Frances Parkinson Keyes Papers
Scope and Content Note
The Frances Parkinson Keyes Papers consist of 13 cartons of materials from 1898 to 1972. The Papers are arranged into four series: Correspondence, Early Writings, Manuscripts, and Personal Materials. Correspondence (Cartons 1 – 4) is divided into three subseries: Personal, Subject (publishers), and General and ranges from 1892 to 1940. Personal correspondence is comprised of friends and family to/from FPK, as well as the correspondence of other family members. Frances’s almost daily letters to her mother Louise, from 1892 to 1922, cover her schoolgirl days to her early years as a US Senator’s wife and emerging success as a writer. This correspondence constitutes a unique opportunity for researchers, for the letters chronicle Keyes’s everyday experiences, triumphs, frustrations, and the mother/daughter relationship. Researchers should note that Keyes selected and transcribed additional letters to her mother as reference materials for her autobiography, Roses in December, located in the Manuscripts series (Carton 10, folders 1 – 5). Subject correspondence pertains to magazine publishers and book editors from 1918 to 1939.
Early Writings include Keyes’s school compositions and longhand drafts of two early novels (Carton 5). Manuscripts embody the bulk of the Papers (Cartons 6 – 12). Manuscript materials are arranged by date of publication and include drafts, galleys, and reference notes. Carton 11 also contains FPK’s index card file of her magazine articles. Keyes wrote her first drafts in longhand and examples are found in undated notebooks which formed the basis for the posthumously published All Flags Flying (Carton 12). Personal materials (Cartons 12 – 13) contain FPK’s diary for 1926 and appointment calendars from 1912 to 1968.
The Frances Parkinson Keyes Papers are a gift from the Keyes family. The Papers were arranged in 1998 – 1999 under the direction of Karen Stites Campbell, with the assistance of Jake Cooley, Mary Benjamin and Nicole Norona.
- Keyes, Frances Parkinson, 1885-1970 (Person)
Collection is open for research.
All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Curator of Manuscripts.
Frances Parkinson Keyes (July 21, 1885 - July 3, 1970) defied convention to become one of the best-known authors of her time. In an era when a "proper" lady's name appeared in print only three times -- to announce her birth, marriage, and death -- Frances Parkinson Keyes published more than 50 books of fiction and non-fiction and hundreds of magazine articles.
Born in Charlottesville, Virginia to Louise (Johnson) and John Henry Wheeler, Frances Parkinson Wheeler's early years were spent surrounded by books and learning. Her father was a noted professor of Greek at the University of Virginia. Following his untimely death in 1887, mother and child relocated to the Johnson family homestead, The Oxbow, in Newbury, Vermont.
Louise (sometimes known as Louisa) nursed her broken heart with long trips abroad, leaving Frances in the care of governesses in Newbury or in private schools in Boston. “Much-Married Louise” remarried twice more (her first marriage to James Underhill ended in divorce) causing scandals that she dismissed with expensive shopping trips. Frances was sent to school in Geneva and Berlin. Her early letters home foretold the career that lay ahead with their detailed descriptions of her impressions and experiences while studying abroad.
She chose to pursue a marriage rather than college, and on June 4, 1904, Frances became the bride of Henry Wilder Keyes (1863 - 1938) of Haverhill, New Hampshire. Both families disapproved of the match between the debutante and the middle-aged gentleman-farmer 20 years her senior. Keyes moved Frances to his family’s estate, Pine Grove Farm, where she lived under the scrutiny of his mother and elderly aunts.
Henry Keyes turned his attention away from wife and farm to politics. He rose quickly in state office and won his first bid for Governor of New Hampshire (1917 – 1919). The young woman grew restless and despite her delight in raising their three young sons, Henry Jr., John, and Peter, Frances tried writing as a way of overcoming loneliness. Against the wishes of her husband, Frances wrote secretly in the attic by day, hiding her notebooks in an underwear drawer by night.
Henry went on to serve New Hampshire as Senator for three terms. The demands of the Washington, DC social schedule drained the family’s financial resources. Frances turned again to writing, now as a means of contributing to the couple’s dwindling income. Frances Parkinson Keyes published her first novel, The Old Gray Homestead, in 1919 with modest success.
Almost by accident, Frances launched a successful career as a magazine correspondent when she accepted an offer from Good Housekeeping magazine in 1920. For the next decade and a half, she provided regular feature articles, “Letters From a Senator’s Wife.” Keyes contributed extensively to a number of popular women’s magazines throughout the 1920s – 1940s: Good Housekeeping, Delineator, Better Homes and Gardens, and Ladies Home Journal. Keyes traveled around the world as a foreign correspondent for Good Housekeeping, writing lively descriptions of exotic places and famous people. Her social status allowed her access to some of the most important people, places, and events of the era.
When Henry Keyes died unexpectedly in 1938, Frances relied on her writing to support the family. She published more than 50 books, producing a novel nearly every year as well as four books on the lives of saints, poetry, cookbooks and memoirs. Keyes’s novels were characterized by her ability to convey a sense of place. Locale played an important role in her writing – first New England, then Washington, DC, followed by the places she loved to travel to: England, Ireland, France, South America and, finally, Louisiana, the setting for her best-seller, Dinner at Antoine’s (1948).
Keyes wrote about what she knew, and it was a hugely successful formula for her mostly-female audiences: stories of romance and well-bred heroines who win the day, emerging triumphant over the lesser men in their lives. She never won nor sought critical acclaim, but her novels sold extremely well with sales in excess of $20 million.
Although travel took her around the world, Keyes would frequently return home to New England to write. She maintained residences at both Pine Grove Farm and The Oxbow, which she inherited from her husband and her mother, respectively. Later in life Keyes made her permanent home in New Orleans where she purchased and restored Beauregard House, the home of Confederate General Pierre T.G. Beauregard. When bad health excluded trips back to The Oxbow, Keyes had water brought from the Wells River to fill the garden fountain.
Frances Parkinson Keyes faced many obstacles throughout her life, from an omnipresent mother and a distracted husband to chronic poor health. Yet an editor at Delineator magazine described her as “twice as alive and strong as anyone.”(1). Friends described Keyes as imperious; secretaries encountered her ceaseless drive for excellence; publishers reckoned with the writer’s exacting standards. Before her death in 1970 she established the Keyes Foundation, a trust fund to support two of her favorite causes: aiding struggling writers and preserving historic homes. Keyes is buried in the Johnson family plot in Newbury, Vermont.
(1) Eleanor Carroll to FPK, May 13, 1929. Keyes Papers, Carton 3, folder 11.
Keyes, Frances Parkinson. All Flags Flying: Reminiscences of Frances Parkinson Keyes. (Published posthumously) New York: McGraw-Hill 1972.
Keyes, Frances Parkinson. Roses in December. New York: Liveright, .
Torodash, Martin. “Frances Parkinson Keyes.” Dictionary of American Biography.
Wernick, Robert. “The Queens of Fiction.” Life Magazine. April 6, 1959
14.0 Linear feet (14 cartons)
Language of Materials
Frances Parkinson Keyes (July 21, 1885 - July 3, 1970) was one of the best-known authors of her time. The Frances Parkinson Keyes Papers consist of 13 cartons of materials from 1898 to 1972. The Papers are arranged into four series: Correspondence, Early Writings, Manuscripts, and Personal Materials.
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- Guide to the Frances Parkinson Keyes Papers
- Finding aid prepared by Karen Sites Campbell
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