activities  |   help  |   resources  |   welcome  |   intersect

About Opal Whiteley

Opal Whiteley was born in Colton, Washington on December 11, 1897. Shortly before her fifth birthday, she and her parents moved from Washington to Wendling, Oregon, a lumber camp in the Willamette Valley. They moved again when Opal was nearly 6, settling next to her grandparent's farm in Walden, near Cottage Grove, OR. By all reports, Opal was a precocious child, entering Walden School at age 5 and passing two grades her first year. She was also a writer and about this time began to keep a diary, a habit she continued much of her life.

As a teenager, Opal taught nature classes, first to local children and later to large audiences all over Oregon. She also became Oregon's superintendent of the Junior Christian Endeavor, a popular national youth movement dedicated to spreading Christian doctrine. When she applied to the University of Oregon, professors in three departments were astounded by her knowledge and claimed that she already knew more than many of their graduates — a surprising feat given her sparse educational background and humble upbringing.

In 1918 she self-published a nature book for children called The Fairyland Around Us and in 1920 made publishing history with a best selling book entitled The Story of Opal: The Journal of an Understanding Heart (Atlantic Monthly Press). This book, an immediate sensation with both children and adults, was based on a diary that Opal had written when she was 6 and 7 years old. It is filled with her love of nature and astute observations of the world around her at the turn of the century. Although Opal went on to have many other adventures in life, she is best remembered for her charming diary and the sensational way in which it was first received and then discredited. Her popularity as a writer, and as a unique personality in tune with natural world around her, has endured throughout the years. People fascinated with Opal and her diary have written hundreds of articles and several books about her, as well as produced multiple radio broadcasts, plays, and even a Broadway musical. Two Hollywood film production studios are currently planning movies of Opal's life. Opal Whiteley was a charismatic individual who charmed millions, both through her writing and also in person. She died in 1992, in England, at the age of 94.

For a more complete biography of Opal Whiteley and information about the sensation she caused through the publication of her diary, you can go to: The Fantastic Tale of Opal Whiteley, written by Steve McQuiddy of the Lane County Historical Society.

There are also several good Web sites about Opal Whiteley and her famous diary. Yahoo has an entire category for Opal in its literature section. Several of her books are available online. Explore the links below to learn more about this mysterious and magical author.

Opal Whiteley, 100 Years of Magic & Mystery
Official site of The Opal Whiteley Memorial from Cottage Grove Oregon. Best site for research about Opal. Find many rare photos and links to other pages. Edited by Steve Williamson.

The Fairyland Around Us
Journey through the lost book of mystical naturalist Opal Whiteley. Out of print for nearly 80 years - now more beautiful than ever on the web with many original photos. By David Caruso.

The Saga of Opal Whiteley
Excellent introduction to Opal written by Steve McQuiddy, editor of the Lane Historian. Lots of nice photos and a very well written story. Much new info. Shorter versions of this story have been in both the Seattle Times and the Eugene Register Guard newspapers.

Random House Guide to Opal's Diary
Random House has published an online Teacher's Guide to Opal's Diary. It is based on the poetry version by Jane Boulton.

Project Intersect

Copyright 1999 Center for Electronic Studying, University of Oregon.
Please contact us at: 
[Project INTERSECT Email].
Last updated: November 16, 1999.