This website is dedicated to the Louisiana travel writings of Catharine Cole (sometimes misspelled "Catherine Cole"), the pen name of Martha R. Field, who wrote for the New Orleans Daily Picayune from 1881 to 1894. She was the first full-time woman staff writer on the newspaper and wrote a column, "Catharine Cole's Correspondence," each Sunday featuring women's topics, philosophic observations, fiction, and, most notably, her travels around the state. Over a period of years she visited and wrote about most of the parishes in Louisiana.
She usually journeyed by train or steamboat to a point of departure, hired a horse and buggy, with a teen-aged driver, and then wandered through the swamps, pine forests, farmlands and plantations of rural Louisiana, describing in brilliant, imagistic prose what she saw and who she met. The accounts of her travels present a unique historic view of late nineteenth-century Louisiana as seen through the eyes of a woman who was once a celebrity writer, and who is only now being re-discovered.
The devastations of hurricanes Katrina and Rita make these narratives of Louisiana's life and culture from an earlier era particularly nostalgic.
The website will include many of her historic travel articles, particularly those not in our newly-published University Press of Mississippi book, Louisiana Voyages, The Travel Writings of Catharine Cole, by Martha R. Field, selected and edited by Joan B. McLaughlin and Jack McLaughlin:
Introduction Grand Isle
Terrebonne Parish St. Mary Parish
Morgan City Last Island
Pointe Coupee Parish Timbalier Island
Avoyelles Parish Lafayette Parish
St. James Parish Sabine Parish
Natchitoches Parish Vernon Parish
Livingston Parish Rapides Parish
Assumption Parish Morehouse Parish
Lafourche Parish Baton Rouge
Shreveport New Orleans
From a Publisher's Weekly review of Louisiana Voyages : "Cole's affection for Louisiana's landscape and back roads is especially poignant, post-Katrina. . . . Her writing demonstrates how Louisianians felt then about their homes, and there's a sense that little of that passion has waned in the past century. . . . The editors note that Cole became a celebrity writer through these literary sketches; it's easy to see why, given her ability to illuminate the 'soil, scenery, and life' of each parish."
From a Booklist review of Louisiana Voyages: ". . . A graphic and often lovely evocation of the state of the state back then. . . . Cole paints vibrant pictures of life as it once was and, in many ways, still is. With hurricane destruction on our minds these days, it is good to see preservation of such timeless prose."
From Susan Larson, book review editor of the New Orleans Times-Picayune: "A wonderful collection of writings by a 19th-century Daily Picayune columnist/reporter who traveled our state."
Catharine Cole's criticism of the Louisiana legislature for its failure to adequately fund Louisiana State University was the subject of the lead editorial in the Baton Rouge Advocate of April 4, 2006. The editorial drew a parallel betwen Cole's 1888 critique and the present legislature. For the entire editorial see: www.2theadvocate.com/opinion/ourviews/2571916.html.
Jim Bradshaw, in a review in the Lafayette, LA Advertiser wrote: "She conveys a sense of wonder and awe at the beauties to be found in Louisiana, and that alone makes me sympathetic to her. . . . Good writing. Recommended reading."
From Debra Bloom in the Columbia, SC State: "She effortlessly takes the reader into turn-of-the-century Louisiana. We can smell it and see it through her stories. Smell this: '. . . ripe, red pomegranates. Their pungent perfume came to me, sucked out by the sunshine.' See this: 'Out over the rushes I could see, like a pale gray wall, the lapping waters of the Gulf; their white teeth were snapping at the sandy shore.' "
To see the full reviews in Publisher's Weekly , and Booklist, or to order a book go to amazon.com
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This website will also feature expanded versions of Catharine Cole articles that were abridged in Louisiana Voyages. These articles will be of particular value to historians and genealogists because of the numerous individuals Catharine Cole met and described, many of them working-class farmers, fishermen, lumbermen and hunters who left no other imprint on Louisiana history.
Our hope is that this website will introduce an important Louisiana woman writer, and a part of Louisiana culture that no longer exists. We would like it to be as interactive as possible; we invite visitors to add their queries, observations, or suggestions at the Contact Us page.
Note: To convert 1890 dollars in these articles to an approximate modern equivalent, multiply by twenty.
Photograph courtesy of Catherine ("Toni") Field Bacon, great-granddaughter of Martha R. Field.
Copyright 2004 Joan B. McLaughlin
Last revised Sept. 2011