Kirkland, Lena Elithe Hamilton (1907–1992)

By: Mary M. Standifer

Type: Biography

Published: March 1, 1995

Updated: November 9, 2020

Lena Elithe Hamilton Kirkland, author, was born on January 24, 1907, the only child of Free and Eva (Purcell) Hamilton, at Big Sky Ranch at White Chapel, west of Coleman, Texas. She was a 1924 honor graduate of Coleman High School, where she was a member of the debate team and author of the "class prophecy." At North Texas State Teachers College (later the University of North Texas) she edited the college paper, served as president of the YWCA, acted in plays, won a poetry prize, and was elected a college favorite. Her first publication was a series of feature articles on an experimental coeducational school in Fairhope, Alabama, which she wrote on special assignment for the Dallas Morning News while still an undergraduate. After earning a bachelor's degree in English and history in 1928, she taught for a year at Mineral Wells High School. She returned to Coleman in 1929 to edit the Democrat-Voice, then worked for the Brady Standard and taught at Crane High School. She married Roy Folk Beal, an interior designer, on March 9, 1930. The couple had one son, born in 1932; they were divorced in 1935.

In 1935 Lena Hamilton covered the Texas legislature as a freelance writer for Texas Weekly. Later that year she moved to Dallas to work as a publicist for the Texas Centennial, where she acquired her first experience in radio. From 1937 to 1939 she taught radio writing and performance at Iraan High School and succeeded in getting her students' work broadcast. At this time she was a publicity agent for the Stamps-Baxter Quartet. During the late 1930s she also worked as a correspondent covering the western half of the state for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and took graduate classes at the University of Texas, where she earned a master's degree in English and education administration in 1940. From 1940 to 1947 she served as script editor for Radio House at the University of Texas; with the onset of World War II she also became acting director of radio production. During these years she wrote more than 500 dramatic documentaries for state and national radio networks. These included scripts for the Frontiers of Progress series, which promoted Texas to industrial and commercial interests, and the Texas School of the Air series, an instructional program designed for classroom use and sponsored by the State Department of Education. In addition to her work at Radio House, Lena Hamilton covered the Capitol in Austin from 1945 to 1947 for the Dallas Times Herald, using the byline L. E. Hamilton to disguise her sex. On March 15, 1947, she married Roy DeFoe Kirkland, an osteopathic physician and surgeon, in San Antonio. For many years the couple made their home at the Academy (400 Academy Drive) in Austin.

Freed from having to work, Lena Kirkland devoted herself to writing. In 1952 she published her first novel, Divine Average. The work, which takes its title from a poem by Walt Whitman, deals with the confrontation of the Mexican and Anglo-American cultures in South Texas in the period 1838 to 1858. Her second novel, Love Is a Wild Assault (1959), was based on the memoirs of Harriet Potter Ames, widow of Robert Potter, onetime secretary of the Texas Navy. An enormously successful work, the book was included by A. C. Greene in his Fifty Best Books of Texas (1982). It was translated into German, went through several editions, and became a selection of the Zürich (Switzerland) Book Club. The work was also translated into Spanish and was chosen by Barcelona critics as one of the thirty-one best novels published around the world in the previous fifteen years. Kirkland's third novel, The Edge of Disrepute, was published in 1984, when her first two books were reissued. This last book is set in New Orleans in 1846. Though a more fanciful work than the others, it resembles them in making a woman the central character. In 1971 Kirkland published On the Trellis of Memory: A Psychic Journey into Pre-history with Jenny Lind Porter. The work, which deals with the potential for growth through mind and spirit, tells the story of a woman, Icanthe, and her several reincarnations. The authors wrote the story, they said, as it came to them through meditation and hypnosis.

In the course of her varied career, Kirkland published in the Dallas Morning News and Times Herald, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, San Angelo Standard-Times, Coleman Democrat-Voice, and Brady Standard, as well as the Southwest Review, McCall's, Texas Weekly, Texas Outlook, and Farm and Ranch. In addition to novels, her works included poems, plays, short stories, film scripts, and musical dramas. Notable among these were A Shakespearean Youth Fantasy, which she wrote and produced for National Educational Television in 1964, and Precious Memories, a musical drama produced in Fort Worth in 1987. Kirkland was finishing the synopsis of a second musical drama, Hear the Flute, in collaboration with the late Conrad Fath, at the time of her death. She had returned to this work after dropping plans for a fourth novel, based on her "adventures with a Nazi-defying, puddle-jumping pilot in the jungles of Mid-America."

Kirkland was a member of the Texas Institute of Letters and the Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship of Evanston, Illinois. She was inducted into the Texas Women's Hall of Fame in 1987. She moved to Wimberley in 1985. She died at her home there on January 4, 1992, and was buried in a Kirkland family cemetery on the Blanco River near Kyle. She was survived by her son, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Several years before her death she donated her papers to East Texas State University.

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  • Journalism
  • Newspapers
  • Editors and Reporters
  • Radio and Television
  • Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
  • Literature
  • Dramatists and Novelists
  • Fiction
  • Poets
  • Screenwriters
  • Women
  • Authors and Writers
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas
  • Fort Worth

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Mary M. Standifer, “Kirkland, Lena Elithe Hamilton,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

March 1, 1995
November 9, 2020

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: