Garland, Hamlin (1860–1940)

An American novelist and essayist, Hamlin Garland was the author of novels that focused on the life of midwestern farmers. He was named after Hannibal Hamlin, who became Abraham Lincoln's first vice president. Initially called Hannibal Hamlin Garland, he dropped the “Hannibal” and went on to write numerous novels about the lives and problems of ordinary rural people.

Born on September 14, 1860, on the family farm near West Salem, Wisconsin, Hamlin Garland was the second of the four children of Richard Hayes Garland and his wife Charlotte Isabella (née McClintock). His father, a carpenter, had been born in Maine in 1830, and with his own parents he had traveled along the Erie Canal into the Great Lakes. There they had met Hugh McClintock, a borderman from Ohio. Richard Hayes Garland married Hugh's daughter Charlotte, eight years his junior.

Soon after Hamlin Garland was born, his family moved to Mitchell County, Iowa, and there they ran another farm. It was a hard life, and the young Hamlin Garland learned that hard work kept the farm going. He attended an overcrowded country school, which undoubtedly led to his later championing of the concept of social reform.

In 1884, Garland moved to Boston, where he read widely and ended up being appointed as a lecturer at the Boston School of Oratory. He had already been fascinated by the work of Hippolyte Taine, and it was not long before he moved from teaching to writing. Some of this was certainly at the urging of Joseph Kirkland, who urged Garland to use his harsh upbringing as a way of trying to encourage social change. After writing many magazine articles, especially in Harper's Weekly and then in Arena, Garland produced his first major work, Main-Travelled Roads, which was published in 1891. It came, however, at a time of family tragedy, coinciding with the death of his sister and his mother being crippled by a stroke.

Garland then wrote a number of books on a variety of topics, which were not as successful. He returned to great popularity, however, with his Middle Border Series, which included four autobiographical works: A Son of the Middle Border (1917), A Daughter of the Middle Border (1921), Trail-Makers of the Middle Border (1926), and Back-Trailers from the Middle Border (1928). He continued writing through the 1930s with four volumes of his memoirs: Roadside Meetings (1930), Companions on the Trail (1931), My Friendly Contemporaries (1932), and Afternoon Neighbors (1934). He died on March 4, 1940, in Los Angeles.

Justin Corfield

See also: Anderson, Sherwood (1876–1941) ; Cather, Willa (1873–1947) ; Gilded Age ; West, Populism in the


Garland, Hamlin. Afternoon Neighbors. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1934.

Garland, Hamlin. Companions on the Trail. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1931.

Garland, Hamlin. My Friendly Contemporaries. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1932.

Garland, Hamlin. Roadside Meetings. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1930.

Higgins, John E. “A Man from the Middle Border: Hamlin Garland's Diaries.” Wisconsin Magazine of History 46 (4): 294–302.

Newlin, Keith. Hamlin Garland: A Life. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2008.