While at The Beinecke, Johnson will focus on the James Fenimore Cooper papers, which hold many materials relevant to the life of his eldest surviving daughter, Susan Fenimore Cooper. Johnson’s research will lead to The Daughter’s Labors: Susan Fenimore Cooper’s Legacy for America–the first biography of this nineteenth-century American writer.
Now known as the daughter and amanuensis of James Fenimore Cooper and the author of the increasingly significant Rural Hours (1850), Cooper was widely celebrated in her era as a distinguished author, noted naturalist (by Thoreau and Darwin), and unstinting philanthropist. She labored for social justice, Native American rights, and environmental preservation, seeking to cultivate a national ethic that might counter the United States’ history of frontier individualism, neglected landscapes, and the virtual erasure of native cultures. In her day, Susan Fenimore Cooper corresponded with such prominent figures as William Cullen Bryant, Washington Irving, and Andrew Jackson Downing. She published widely, writing a novel before producing Rural Hours, which saw nine editions. Cooper also edited several volumes, including The Rhyme and Reason of Country Life (1854), a transatlantic collection of poetry. She wrote a number of shorter works that were published in stand-alone editions, and she published essays of cultural interest and criticism, as well as fiction, in leading magazines such as Putnam’s, Harper’s, and Ladies’ Home Journal.
During the 2015-16 academic year, Johnson will engage in writing the first biography of Susan Fenimore Cooper with the assistance of a year-long fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Based on materials gathered over a dozen years from British and U.S. archives, as well as the private archives of the Cooper family, this biography will contribute to literary, environmental, and cultural history, while uncovering the severe challenges Cooper faced amid her remarkable success.
Rochelle Johnson is Professor of English and Environmental Studies at The College of Idaho, where she teaches courses in American literature and the environmental humanities. A former chair of both the English and Environmental Studies Programs at The College of Idaho, she is author of Passions for Nature: Nineteenth-century America’s Aesthetics of Alienation (University of Georgia Press, 2009), co-editor with Michael P. Branch, Daniel Patterson, and Scott Slovic of Reading the Earth: New Directions in the Study of Literature and the Environment (University of Idaho Press, 1998), and co-editor with Daniel Patterson of Rural Hours by Susan Fenimore Cooper (University of Georgia Press, 1998), Susan Fenimore Cooper: New Essays on Rural Hours and Other Works (University of Georgia Press, 2001), and Susan Fenimore Cooper: Essays on Nature and Landscape (University of Georgia Press, 2002). A past president of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE), she has published articles on early American nature writing, on place-based pedagogy, and on the writings of Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Susan Fenimore Cooper, among others. In 2010, Professor Johnson was named “Idaho Professor of the Year” by The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Her work on Susan Fenimore Cooper has been supported through short-term fellowships by the Idaho Humanities Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Yale University’s Beinecke Library.