Karle Wilson Baker, writer, daughter of William Thomas Murphey and Kate Florence (Montgomery) Wilson, was born on October 13, 1878, in Little Rock, Arkansas. Her first name was originally spelled Karl; the e was added later, first appearing in Kate Wilson's diary in 1893. She attended public schools, Little Rock Academy, and Ouachita Baptist College and returned to graduate from Little Rock Academy, a high school, in 1898. She attended the University of Chicago periodically from 1898 to 1901 and later attended Columbia University (1919) and the University of California at Berkeley (1926–27). The only university degree that she held, however, was an honorary doctorate of letters conferred in 1924 by Southern Methodist University.
From 1897 to 1901 Karle Wilson alternately studied at the University of Chicago and taught at Southwest Virginia Institute in Bristol, Virginia. In 1901 she joined her family, which had moved to Nacogdoches, Texas. She went back to Little Rock to teach school for two years but returned to Nacogdoches, and there, on August 8, 1907, she married Thomas E. Baker, a banker. They had a son and daughter. Karle Baker devoted the remainder of her life to maintaining her household, to writing, and to teaching (from 1925 to 1934) at Stephen F. Austin State Teachers College (now Stephen F. Austin State University). She wrote personal and historical essays, novels, nature poetry, and short stories. Her early writing appeared in such journals as Atlantic Monthly, Century, Harper's, Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, Scribner's, Putnam's, and the Yale Review, under the pen name of Charlotte Wilson. Yale University Press published her first volume of poetry, ninety-two lyrics collected under the name of the title poem, Blue Smoke (1919), which received favorable reviews in the United States and England. Yale also published a second collection of her poems, Burning Bush (1922), as well as two prose volumes, The Garden of Plynck (1920), a children's fantasy novel, and Old Coins (1923), twenty-seven short allegorical sketches. Baker was anthologized in The Best Poems of 1923, English and American, published in London, and in 1925 she won the Southern Prize of the Poetry Society of South Carolina, a competition open to poets living in the states of the former Confederacy.
In 1931 a third volume of her poems, Dreamers on Horseback, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. By that time, however, she had begun to concentrate mainly on prose writing. As early as 1925 she had written The Texas Flag Primer, a Texas history for children that was adopted for use in the public schools. In 1930 The Birds of Tanglewood, a collection of essays based on her birdwatching, appeared. Tanglewood was the name that she gave to an area around her parents' second home in Nacogdoches. A second reader for children, Two Little Texans, was published in 1932. Her most notable prose works were two novels published when she was in her late fifties and early sixties. Family Style (1937), a study of human motivation and reaction to sudden wealth, is set against the background of the East Texas oil boom (seeEAST TEXAS OILFIELD). Star of the Wilderness (1942) is a historical novel in which Dr. James Grant, a Texas revolutionary, figures. It later became a selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club.
In 1958 Baker was designated an honorary vice president of the Poetry Society of Texas, of which she was a charter member. She had served in 1938–39 as president of the Texas Institute of Letters, of which she was a charter member and the first woman fellow. Still other recognition was given her by the Authors League of America, the Philosophical Society of Texas, and the Poetry Society of America. She died on November 9, 1960, and is buried in Nacogdoches.
Is history important to you?
We need your support because we are a non-profit organization that relies upon contributions from our community in order to record and preserve the history of our state. Every dollar helps.
Florence Elberta Barns, Texas Writers of Today (Dallas: Tardy, 1935). Edwin W. Gaston, Jr., The Early Novel of the Southwest (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1961). Edwin W. Gaston, Jr., "Karle Wilson Baker: First Woman of Texas Letters," East Texas Historical Journal 15 (1977). Library of Southern Literature (16 vols., Atlanta: Martin and Hoyt, 1909–13). Mabel Major et al., Southwest Heritage: A Literary History with Bibliography (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1938; 3d ed. 1972). Pamela Lynn Palmer, "Dorothy Scarborough and Karle Wilson Baker: A Literary Friendship," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 91 (July 1987).
Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
Dramatists and Novelists
Authors and Writers
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Edwin W. Gaston, Jr.,
“Baker, Karle Wilson,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed June 28, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.