Margaret Culkin Banning (1891-1982) was a well-known Midwestern writer in her time but is little known in ours. The author of forty books and several hundred essays and short stories, she is a prime candidate for literary recovery for her writing skills and for her shrewd social commentary on such controversial issues as birth control, alcoholism, adultery, working women, mixed religious marriages, politics, sexism, economic inequality, classism, and philanthropy.
She found legal topics compelling and used them knowledgeably throughout her career in both non-fiction and fiction, including the short stories "The Perfect Juror" (1926) and "The Day in Court" (1932) and the novels Money of Her Own (1928), The Iron Will (1936), The Quality of Mercy (1963), Mesabi (1969), and The Will of Magda Townsend (1974). In some of these works, the law appears tangentially, but in The Iron Will, for example, the law itself is the main subject.
Banning herself said in the "Author's Note" preceding The Iron Will, "The economic, historical and legal situations in this narrative are based on fact." Most certainly one "fact" was a lawsuit tried in Duluth that eventually reached the Minnesota Supreme Court. Its decision in State of Minnesota v. Oliver Iron Mining Company, 198 Minn. 385 (1936) is posted in the Appendix.
The following essay is a detailed analysis of that specific trial and social context which informed this Depression-era novel.
This reconsideration of The Iron Will is by Dr. Zabelle Stodola, Professor of English, Emerita, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, who now resides in Duluth.