This week, we decided to highlight one of our most prestigious past members, Constance Lindsay Skinner. Skinner was a playwright, critic, editor, and author active from early in the 20th century until her death in 1939. She was also one of the first women to hold a major editorial position in American adult book publishing. For the Women’s National Book Association she was an extremely influential member, contributing as an active member of the New York chapter and one of the founders of the WNBA publication, The Bookwoman. For these reasons, fellow member Alice Klutas suggested an award in 1940 to honor Constance Lindsay Skinner and all she had done for the WNBA and the world of books. This award, originally called the Constance Lindsay Skinner Award, has been given to outstanding American book women ever since, and is now called simply The WNBA Award.
In 1968, Doris S. Patee, editor of children’s books for Macmillan for 35 years, described Skinner:
I knew her very well. Her books for children, published by the Macmillan Company, were very popular when I first became a publisher. There was Silent Scot, The White Leader, Andy Breaks Trail, and many others. A woman with a great knowledge of early American history, she drew on this material for stories that were well written, exciting and often true. I published only her last children’s book, for soon after I came to Macmillan, she accepted the big assignment of the editorship of the Rivers of America series, and left the field of children’s books, temporarily we all felt, but sadly enough she did not live long enough to return.
She did not want me to think that there was anything personal in her leaving the Macmillan fold so soon after I arrived and this is perhaps one reason that she took such care to do so many things for me, too personal to mention.
If any of you did know her, her personality would be unforgettable. She was a large woman, and usually wore brightly colored dresses, and more than that usually red ones, her favorite color. They were perhaps the 1937 version of the shift, but also, with many chains of beads, bracelets, dangles and bangles, and perhaps a picture hat. She was a kind of actress and loved this role. She often seemed like an Indian princess, and she did claim Indian blood in her heritage. But underneath this rather amazing appearance, she was a most remarkable person—a capable and inspired writer and editor, an historical scholar, a warm and generous friend who gave many a young writer much needed encouragement and often financial aid. She was a great promoter of children’s books, and to all her contacts and interests, she brought a kind of stubborn integrity.
The Constance Lindsay Skinner Award, or WNBA Award, has since been given to incredible women such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Nancy Pearl, and Masha Hamilton. And thanks to Skinner, The Bookwoman has continued to be published each year since it’s inception. To learn more about the life of this amazing woman, you can read Constance Lindsay Skinner: Author and Editor here.