Woods State Natural Area Best Western Premier Hotel Carrefour de l'Europe Bureau de Poste de Paris Europe Ehsal Europese Hogeschool Brussel / Campus Prinssenstraat GRAND HOTEL DE l EUROPE Europeo Flowers Bureau de Poste de Montelimar Europe Hotel Europe Paris Paris Morehouse Parish Courthouse Winn Parish Medical Center Paris Elementary School Tensas Parish North Paris Federated Church Petit Paris KPLT-AM (Paris) Jackson Parish Adult Education Center River Parish Hospital Heliport Ibis Paris Berthier Porte de Clichy Bureau de Poste de Paris Roquette Saint Martin Parish Police Jury Saint Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office Paris Basin Bureau de Poste de Paris Porte De La Chapelle Parish Governing Authority District 11 Plaquemines Parish General Hospital (historical) East Paris Medical Center Metro Catholic Parish School Saint James Parish Sheriff's Office - Records Paris Calcasieu Parish Ward 1 Fire Protection District 1 Traveled in Europe; studied musical composition in Paris
  • 1883: Recalled by father to Philadelphia, Pa. for business career
  • 1885: Spent the summer in Wyoming because of poor health
  • 1888: Graduated from Harvard Law School,Cambridge, Mass.
  • 1889: Admitted to the bar, Philadelphia, Pa.
  • 1892: Published first Western story, Hank's Woman, in the August issue, Harper's Magazine
  • 1892 - 1900 : Published numerous Western stories and essays in Harper's Magazine, many of which were later collected in books
  • 1893: Met Frederic Remington in Wyoming
  • 1895: Published Red Men and White (New York: Harper & Brothers. 280 pp.)
  • 1897: Published Lin McLean (New York: Harper & Brothers. 277 pp.)
  • 1898: Married his second cousin, Mary Channing Wister (died 1913)
  • 1900: Published The Jimmyjohn Boss and Other Stories (New York: Harper & Brothers. 332 pp.) Published Ulysses S. Grant (Boston: Small, Maynard. 145 pp.)
  • 1901: Published Philosophy 4: A Story of Harvard University (New York: Macmillan. 95 pp.)
  • 1902: Published The Virginian, A Horseman of the Plains (New York: Macmillan. 504 pp.)
  • 1906: Published Lady Baltimore (New York: Macmillan. 406 pp.)
  • 1907: Published The Seven Ages of Washington, A Biography (New York: Macmillan. 263 pp.)
  • 1908: Ran unsuccessful campaign for councilman of seventh ward, Philadelphia, Pa.
  • 1911: Published Members of the Family (New York: Macmillan. 317 pp.)
  • 1912 - 1925 : Board of Overseers, Harvard College,Cambridge, Mass.
  • 1916: Published The Pentecost of Calamity (New York: Macmillan. 148 pp.)
  • 1921: Published A Straight Deal or the Ancient Grudge (New York: Macmillan. 287 pp.)
  • 1922: Published Neighbors Henceforth (New York: Macmillan. 441 pp.)
  • 1923: Published Watch Your Thirst, A Dry Opera in Three Acts (New York: Macmillan. 175 pp.)
  • 1928: Published When West Was West (New York: Macmillan. 449 pp.) Published The Writings of Owen Wister (New York: Macmillan. 11 vols.)
  • 1930: Published Roosevelt, the Story of a Friendship, 1880-1919 (New York: Macmillan. 372 pp.)
  • 1938, July 21: Died, North Kingstown, R.I.

From the guide to the Owen Wister Papers, 1829-1966, (bulk 1890-1930), (Manuscript Division Library of Congress)

Biographical Note

Owen Wister travelled to New Mexico from the east coast in 1894. He stayed with Frederic Remington in New Mexico for two years, 1894 to 1895. He made this trip to study authentic Westerners as a character study for his writing. These photographs represent his stay at the ranch at Apache Tejo in southwestern New Mexico. The men he met becamse the inspirations for his famous hero in the novel, the Virginian.

From the guide to the Owen Wister Collection of Photographs, 1894-1895, (Claremont Colleges. Special Collections, Honnold/Mudd Library.)

Owen Wister is a American biographer and author. Some of his more famous work includes  The New Swiss Family Robinson  (1882), The Virginian  (1902), and  When West Was West  (1928).

For a lengthier biographical note on Wister, see the finding aid for his papers at the University of Wyoming American Heritage Center online .

From the guide to the Owen Wister Papers, 1900, 1925, n.d., (Special Collections, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Va.)

Owen Wister (1860-1938) was a prominent American writer during the late 1800s and early 1900s. He is best known as the author of the famed Western novel The Virginian . In addition, Wister was the author of numerous other works concerning the American West and other subjects as well.

Wister was born to Dr. Owen Jones Wister and Sarah Butler Wister in Germantown (now part of Philadelphia), Pennsylvania on July 14, 1860. His father was a physician and a member of a wealthy Philadelphia family. Wister’s mother was the daughter of Fanny Kemble, a famed Shakespearean actress.

Owen Wister grew up in a household that was considered to be a very cultured one. The family frequently traveled in Europe and both Wister and his mother spoke several languages. In addition, his mother was a respected pianist and essayist. Wister himself acquired a keen interest in music and learned to play the piano at an early age.

Wister attended St. Paul’s School, a boarding school in Concord, New Hampshire. Here, he discovered and started developing his talents as a writer. His first published story, Down in a Diving Bell, appeared in his school literary magazine in 1874. He continued to write for the magazine until his graduation in 1878.

Pursuing his interest in music, Owen Wister entered Harvard University. A music major and aspiring composer, he graduated summa cum laude in 1882. While at Harvard, he became a lifelong friend of fellow student and future president Theodore Roosevelt. After graduation he studied music in France for a year. Upon returning to the United States, Wister took a job at Union Safe Deposit Vaults in Boston.

Wister’s health broke down in 1885. On his doctor’s orders, he traveled to Wyoming to spend a summer at a friend’s ranch. This trip spurred his interest in the American West. Between 1885-1891, Wister made five trips to the West. On these trips, he kept diaries which provided material for his Western works. During these years, he kept himself busy in other ways as well. Wister graduated from Harvard Law School in 1888. He was admitted to the Philadelphia Bar and briefly practiced law at Francis Rawle’s law firm.

In 1891, Owen Wister wrote his first two Western short stories: Hank’s Woman and How Lin McLean Went East . Both of these stories appeared in Harper’s Weekly . Encouraged by the success of these stories, he gave up law and became a full-time writer in 1893. Between 1893-1900, Wister made several additional trips to the West. From material collected on these trips, he wrote the Western novel Lin McLean (1897) and Jimmy John Boss (1900), a collection of Western short stories. During this period, he also wrote the biographies U.S. Grant (1900) and The Seven Ages of Washington (1900).

In 1902, Wister published his most famous work, The Virginian . This book, which first appeared as a serial in Harper’s Weekly, is considered by many to be the prototypical Western novel. The Virginian is based upon material gathered on his Western trips. According to Wister, the novel’s main character was a composite of several people he met and knew in his travels. The book was a wildly popular bestseller, being reprinted numerous times and translated into many languages. In 1904, Wister and Kirk La Shell co-produced the original stage version of The Virginian, which had a successful ten-year run. The first motion picture version of The Virginian premiered in 1914.

After the success of The Virginian, Owen Wister continued to be a prolific writer. In 1904, he wrote Philosophy 4, a satirical short story about Harvard students studying for an exam. His second bestseller, Lady Baltimore, was published in 1906. This novel concerned society in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1911, he published Members of the Family, another collection of Western short stories.

When World War I broke out in 1914, Wister turned his attention to European affairs. A firm supporter of Great Britain and France, he pleaded for American support of the Allied war effort. In 1915, at the Duke University commencement, Wister delivered the speech The Pentecost of Calamity, in which he urged the United States to join the war against Germany. This speech was published and became a non-fiction bestseller. After the war, Wister frequently traveled to Europe and became friendly with noted European authors such as Joseph Conrad and Rudyard Kipling.

Between 1919-1930, Wister continued to be a productive author. Showing his continued concern for American relations with Europe, his works The Ancient Grudge or a Straight Deal (1920) and Neighbors Henceforth (1922) urged friendlier relations with Great Britain and France respectively. A staunch opponent of Prohibition, Wister wrote the satirical light opera Watch Your Thirst (1923) for Boston’s Tavern Club. When the West was West, another collection of Western short stories, was published in 1928. In 1930, he wrote his last book, Roosevelt, the Story of a Friendship, which documented his lifelong friendship with Theodore Roosevelt.

Owen Wister had many other interests besides literature. In 1908, he unsuccessfully ran for a seat on the Philadelphia City Council. He was a member of Harvard University’s Board of Overseers and president of both the Library Company of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Club. Wister received honorary degrees from the University of Pennsylvania (1907), Williams College (1912), and Duke University (1915).

In 1898, Owen Wister married Mary Channing Wister. A second cousin once removed, she was a descendent of abolitionist and Unitarian preacher William Ellery Channing. Mrs. Wister was a respected member of the Philadelphia School Board. Before her death in 1913, the couple had six children, including daughter Frances K. Stokes.

Owen Wister passed away on July 23, 1938.

From the guide to the Owen Wister papers, circa 1866-1982, (University of Wyoming. American Heritage Center.)


Loading Relationships


Ark ID:


  • Fire extinction--Photographs
  • Card players--Photographs
  • Western stories
  • Authors, American--Correspondence
  • Opera--Scores
  • Musicians--Photographs
  • Vocal trios with piano
  • Music--Manuscripts
  • Operas--Librettos
  • Fires--Photographs
  • Songs with piano
  • Violin and piano music--Parts
  • Authors and publishers
  • Songs (medium voice) with piano
  • Stage stations--Photographs
  • Photographs
  • Characters and characteristics in literature
  • Wham Payroll Robbery, 1889--Photographs
  • Authors, American--20th century--Correspondence
  • Western Americana, 1850-1900


  • Authors
  • Authors, American


  • South Carolina (as recorded)
  • Arizona--Bowie (as recorded)
  • Charleston (S.C.) (as recorded)
  • Wyoming (as recorded)
  • New Mexico (as recorded)
  • Fort Bowie (Ariz.) (as recorded)
  • Winnepesaukee, Lake (N.H.) (as recorded)
  • West (U.S.) (as recorded)
  • Arizona (as recorded)
  • Fort Grant (Ariz.) (as recorded)
  • San Carlos Indian Reservation (Ariz.) (as recorded)
  • Wyoming (as recorded)
  • West (U.S.) (as recorded)