Edith Roelker Curtis Papers
The author Edith Goddard Roelker was born on July 29, 1893 to William and Eleanor (Jenckes) Roelker. The family's roots in Rhode Island stretched back to the colonial era, and Edith grew up in a privileged environment on an East Greenwich homestead and a city residence in Providence. With the marriage strained by Eleanor's alcoholism, the Roelkers divorced in 1901. Edith attended school in Providence and lived for a time with an aunt in Cincinnati. She subsequently attended the elite Miss Porter's School in Farmington, Connecticut between 1909 and 1912 but left before receiving a degree. She made her society debut in 1912. Two years later, she married Charles Pelham Curtis, Jr., a Harvard Law student and member of a similarly distinguished Boston family. Charles became a partner at the Choate, Hall, and Stuart firm, and the couple lived in Boston's Back Bay neighborhood until they moved to Norfolk, Massachusetts in 1924. Their first child, Sarah (called Sally), was born in 1915, followed by Anita (1917), Charles (1919), William (1923), and Richard (1924). During the First World War, Edith volunteered for the Red Cross. She was active in Boston club life, becoming a member of the Nucleus, Chilton Club, and Boston Sewing Circle (a predecessor to the Junior League), among others. The groups functioned as hubs of high society, but they also sponsored cultural events and volunteer activities. Edith maintained an interest in literary and social clubs throughout her life.
Edith Curtis' literary ambitions were awakened after the birth of her third child, and she undertook coursework in composition and English literature at Radcliffe College. In the 1920s, she would become a steady diarist, writing daily ruminations on travels and home life, reflecting on the progress of her writing career, and exploring writing projects. Her personal papers contain an extensive run of diaries, primarily spanning from 1926 to 1977. With brief newspaper articles, Curtis entered the professional realm of publishing in the 1920s. Inspired by the celebration of the Boston tercentennial, she released a full-length book, Anne Hutchinson: A Biography, with the Washburn and Thomas publishing house in 1930. As her writing career developed, her marriage foundered. Charles' extramarital affairs prompted a separation in 1934 when Edith discovered in a gossip column that her husband had registered at a New York hotel with his mistress. Charles obtained a divorce in Reno, Nevada in 1936 and soon married Frances Prentice. Given the prominent standing of the family, the divorce caused scandal in Boston social circles. Edith's continuing discontent with her ex-husband led her to obstruct contact between Charles and the children, complicating family relationships. While maintaining an active social life and overseeing a large household, Edith continued to write as her children grew up and left the home. Short works appeared in magazines and newspapers throughout the 1930s. A second historical biography, Lady Sarah Lennox, An Irrepressible Stuart, was published by Putnam in 1946 and was also released in London and Brazil. This extensively researched narration of the life of the notorious royal consort was reportedly enjoyed by the British royal family and Winston Churchill. A facsimile reprint of this book was issued in 2007.
Moving to Dublin, New Hampshire in the mid-1950s, where she would remain until her death in 1977, Edith became an avid gardener and bird-watcher while still publishing historical sketches, book reviews, and travel essays. Her most noted book, A Season in Utopia, The Story of Brook Farm, was published in 1961 and reprinted in 1971. Her history of the Massachusetts Transcendentalist commune was widely reviewed, and it won the National League of American Pen Women's 1962 prize for the best work of non-fiction. Curtis later assisted greatly in the successful effort to designate the endangered site of Brook Farm in West Roxbury a national historical landmark.
Curtis' histories interwove a narrative style with considerable scholarly research, providing transcriptions of primary documents and detailing the context of historical dramas. In the 1960s, Edith became an increasingly prolific writer of fiction and verse, exploring more personal and contemporary topics. A novella about Gilded Age Rhode Island, Love's Random Dart, came out in 1962, and the full-length novel, Mexican Romance, was published in 1969. At the same time, Curtis spent many years researching and writing a biography of Josiah Tattnall, a naval officer who became a commander in the Confederate Navy during the Civil War. Though she was not able to complete this book project, she distributed her research and writings to the National Archives and the Sophia Smith Collection in hopes that the work would be completed. She died in Dublin, New Hampshire on February 1, 1977 at the age of 83.
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