Harriette Simpson Arnow

Historical Marker 1807 in Burnside (Pulaski County) honors Appalachian author and University of Louisville graduate Harriette Simpson Arnow.  


Arnow was born in Wayne County and spent most of her childhood in Burnside. She began her college career at Berea College, but transferred to the University of Louisville after two years, because she wanted more freedom than the strict rules Berea had for women students. She graduated with degree in education in 1931.  


After a brief teaching career in Louisville, Arnow moved to Cincinnati, where in 1934, she began her career as a writer. From 1935-39, she worked for the Federal Writer’s Project in Cincinnati. Her first novel, Mountain Path, was based on her time as a teacher and featured sensationalized mountain stereotypes. She published short stories as well and used a male pen name at times. In July 1942, Esquire published one of her stories under the name H.L. Simpson with an author photo of her brother-in-law. In Cincinnati, she met and married journalist Harold Arnow. The Arnows had two children, Marchella and Thomas.  


Arnow’s biggest success came after the family moved to Detroit, Michigan. She published Hunter’s Horn in 1949, which won the Saturday Review “Best Novel” award, beating out George Orwell’s 1984. Her best-known novel was The Dollmaker. The novel, published in 1954, featured a poor Kentucky family that moved to Detroit out of economic necessity. The novel’s protagonist, Gertie Nevels, narrates her struggles of moving and adapting to a changing world in World War II era Detroit. The book received high praise at publication and continued to inspire women writers well into the late 20th century.  


Arnow published throughout the rest of her life, moving between historical studies, including Seedtime on the Cumberland and novels. Her work explored the ways Appalachia changed through industrialization, the World Wars, and modernization, including the influence of road development and electrification. In short, they chronicled, through fiction and non-fiction the first half of the twentieth century in Appalachia, most often through the eyes of women characters. 


Arnow died in 1986 in Washtenaw County, Michigan. Her works include 10 short stories, 5 novels, and 3 historical studies. Her papers are stored at the University of Kentucky Special Collections Research Center.   


The marker reads: 


Harriette Simpson Arnow (1908-1986) 

The author of such celebrated Appalachian Novels as The Dollmaker and Hunter’s Horn; social histories include Seedtime on the Cumberland and Flowering of the Cumberland. Born in Wayne County, Arnow spent most of her childhood in Burnside. Moved to Michigan during World War II, but continued to chronicle Appalachian life and people.  


It was dedicated in 1987.