Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Register of the Virna Woods Collection, 1870-1956
View entire collection guide What's This?
PDF (77.24 Kb) HTML
Search this collection
Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Virna Woods Collection,
    Date (inclusive): 1870-1956
    Collection number: Mss3
    Creator: J. William Harris
    Extent: 6 linear ft.
    Repository: University of the Pacific. Library. Holt-Atherton Department of Special Collections
    Stockton, CA 95211
    Shelf location: For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the library's online catalog.
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information


    Collection is open for research.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Virna Woods Collection, Mss3, Holt-Atherton Department of Special Collections, University of the Pacific Library


    Virna Woods (1864-1903) was an American poet, playwright and novelist. Born to machinist, John B. Woods (1832-1905) and Virginia Pidgeon Woods (1837-1914), she grew up in Zanesville, Ohio, where she attended public high school and normal school. At age eighteen she came with her family to Sacramento, California (1883), where her father worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad and her older sister, Anna, became a city librarian. Virna taught in various Sacramento and El Dorado County schools (1884-1889), while at the same time writing poetry and submitting her work for publication. Woods' mother was active in the Women's Christian Temperance Movement and the family apparently spent some time each year enjoying the liquor-free Chautauquas at Pacific Grove. There Virna Woods gave public readings of some of her earlier poems. By 1887 she had published poetry in The Overland Monthly, The Chautauquan and other periodicals of the day. Her work won first prize in a competition sponsored by the Magazine of Poetry (1890) and the following year she published a first volume, The Amazons, a verse play set in ancient Greece. The young author had a flair for languages and is said to have been fluent in French, Italian, Latin and Greek. She had a particular affinity for French, initiating correspondence with several French men of letters as early as 1889 and ultimately composing at least one play, Un chevalier errant, in French.
    Woods seems to have given up school teaching for freelance writing at the time of her success in the Magazine of Poetry competition. From spring 1891 she devoted much energy to fiction, publishing several short stories, including "Two loves in a life" (1891), and three novels, "A modern Magdalene" (1894), "Jason Hildreth's identity" (1897) and "An elusive lover" (1898). Not much is known of her whereabouts during the 1890s, although she seems to have lived briefly in Pennsylvania (1893) and evidence in her writing suggests that she spent much time sightseeing in Arizona and along the Pacific Coast as far north as British Columbia and as far south as San Diego (1895). It is also possible that she spent some time in France, although this has not been established with any certainty. There is little question, however, that she continued to think of Sacramento as her home.
    For reasons that are not entirely clear, Virna Woods' redirected her energies during the late 1890s from fiction to drama. While Woods' short stories and novels had all been set in California and Ohio and had been realistic and contemporary both in subject and in language, the greater number of her plays---a notable exception being "Lord Strathmore"---were historical in setting and written in a style more closely related to that of her poetry than of her prose. She nevertheless interested New York producer/actor Frederick Warde in "Horatius," a play set in ancient Rome (1900), and, when Warde took "Horatius" on a national tour (1901) Woods traveled with his company for the better part of a year, dispatching numerous letters to her sister that describe in detail what she saw of the country and its theatres. Early in 1903, while working in San Francisco with the cast of
    "Lord Strathmore," Virna Woods became ill, developed pneumonia and suddenly died at the age of 38.
    Although her sister, Anna, made some effort to see that Virna Woods' plays continued to be performed, by 1910, they had disappeared from sight. Evidence in Woods' correspondence suggests that these works had never been box office successes, and, in any case, the advent of moving pictures soon diverted public attention from all live theatrical epics. That Woods' fiction likewise drifted into obscurity is less easy to explain. There is much for a present-day Californian to appreciate in her loving, but not over-romantic, prose evocations of that long-lost, semi-rural coastal landscape of ruined missions and pepper trees that likewise inspired our California Arts and Crafts movement.

    Scope and Content

    BOX 1: Biographical Materials; Correspondence; Business Papers
    BOX 2: Poetry
    BOX 3: Prose: Manuscripts
    BOX 4: Prose: Published Works
    BOX 5: Drama: Early Plays (through 1899)
    BOX 6: Drama: Griselda & Lalla Rookh (1900)
    BOX 7: Drama: A Knight Errant (1901)
    BOX 8: Drama: Miscellaneous Plays
    BOX 9: Literary Fragments & Notes
    BOX 10: Memorabilia
    BOX 11: Photographs: Individual Prints
    BOX 12: Photographs: Albums