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First Known Nevada Female Author – 1840-1904

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By Patti Bernard  

Anna Mariska Shultz Fitch  
Photo courtesy the Honolulu Advertiser

When one thinks of most women in the mid to late 19th century, mental pictures of a woman in a long  dress whose interests center predominately around home and family generally come to mind. But  remember that this was an era of active women’s suffrage, and women began entering traditionally male  dominated fields. Some of those women were more active than others and Anna Shultz Fitch would fit  that category.  

 The Hawaii Honolulu Advertiser in her obituary described the  death of Anna as, “removes a woman who had achieved fame in  the West as an author and one who figured no less prominently in  the early days of Nevada and California than did Col. Fitch, her  husband.” The April 16, 1904, edition of the Los Angeles Times  said that “… she was an authoress of note and a woman who  numbered many brilliant characters among her personal  acquaintances.”  

How did she acquire such literary stature? Anna’s most  important influence was her introduction to Thomas Fitch. Fitch  was a wanderer searching for his life’s goal; that of a U.S. Senator  or Territorial Governor, a pinnacle of political success, which he  never seemed to find. He was fortunate in his searching that he  met a young San Francisco author by the name Anna Mariska  Shultz and he married her there on January 1, 1853.  

 It was at this point her geographical world expanded far  beyond her wildest imagination. She moved with Tom to all the  western territories (including Hawaii) and numerous states, well  over twenty times, as he sought that elusive U.S. Senator position  or governorship in a territory somewhere. Even though he attained  the high rank of a U.S. Congressman from Nevada, that wasn’t  enough. An orator with a keen mind, he seemed to have no equal  and he became known far and wide as the “Silver Tongued Fitch.”  

However, by the prestige Anna achieved in the literary field, it seems to prove that he met his match  intellectually. And Anna achieved her success as she relentless moved from one place to another, for  Tom felt it was necessary to purchase a home and establish residency in every move, to show that he  was serious about being a permanent resident. Setting up one household or even several could be  considered average for a married couple. Setting up that number of households and still making time  for writing, as well as anti-suffrage activities, and other social involvements would be considered  superhuman.  

Anna was born in Shoreham, Vermont in 1840. It is not known when she moved to San Francisco.  Almost immediately after her 1853 marriage, her extensive traveling began. Taken from the February 26,  1881, Reno Evening Gazette: “At the Metropolitan hotel are Mr. and Mrs. Fitch, who have probably lived  in more of the United States than any of its known citizens; that is to say, they have lived in professional  and social importance in more of the Territories than any couple I know.”  

Coming to Nevada in 1863 and living in both Virginia City and Washoe City, Tom, a newspaper owner, and editor, also was admitted to the Nevada Bar in 1864. He became Washoe County Attorney, practiced law and ran the  Virginia Daily Union. Anna associated with the  likes of Mark Twain, Dan De Quille, and R.M.  Daggett and Joseph T. Goodwin because of his  business relationships. She was at ease in those  social settings and, although she was known in the  San Francisco area for her writings before  marriage, she undoubtedly learned some writing  techniques from those men to gain the literary  reputation she held nationwide. She even  collaborated with some of them in a newspaper  series.  

Anna became active in the Nevada anti suffrage movement and wrote a lengthy “Open  Letter to Hon. Curtis J. Hillyer” that was published  in the Territorial Enterprise on April 25, 1869. Her  use of the English language against Assemblyman  Hillyer’s legislation supporting a women’s right to  vote was masterful. Her powerful argument didn’t  reverse his support of suffrage and the  amendment to the Nevada Constitution he  introduced requesting that the word “male” be  struck from Article II, the Suffrage clause, passed.  Suffragists were jubilant and had high  expectations for successful passage in the 1871  Legislature, when it would be voted on a second  time. In that session Anna’s anti-suffrage  arguments held sway, as the bill failed to pass.  That 1869 session was the earliest formal attempt  at women’s suffrage in Nevada. It wasn’t until  1911 that successful attempts were made again,  and Nevada women finally gained suffrage in  1914.  

As an author, Anna is notable for an  exceptional accomplishment. In 1870 she  published her first of three books, Bound Down: Or  Life and its Possibilities. With that early date, she  is credited with being the first woman to have a  book published in Nevada or, as far as my  research can find, any of the Western territories or  states. (Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins’ Life Among  the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims was  published in 1883.) Anna also, published many of  her numerous poems. She was held in high  stature in the literary world.  

Anna continued writing and published two  more books. In 1882 The Loves of Paul Fenley went to print and 1891 she co-wrote with husband  Tom, Better Days: or, A Millionaire of Tomorrow.  This book went into four printing editions.  

With all the many moves, Anna’s health  became fragile, and ailing with Bright’s Disease,  now called nephritis, the couple moved to Hawaii  in 1891. They returned to Los Angeles in 1903 and  Anna died three months later. Both she and Tom  are buried in Hayward, California.