Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Arnow, Harriette

Harriette Arnow is the author of popular novels such as The DollmakerHunter’s Horn and The Weedkiller’s Daughter. She was born Harriette Louisa Simpson on July 7, 1908 in Wayne County, Kentucky, the daughter of two teachers. Her Kentucky background and upbringing influenced her writing and she wrote numerous stories about where she grew up. 

After graduating from Berea College and the University of Louisville, and teaching for a few years, Arnow concentrated on her writing. She began working odd jobs, and her first novel, Mountain Path, was published in 1936 under her maiden name. She met Harold B. Arnow while both were working for the Works Progress Administration, and married in 1939. After a stay in Keno, Kentucky where they wrote and farmed, they moved to Detroit in 1944 when he took a job with the Detroit Times. The couple lived in temporary federal housing called Emerson Homes in northeast Detroit.

Arnow wrote two bestsellers, Hunter’s Horn and The Dollmaker while living in Detroit, completing a Kentucky trilogy that included Mountain PathThe Dollmaker is a semi-autobiographical novel that traces the life of a Kentucky woman who follows her husband to 1940s Detroit. It starkly portrays the oppressiveness of life in an urban setting and offers a glimpse into Detroit in the 1940s.  

In 1950 the Arnows moved near Ann Arbor and lived on a farm, where Arnow continued her writing, finishing The Dollmaker. The book was on the N.Y. Times best seller list for 29 weeks and was made into a television movie starring Jane Fonda. 

Arnow won numerous awards for her work, including a special Weatherford Award in 1978 for her writings about Appalachian subjects and the Distinguished Alumnus Award from Berea College in 1983. The Dollmaker is considered a seminal work in American literature. In addition to her five novels and three non-fiction books published during her lifetime, a collection of short stories and a sixth novel were published posthumously. 

Harriette Arnow is a member of the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame. She died on March 22, 1986, survived by her two children. She is buried in her native Kentucky.