This article analyzes the fifty-eight novels by Illinois women selected for the Woman's Building Library and reveals their significance within the larger cultural context. The Illinois fiction provides an important example of the way a culture thinks, speaks, and plans for itself at a particular historical moment. The novels are especially relevant to understanding the religious beliefs, social practices, and economic and political environment that produced them. Yet the Illinois fiction is not a mere artifact that reflects its period. It is also serious literary work that calls the assumptions of the later nineteenth century, and our own assumptions about it, into question.