Mighels, Ella Sterling, 1853-1934

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Born May 5, 1853 in Sacramento County, California, Ella Sterling Mighels was the author of many books. She is best known for her books on the literary history of California. She died in San Francisco on December 10, 1934.

From the description of Ella Sterling Mighels Collection, 1890-1932. (California State Library). WorldCat record id: 58745786

Mighels was a Calif. author and literary historian, b. Ella Sterling Clark, married first to Adley Hook Cummins. then to Philip Verrill Mighels.

From the description of Ella Sterling Mighels papers, 1870-1934. (California Historical Society). WorldCat record id: 122539425

Novelist and writer on literary history of California. Mighels was designated by the California Legislature as the first historian of literary California (April, 1919)

From the description of Ella Sterling Mighels papers, 1885-1935. (University of California, Berkeley). WorldCat record id: 26760340

From the description of Ella Sterling Mighels papers : additions, 1867-1930. (University of California, Berkeley). WorldCat record id: 744634202

Biography

Born May 5, 1853 in Sacramento County, California, Ella Sterling Mighels was the author of many books. She grew up in the town of Aurora in Esmeralda County, Nevada, later adopting "Aurora Esmeralda" as a pen name. She married Adley Cummins in 1872. Her daughter, Viva Cummins, died in 1905. Mighels wrote an early novel about California: The Little Mountain Princess (1880). She is best known for her books on the literary history of California: Story Of The Files (1893) and Literary California (1919). In 1913, she founded the California Literature Society. In 1919, the California State Legislature conferred upon her the title of "First Historian of Literary California." She died in San Francisco on December 10, 1934.

From the guide to the Ella Sterling Mighels Collection, 1890-1932, (California State Library)

Biography

Ella Sterling Mighels, California pioneer, author and literary historian, was born Ella Sterling Clark in Mormon Island, the first established California gold mining camp, near Sacramento, on May 5, 1853.

Her father, Sterling Benjamin Franklin Clark of Rutland, Vermont, came to California in 1849 and was propertied, prosperous and the Alcalde, or judge, of the Sacramento district within three years. He then returned east to marry and bring his bride, the former Rachel Hepburn Mitchell, to California. Rachel was a native of Philadelphia and the daughter of John Mitchell, the County Superintendent of Schools.

Several months before Ella's birth, as her parents arrived in California, her father died. Rachel opened the first school in the Sacramento area and, in 1854, married Dudley H. Haskell, a 49er and member of the first Nevada Legislature (1864).

The Haskells, including Ella's baby stepbrother and stepsisters, lived in Sacramento until 1863 when Rachel and the children moved to Pennsylvania. Three years later the Haskell family reunited and moved to Aurora (or Esmeralda), Nevada, a Comstock boom town. They maintained a toll road during the waning years of the town and Mr. Haskell was pleased to accept the position of railroad land agent in Reno, offered by Leland Stanford in 1869. The Haskell family moved back to Sacramento where Ella remained until her marriage to Adley H. Cummins in 1872.

Adley Cummins, a native of Chester County, Pennsylvania, came to California in 1869 at the age of nineteen and worked for several years for the railroad. Cummins was a well known philologist, author, lecturer and lawyer. He was the love of Ella's life and the father of her only child, a daughter named Genevieve or Viva, born October 17, 1875. The Cummins family traveled a great deal but maintained a base in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 1889, at the age of thirty-nine, Adley died of heart disease.

Ella had spent much of her life writing articles and short stories, but now, following her great loss, she began to work on a mammoth project, a compendium of early California journalism and literature to be published in 1893 as The Story of the Files. This same year Ella was appointed Lady Commissioner from San Francisco to the Columbian Exposition.

During the writing of The Story, Ella met Philip Verril Mighels, a native of Carson City, Nevada, a lawyer by education and a newspaper artist and writer by trade. They were married in 1896 and moved to London the same year.

In 1901, following the death of Ella's mother, the Mighels family returned to the United States and lived in New York for several years. Here Ella claims to have persuaded her husband to develop his literary skills. Regardless of her influence, Philip became an acclaimed novelist and playwright while he continued to work for newspapers.

Viva Cummins married Augustus Doan in 1896 and spent several years at music school in London on a scholarship provided by Phoebe Hearst. Viva performed as a “Race Impersonator”, singing and dancing in the style of the Native American, Hungarian, Hindu, etc.

Both Viva and Dudley Haskell died in 1905 and two years later Ella returned to California, never to leave her San Francisco home again. She and her husband grew apart in temperament and career aspirations, and Ella divorced him in 1910. Philip died in 1911 as a result of a hunting accident.

During the later part of her life, Ella developed a philosophy called “Ark-adianism”, which reflected her pioneer California and Victorian up-bringing. She described Ark-adianism as, “...a system of philosophy which substitutes normal things for abnormal things in every department of life especially the home life” (letter, 5/19/11).

Ella believed in kindness and humanism, in Church and the Bible, in the purity of the white race, in democracy and freedom, and in the benign dominance of men. She was opposed to moral corruption, “chaos and socialism”, Jewish, Japanese and Black immigration, scientific education and the medical profession.

She believed that children, who were in a conspiracy against authority, should be kept disciplined, innocent and happy. She identified a child's seven friends--work, bread, music, art, letters, invention and common sense--and believed that women should dedicate their lives to the upbringing of children as their mothers had before them. She did not believe in women's suffrage (“They have no caution, no principles, when it comes to voting”, letter, 9/1/17), and she was opposed to birth control (“Parents who lend themselves to exercising `Birth Control' are punished for interferring with Nature and they fall victim to epilepsy, nervous prostration, insanity or lingering death”, letter, 12/28/16).

Children loomed large in Ella's life, and in her later years she developed a neighborhood literary program for the moral uplift of young people which she named the “Ark-adian Brothers and Sisters”. Her program included providing “books one ought to read”, and organizing both annual burnings of “bad” books and “potlatches” or gift giving parties. The motto of her little club was “Thou shalt keep the peace” and she stressed the importance of innocence and happiness among her young neighbors.

In order to bring the children of her club into association with “nice friends”, Ella organized the California Literature Society which met monthly at the home of Ina Coolbrith, California'a first poet laureate, until 1916, and then met elsewhere until Ella's death.

As did other writers of her time, Ella identified herself with the early California pioneer spirit, writing constantly, if not brilliantly, about the kind of pioneer Californians who had rocked her “to sleep in a goldrocker once used to wash the pay dust from the American river sands” (O'Brien, 1946).

Ella tended to focus more on self-identified “fairy tales” and the mythology of the gold rush than on historical fiction. Yet whe also wrote as a chronicler of early California literary history and was named “first historian of literary California” by the state legislature in 1919.

Ella's literary career began at the age of ten, when the Aurora Union published a fairy story she had written, and she was the first native Californian to publish a novel, Little Mountain Princess, in 1880. Her best known later works were The Full Glory of Diantha (1909), Literary California (1918), an expansion of The Story of the Files; and The Story of a Forty-Niner's Daughter (1934). She also authored a play, Society and Babe Robinson (1914) and persuaded James Phelan to publish her father's travel diary, How Many Miles From St. Jo? (1929).

Ella occasionally wrote on other subjects of interest to her, such as the importance of maintaining the purity of the white race (“The Fairy Tale of the White Man”) and the benign dominance of men (“The Mid-Victorian Man”). Most of her works on these other subjects were in the form of fairy tales or common sense discussions and only a small number were published.

Ella died in 1934 following the publication of The Story of a Forty-Niner's Daughter, written under the pen name of Aurora Esmeralda. Her autobiography reflected Ella's life long belief that “she was destined to be the link between the Gold Rush days and the 20th century's brave new world” (O'Brien, 1946).

References:

Cummins, Ella Sterling, The Story of the Files. World's Fair Commission of California, Columbian Exposition, 1893.

Esmeralda, Aurora (Ella Sterling Mighels), The Story of a Forty-Niner's Daughter. San Francisco: Harr Wagner Publishing, 1934.

Gudde, Erwin G., California Gold Camps. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975.

O'Brien, Robert, “Riptides”, San Francisco Chronicle, December 18, 1946.

Who's Who of Literary America, 1927.

From the guide to the Ella Sterling Mighels papers, 1870-1934, (California Historical Society)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Hill, Edwin Bliss, 1866-1949. Papers of Edwin Bliss Hill, 1737-1954 (bulk 1895-1948). Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens
creatorOf Coolbrith, Ina D. (Ina Donna), 1842?-1928. Ina Coolbrith letters, 1873-1920. California State Library
creatorOf Mighels, Ella Sterling, 1853-1934. Society and Babe Robinson : typescript, 1909 Jan. 12. California Historical Society
referencedIn Douglas Tilden Papers, 1860-1970 Bancroft Library
creatorOf Mighels, Ella Sterling, 1853-1934. Ella Sterling Mighels papers, 1870-1934. California Historical Society
creatorOf Ella Sterling Mighels papers, 1870-1934 California Historical Society
creatorOf Mighels, Ella Sterling, 1853-1934. Ella Sterling Mighels papers : additions, 1867-1930. UC Berkeley Libraries
creatorOf Leonard, Alexander Thomas,. Alexander Thomas Leonard collection of letters and clippings relating to California authors, circa 1909-1942. UC Berkeley Libraries
creatorOf Mighels, Ella Sterling, 1853-1934. Ella Sterling Mighels papers, 1885-1935. UC Berkeley Libraries
creatorOf Ella Sterling Mighels Collection, 1890-1932 California State Library
creatorOf Mighels, Ella Sterling, 1853-1934. Ella Sterling Mighels Collection, 1890-1932. California State Library
referencedIn Bierce, Ambrose, 1842-1914?. ALS : Angwin, California, to Ella Sterling Mighels 1892 Jan 24. California Historical Society
creatorOf Photographs from Ella Sterling Mighels papers [graphic]. California Historical Society
creatorOf Taylor, Edward Robeson, 1838-1923,. Edward Robeson Taylor letter : San Francisco, Calif., to Mrs. [Ella Sterling] Mighels, [San Francisco, Calif.], 1917 Mar. 2. UC Berkeley Libraries
referencedIn Sterling, George, 1869-1926. George Sterling letters, 1905-1925. California State Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Ark-adian Brothers and Sisters corporateBody
associatedWith Ark-adian Brothers and Sisters of California. corporateBody
associatedWith Bashford, Herbert, 1871-1928. person
associatedWith Bierce, Ambrose, 1842-1914? person
associatedWith Blake, James D. person
associatedWith California Literature Society. corporateBody
associatedWith California Literature Society. corporateBody
associatedWith Coolbrith, Ina D. (Ina Donna), 1842?-1928. person
associatedWith Cummins, Adley Hook. person
associatedWith Cummins, Adley Hooks person
associatedWith Doan, Genevieve (Viva) Cummins person
associatedWith Doan, Genevieve (Viva) Cummins. person
associatedWith Haskell, Dudley, person
associatedWith Hill, Edwin Bliss, 1866-1949. person
associatedWith Leonard, Alexander Thomas, person
associatedWith Mighels, Philip V. person
associatedWith Mighels, Philip V. person
associatedWith Sterling, George, 1869-1926. person
correspondedWith Taylor, Edward Robeson, 1838-1923, person
correspondedWith Tilden, Douglas, 1860-1935 person
associatedWith White, Richard Edmund. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
California
California
California
California
California
Subject
American fiction--Women authors
Women authors, American--Diaries
Ẁomen authors, American--Correspondence
Women authors, American
Authors--Biography
Occupation
Women authors, American--California
Authors--Biography
Activity

Person

Birth 1853-05-05

Death 1934-12-10

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