NewsLocal NewsIn Your NeighborhoodAppleton


A look back at Edna Ferber’s life in Appleton

A look back at Edna Ferber’s life in Appleton
Posted at 5:34 PM, Mar 14, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-15 12:17:06-04

APPLETON (NBC 26) — Among the list of historical women who lived in Appleton is Edna Ferber. As an acclaimed novelist and playwright, she left her mark on the city and the art world.

  • Edna Ferber started her career as a journalist in Appleton, but her claim to fame was being a novelist.
  • Ferber was a Pulitzer prize-winning author whose mark was left on Appleton in the form of an elementary school.
  • Christine Williams from the Appleton Historical Society is an expert on Ferber and shared some pieces of her life.

(The following is a transcription of the full broadcast story)

You may recognize her name from the elementary school or alleyway in Appleton, but her legacy lives in greater spaces than that. I'm your Appleton neighborhood reporter Olivia Acree highlighting Edna Ferber for women’s history month.

From the time she moved to Appleton at age 12, Edna Ferber was a force. Christine Williams from the Appleton Historical Society says Ferber starred in school plays, made the school yearbook, and by the time she graduated high school there was no stopping her.

“She stomped her way into the Appleton crescent and got a job as the only girl reporter only female that they had,” said Christine Williams, Appleton Historical Society.

One of her stories was about another historical Appleton resident: Harry Houdini.

“She just at age probably 18 or 19 cornered him and said, 'Hi, I'm Edna Ferber I'd like to interview you.’ At the height of his fame he gave this very young woman an interview,” said Williams.

She enjoyed journalism but had another career path in mind.

“She instead bought a typewriter for $17, never knew how to type, and from then would type 1000 words a day,” said Williams.

She became a novelist, where her journalistic roots shined. Williams told me something about Ferber that journalists like myself strive for today.

“She really wanted to know the ins and outs of everybody’s life, so she used those characters in her stories,” said Williams.

She still faced hardships.

“She was a woman, she was Jewish, and she was unmarried. So, at that time those were very unusual things. She fought for what she had,” said Williams.

Ferber called her books her babies and she went on to win a Pulitzer for her novel So Big.

“These are epic books,” said Williams.

Epic for her portrayal of strong female characters.

“At that time what was more controversial was what she was writing not that she was the one writing it,” said Williams.

Whether it’s in the hallways of the elementary school in her namesake or hearts of the young girls inside, that drive and passion is how Williams hopes Ferber's memory lives on.