Opal Whiteley was born on December 11th 1897, in Colton, Washington, the daughter of Edward and Lizzie Whiteley. During Opal's childhood the family moved to the rural area of Oregon where she grew up. From a very young age she demonstrated an enthusiasm and affinity with nature. She was also very much involved in church activities and gained a reputation as a speaker and a teacher on the natural world.
Whiteley enrolled to study at the University of Oregon in 1916. She supported herself by giving lectures, but unfortunately could not afford to complete her studies. In 1918 she went to Hollywood in order to try and become a film actor but was this was an unsuccessful venture. Her lectures, however, continued to be popular, and she began work on a nature book for children called The Fairyland All Around Us . She covered the cost of publication by raising subscriptions, but ran out of money when she wanted to make changes to the printing plates, and these were destroyed by the publishers. Whiteley continued to work on the book by hand, to the detriment of her health.
Whilst trying to find a publisher for The Fairyland All Around Us , Whiteley met Ellery Sedgwick, editor of the American periodical The Atlantic. It was in this journal that The Story of Opal: The Journal of an Understanding Heart was first published. Introduced as the diary written by Whiteley during her sixth and seventh years, it was an immediate success. However, within a year of its publication there was considerable controversy about the work. Many people came to believe that it was a hoax, and that it had actually been written by the adult Whiteley.
The issues surrounding Whiteley and her work are further confused by the doubts surrounding her identity. From about the time of the publication of the Diary Whiteley began to claim that she was the daughter of Henri d'Orléans, a prince of the deposed royal family of Bourbon of France. This man, and her mother (who was identified variously by Whiteley) are referred to 'Angel Father' and 'Angel Mother' in the Diary. From this time onward she began to use the name Françoise de Bourbon d'Orléans.
Whiteley devoted much of her time to the search for information about what she regarded as her true parentage. Various influential people supported her in this search. In 1923 she used money received from Lord Grey of Falloden, who had become a close friend after reading the Diary, to travel to England. From England she went to France where she visited Françoise Marie Amélie d'Orléans, the mother of Henri d'Orléans. She, in turn, provided the funds for Whiteley to travel to the Udaipur region of India, where Henri d'Orléans died, so that she could find out more about him. From September 1924 Whiteley lived at the guesthouse of the palace of the maharana of Udaipur, under the assumed name of Françoise d'Orlé.
While she was in India Whiteley carried out extensive research into the customs, activities, life and surroundings of the areas in which she travelled. The results of this work can be partially seen in an article, The Story of Unknown India, which was eventually published by The Queen magazine. She also had plans to publish longer works on the subject of India, but these never came to fruition.
Whiteley returned to England in 1925, and in 1926 she travelled to Rome, and then on to Vienna where she spent 2 years living in a convent. In 1927 she returned to England, and for the next 20 years lived variously in London and in Oxford. She devoted herself to her writings, collecting books relating to her researches and to her Catholic faith. Her writings from this period grow increasingly confused, and many of her many friends and supporters appear to have lost touch with her from the late thirties onwards. In 1948 Whiteley was found to be unable to look after herself, and was taken into the care of Napsbury Hospital in St Albans. She died there in February 1992.