Helen Hooven Santmyer

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Helen Hooven Santmyer
Helen Hooven Santmyer.jpg
1984 publicity photograph, Santmyer autographing a copy of Ladies[1][2]
Born (1895-11-25)November 25, 1895
Cincinnati, Ohio
Died 21 February 1986(1986-02-21) (aged 90)
Xenia, Ohio
Occupation Novelist, Educator, Librarian
Nationality American
Notable works "...And Ladies of the Club"

Helen Hooven Santmyer (November 25, 1895 – February 21, 1986) was an American writer, educator, and librarian. She is primarily known for her best-selling epic "...And Ladies of the Club", published when she was in her 80s.[3]

Life and career[edit]

Santmyer was born on November 25, 1895 in Cincinnati, Ohio, the oldest child of John Wright and Bertha Hooven Santmyer. Her father had been a medical student in Cincinnati, but in 1900 switched to business and moved to the Hooven family home in Xenia, taking a position with the R.A. Kelly Company, a rope manufacturer.[4] Inspired by Louisa May Alcott, Santmyer was determined to become a writer and kept a diary from age 10.[5] She also derived inspiration from her grandfathers; both were veterans of the American Civil War and would relate stories of their service.[6]

She attended Wellesley College 1914–18 and was active in the struggle for women's rights; she began publishing her poetry as an undergraduate.[7] The 1916 Alfred Noyes edited collection, A Book of Princeton Verse (poems by Princeton students), was widely read in Santmyer's circle, and strongly influenced her. She quit her clubs and committees and wrote a manifesto that appeared in The Wellesley College Magazine, May 1917, criticizing women who do not dedicate themselves to their art, the way she presumed men did.[8]

After graduation, Santmeyer took a job as an editorial secretary with Scribner's publishing in New York City for two years. She returned to Xenia, teaching locally and at Wellesley College, during which time she wrote her first novel, Herbs and Apples, based on her experience at Scribner's.[9] After Wellesley, Santmyer attended Oxford University in England for three years, 1924–27. While studying there, she wrote a thesis on 17th century women writers, focusing largely on Clara Reeve.[10] Culminating her studies at Oxford, Santmyer was awarded a B.Litt. degree.[11]

Following her return home to the U.S., she wrote her second novel, The Fierce Dispute, published in 1929.[12] In the summer of 1930, Santmyer became part of the MacDowell artist's colony. There, she wrote her third novel, Farewell Summer (published posthumously) and befriended Thornton Wilder.[13]

The Depression forced the closure of the rope factory where Santmyer's father worked. He found employment in Orange County, California, the house was sold, and the family relocated to the West Coast. After three years, he retired due to failing health.[14] Santmyer and her parents returned to near Xenia in 1935, she accepted the positions as Dean of Women and English department head at Cedarville College, then chartered as a Reformed Presbyterian college. During this time her writing continued, but because of her health, very slowly.[9][15] In 1953, Santmyer resigned from the faculty when the school was purchased by the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches. Following her resignation, she took a position as a research librarian in Xenia, moving back to the former Hooven family home, which had been repurchased by her brother-in-law. Upon retirement in 1959, Santmyer returned to full-time writing, publishing Ohio Town, reminiscences of Xenia, in 1963 with Ohio State University Press.[16] The director of OSU Press encouraged her to publish with them again. Santmyer then wrote the bulk of Ladies, submitting it to OSU Press in 1976, which accepted it, but required heavy abridgment. Also as of 1976, Santmyer had the first of several stays in Hospitality Home East, a nursing home, where most of the revision was done.[1]

In 1982, "...And Ladies of the Club" was published obscurely by OSU Press: it was the publisher's second novel, there was no separate advertising budget, and only a few hundred copies of the book were sold, mostly to Ohio libraries.[1][17] By April 1983, nearly blind and suffering from emphysema, Santmyer moved permanently into a nursing home.[1][16][18] By chance, the novel ended up being read by those in the Hollywood movie industry who saw its potential for a larger audience. This lead to the book's republication by G.P. Putnam's Sons in 1984 and its becoming a main selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club. Both Santmyer and the novel subsequently received considerable media attention with the novel becoming a best-seller.[3]

Santmyer, who never married, died at the age of 90 on February 26, 1986 in a Xenia nursing home.[3]



  • Herbs and Apples (1925)
  • The Fierce Dispute (1929)
  • Ohio Town (1963)
  • "...And Ladies of the Club" (1982)
  • Farewell, Summer (1988)


  • The Life and Works of Clara Reeve (1927 thesis, 513 pages)[10]
  • The Hall with Eight Doors (363 pages)[10][19]

Awards and achievements[edit]

  • 1964, Florence Roberts Head Award, for Ohio Town[20]
  • 1983, Ohioana Book Award in the category of fiction, for "...And Ladies of the Club"[21]
  • 1984, 37 consecutive weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, seven weeks at number-one (Ladies)[22]
  • 1984, inducted into Ohio Women's Hall of Fame[23]
  • 1984, Honorary Degree, Wright State University[24]
  • 1985, Central State University held a conference on Ladies[25]
  • 1985, Ohio Governor's Award[19]


  • The Helen Hooven Santmyer Prize, awarded annually since 1991 in the amount of $2500, was established by the OSU Press for the "best book-length manuscript on the contributions of women, their lives and experiences, and their role in society."[26]
  • The Helen Hooven Santmyer Award for Excellence is a college scholarship.[27]


  1. ^ a b c d McDowell, Edwin (1984-01-12). "Happy End for Novelist's 50-Year Effort". New York Times. p. A1. 
  2. ^ "Literary Success at 88". Chicago Tribune. Jan 13, 1984. p. 11. 
  3. ^ a b c Mitgang, Herbert (1986-02-22). "Helen Hooven Santmyer, 90, Author and Educator, Dies". New York Times. 
  4. ^ Quay 1995, p. 9.
  5. ^ Quay 1995, pp. 10–1.
  6. ^ Quay 1995, p. 15.
  7. ^ See, for example, #External links
  8. ^ Quay 1995, pp. 27–35.
  9. ^ a b Santmyer, Helen Hooven (1985). "Introduction to the 1985 Edition". Herbs and Apples. Ohio State University Press. 
  10. ^ a b c Shahmeer Azmat (2012-02-21). "Helen Hooven Santmyer Papers". The Ohio State University Libraries: Rare Books and Manuscripts. 
  11. ^ Quay 1995, p. 87.
  12. ^ Quay 1995, p. 100.
  13. ^ Quay 1995, pp. 103–6.
  14. ^ Quay 1995, p. 107.
  15. ^ Quay 1995, p. 115 quotes the May 1939 Wellesley Purple Page writing of Santmeyer that she has "finished another manuscript."
  16. ^ a b Galloway, Paul (June 10, 1984). "Move over, Jane Austen — Miss Santmyer has finally arrived". Chicago Tribune Sunday Tempo. p. 1. 
  17. ^ Corwin, Stanley J. (1984). "Author's Note". How to Become a Bestselling Author. pp. 3–8. ISBN 0-89879-129-4. 
  18. ^ Howard, Jane (June 1984). "Portrait: Helen Hooven Santmyer". Life: 31–6. 
  19. ^ a b "Helen Hooven Santmyer". Ohioana Authors. Retrieved 2014-10-03. 
  20. ^ "Ohioana Florence Roberts Head Book Award Winners". Ohioana Library. Retrieved 2014-10-03. 
  21. ^ "Ohioana Book Award Winners: Fiction". Ohioana Library. Retrieved 2014-10-02. 
  22. ^ "Santmyer, Helen Hooven". Ohio Center for the Book at Cleveland Public Library. Retrieved 2014-10-03. 
  23. ^ "Helen Santmyer". Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services. Retrieved 2014-10-03. 
  24. ^ "Honorary Degree Recipients". Wright State University. Retrieved 2014-10-03. 
  25. ^ Fleissner, Robert (June 1986). "Review of "… And Ladies of the Club," by Helen Hooven Santmyer". CLA Journal 29: 486–89. 
  26. ^ "Professional Notes and Comment". PMLA 105 (3): 562. May 1990. JSTOR 462905. 
  27. ^ "Xenia High School scholarship recipients". Xenia Gazette. 2014-06-09. Retrieved 2014-10-03. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Quay, Joyce Crosby (1995). Early Promise, Late Reward: A Biography of Helen Hooven Santmyer, author of "...And Ladies of the Club". Knowledge, Ideas and Trends. 
  • Thackrey, Ted, Jr. (1986-02-26). "'...And Ladies of the Club': Helen Santmyer Dies; Wrote '84 Best-Seller'". Los Angeles Times. 
  • Anne Barry, "Helen Hooven Santmyer: 'I Awoke One Morning and Found Myself Famous' (Lord Byron)", Ohioana Quarterly 27 (Autumn 1984): p88-89.
  • "Happy endings...", Chicago Tribune (Jan 19, 1984) p. N24
  • Jane Briggs-Bunting, "At 88, Helen Santmyer Belatedly Joins the Club of Big Best-Selling Novelists", People, (July 16, 1984) Vol. 22 No. 3

External links[edit]