Loula Grace Erdman was born near Alma, Missouri, in 1898 to Augustus F. and Mollie (Maddox) Erdman. The farm where her parents lived had been owned by Erdman's family since her great-grandfather had homesteaded there. Erdman was the oldest of three children. During the 1920s some states did not require teachers to have bachelor's degrees, and Erdman taught for several years before completing her bachelor's degree in 1931 at Central Missouri State College (now Central Missouri State University). Erdman earned a master's degree from Columbia University in 1941.
As an undergraduate, Erdman roomed with a young woman from Amarillo, Texas. Erdman impressed her roommate's mother so much that the older woman helped her obtain employment as a teacher in Amarillo schools. She began as an elementary school teacher in 1926 and later taught junior high school. In 1945 she accepted employment as an assistant professor of English at West Texas State College (now West Texas A&M University) in Canyon, approximately 17 miles south of Amarillo. The teacher of popular creative writing classes later received a promotion to associate professor and Novelist in Residence.
Erdman developed an interest in creative writing very early in life. Her biographer, Ernestine P. Sewell, reports that at age four Erdman recited poetry (jingles) to her aunt, who wrote them down for her (1). A scrapbook in the WTAMU Erdman Collection contains the first rejection letter the future author received in 1912. Her autobiography, A Time to Write, (2) states that she was "eight or so" years old at the time, but someone wrote "age 14" on the original letter. Although the editor did not publish Erdman's story, he wrote the precocious youngster a kind letter encouraging her to continue writing.
The year 1944 brought the publication of Erdman's first novel, Separate Star (3), a career book aimed at young women interested in pursuing a career in teaching. The book received favorable reviews in publications throughout the country. Her second book, Fair is the Morning (1945) (4), received considerable acclaim. Eleanor Roosevelt praised the book in a column she wrote for a New York newspaper. The Erdman Collection contains a copy of Mrs. Roosevelt's article. Erdman later sent Mrs. Roosevelt a copy of Separate Star, and the collection contains the original thank-you note written by the former First Lady.
Erdman's third novel brought her not only acclaim, but also a considerable amount of money. She received the biennial $10,000 Dodd, Mead-Redbook Award for her book, The Years of the Locust (1946) (5). This novel, set in Missouri, is about a powerful, wise patriarch who touched many lives and whose death profoundly affects many friends, relatives, and acquaintances.
The Edge of Time (1950) (6) was the first book Erdman wrote about the settlement of the Texas Panhandle. This novel often is called her best book and is her only work still in print today. (It was selected to be number 11 in the Texas Tradition Series of classic Texas novels reprinted by the Texas Christian University Press.) It involves a newly married couple who move from Missouri to the Texas Panhandle near Mobeetie, where they start their married life in a primitive dugout. Erdman meticulously researched the lives of these "nesters," and she received letters from surviving pioneers and their children praising her accuracy. Erdman reports in A Time to Write that one woman wrote to her, "You have told our story. It fits our lives like jelly poured into a glass" (7). Erdman later said she felt as though the pioneers were looking over her shoulder as she wrote, making sure she got the details right (8).
The Edge of Time generated considerable interest in Hollywood, but the project never got off the ground because Erdman refused to allow a range war between the ranchers and the nesters to be added. She knew from her careful research that range wars almost never occurred in the settlement of the Texas Panhandle. To add a range war, she told Sewell, would "do violence to the history of the region" (9).
Erdman later wrote a trilogy about the Pierces, a family of Texas Panhandle homesteaders. Each novel is the story of one of the family's three daughters. These books are The Wind Blows Free (10), and The Wide Horizon (11), and The Good Land (12).
Another Texas Panhandle pioneer book, The Far Journey (13), follows a young mother as she drives a covered wagon with her son from Missouri to Texas to join her husband. In Room to Grow (14), a French family settles in the Texas Panhandle and learns the ways of their new country.
Erdman wrote 21 books during her career, but she first achieved success as a writer of short stories and articles. Her work appeared in national magazines such as Reader's Digest, Woman's Home Companion, Ladies' Home Journal, Christian Herald, American Girl, The Writer, Red Book, Woman's Day, Capper's Farmer, Progressive Farmer, and Country Home. She also published stories in anthologies and textbooks and articles in education journals such as The Instructor and English Journal. Sewell's Erdman biography, Loula Grace Erdman, contains a selected bibliography of Erdman's shorter works (15).
The versatile author won several awards in addition to the Dodd, Mead-Redbook Award for The Years of the Locust. She also won the Dodd, Mead-American Girl Award in 1952 for The Wind Blows Free. She won two Texas Institute of Letters Awards, one in 1962 for Room to Grow and the other in 1974 for A Bluebird Will Do. A Bluebird Will Do also won the Steck Vaughn Award in 1974.
Some of the standard reference works in which Erdman appears are Contemporary Authors, Something About the Author, American Novelists of Today, Texas Writers of Today, Authors of Books for Young People, and More Junior Authors. See the reference book listings and other sources page for complete information.
Erdman never married. She died in 1976 and was buried in Missouri. Survivors included her sister, her brother, two nieces, and one nephew.