Kathleen Norris

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Kathleen Norris in 1925, photograph by Arnold Genthe

Kathleen Thompson Norris (July 16, 1880 – January 18, 1966) was an American novelist and newspaper columnist. She was one of the most widely read and highest paid female writers in the United States for nearly fifty years, from 1911 to 1959. Norris was a prolific writer who wrote 93 novels, many of which became best sellers. Her stories appeared frequently in the popular press of the day, including The Atlantic, The American Magazine, McClure's, Everybody's, Ladies' Home Journal, and Woman's Home Companion. Norris used her fiction to promote family and moralistic values, such as the sanctity of marriage, the nobility of motherhood, and the importance of service to others.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Kathleen Thompson Norris was born in San Francisco, California on July 16, 1880. Her parents were Josephine (née Moroney) and James Alden Thompson. When she was 19 both her parents died. As the oldest sibling she became effectively the head of a large family and had to work. Initially, she found employment in a department store, which was soon followed by work in an accounting office and then the Mechanic's Institute Library. In 1905, she enrolled in a creative writing program at the University of California, Berkeley and began writing short stories. The San Francisco Call, which had published a few of her stories, hired her to write a society column in September 1906. In the course of that work she met Charles Gilman Norris (whose late older brother was the famous novelist Frank Norris), and they soon fell in love. He moved to New York to be art editor of The American Magazine. After eight months of daily correspondence and some improvements in her family's financial situation, she joined him there and they were married in April 1909.

She resumed writing short stories, which began to appear in newspapers and then magazines starting in 1910. Charles took on a lifelong role as Kathleen's literary agent, and also took care of many household management roles as she became increasingly successful as a writer. Shortly after becoming a new mother, she wrote her first novel, Mother. It started as a short story in The American Magazine in 1911. A publisher asked her to expand it into a novelette, which became a national sensation and earned the praise of Theodore Roosevelt for its celebration of large families. A devout Catholic, she wrote the book in part as a commentary against birth control, which was rapidly influencing women's attitudes about motherhood. Her 1914 novel Saturday's Child received a positive, lengthy review from William Dean Howells, who remarked on her sensitivity to class issues.

Norris became involved in various social causes, including women's suffrage, Prohibition, pacifism, and organizations to benefit children and the poor.

Sen. Burton Wheeler, Charles Lindbergh, and Norris make Nazi salute at America First rally. (Photo Getty Images)

Norris is pictured at an America First Committee rally in 1941 at Madison Square Garden giving what appears to be a Nazi salute. There is controversy over whether she was giving the Nazi salute. People reciting the pledge of allegiance sometimes made a gesture with an outstretched arm and the palm up, as opposed to the Nazi salute with the palm down. (More recent commenters sometimes call this gesture the "Bellamy salute," but according to the literary scholar Sarah Churchwell, the "Bellamy salute" refers to the language of the pledge rather than any gestures accompanying it.[2][3]) Contemporary sources described Norris's salute as "closer to the Nazi salute" than to accepted methods of saluting the American flag.[3] At this rally, which took place in May 1941, Norris is pictured with Charles A. Lindbergh and Senator Burton K. Wheeler.

Many of her novels were made into films, including Butterfly (1924), My Best Girl (1927), The Callahans and the Murphys (1927), Passion Flower (1930), and Change of Heart (1934, based on the novel Manhattan Love Song).

Some of Norris's novels were adapted for a radio series, By Kathleen Norris, making her "the first nationally famous writer to have her works brought to radio listeners as a daily serial program."[4] The program, produced by Phillips Lord, was broadcast on CBS October 9, 1939 – September 26, 1941.[5]

Kathleen Thompson Norris died January 18, 1966, in San Francisco at the home of her son Dr. Frank Norris. She was 85.


In 1919 the family moved to a ranch in the Santa Cruz Mountains near Saratoga, California, adjacent to the Villa Montalvo estate of James Duval Phelan. They later built a house in Palo Alto and spent summers at the ranch. Kathleen's sister Teresa, who had married William Rose Benét and borne three children, died in 1919. Kathleen fought for and eventually obtained guardianship of the two nieces and a nephew: Rosemary, Kathleen Anne and James Benét.

Her granddaughter Kathleen Norris (1935–1967) was the second wife of Prince Andrew Romanov.

Selected bibliography[edit]

The Silver Sheet, a studio publication promoting Thomas Ince Productions, cover illustration of Christine of the Hungry Heart by Kathleen Norris
  • Mother (1911; new edition, 1913)
  • The Rich Mrs. Burgoyne (1912)
  • Poor Dear Margaret Kirby (1913)
  • The Treasure (1914)
  • Saturday's Child (1914)
  • The Story Of Julia Page (1915)
  • The Heart of Rachael (1916)
  • Martie the Unconquered (1917)
  • Josselyn's Wife (1918)
  • Harriet and the Piper (1920)
  • The Beloved Woman (1921)
  • Certain People of Importance (1922)
  • Lucretia Lombard (1922)
  • Little Ships (1925)
  • Hildegarde (1926)
  • The Sea Gull (1927)
  • The Foolish Virgin (1927)
  • Younger Sister (1928)
  • Home (1928)
  • The Love of Julie Borel (1930)
  • Second Hand Wife (1932)
  • Maiden Voyage (1934)
  • Beauty's Daughter (1935), adapted for the 1935 motion picture Navy Wife
  • Shining Windows (1935)
  • Bread into Roses (1936)
  • Secret Marriage (1936)
  • Over at the Crowleys (1941)
  • The Venables (1941)
  • Through A Glass Darkly (1955)



  1. ^ Gumina, Deanna Paoli (2004). A Woman of Certain Importance: A Biography of Kathleen Norris. Illuminations Press. ISBN 0-937088-28-5.
  2. ^ Greene, Bob (December 22, 2013). "The peculiar history of the Pledge of Allegiance". CNN.
  3. ^ a b Seaton, Matt (July 25, 2020). "When is a Nazi salute not a Nazi salute?". email.nybooks.com. Retrieved 2020-07-25.
  4. ^ "Woman in Love" (PDF). Radio and Television Mirror. 13 (3): 22–24, 58–60. January 1940. Retrieved 16 February 2015.
  5. ^ Dunning, John (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (Revised ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. pp. 128–129. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3. Retrieved 2019-11-19.

External links[edit]

Electronic editions[edit]