Margaret Ayer Barnes

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Margaret Ayer Barnes
Margaret Ayer Barnes.jpg
Barnes on her graduation day in 1907
Born(1886-04-08)April 8, 1886
Chicago, Illinois
DiedOctober 25, 1967(1967-10-25) (aged 81)
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Alma materBryn Mawr College
Cecil Barnes
(m. 1910)

Margaret Ayer Barnes (April 8, 1886, Chicago, Illinois – October 25, 1967, Cambridge, Massachusetts) was an American playwright, novelist, and short-story writer. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.


She attended Bryn Mawr College, where she earned an A.B. degree in 1907.[1] In 1936, she received an honorary degree in Doctor of Letters from Oglethorpe University. She married Cecil Barnes in 1910,[2] and had three sons, Cecil Jr., Edward Larrabee and Benjamin Ayer. In 1920, Barnes was elected alumnae director of Bryn Mawr and served three years. As director, she helped to organize the Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers in Industry, which offered an alternative educational program for women workers within a traditional institution. Consisting mainly of young, single immigrant women with little to no academic background, the summer program offered courses in progressive education, liberal arts and economics. Women in the program were encouraged to develop confidence as speakers, writers and leaders in the workplace.[3]

In 1926, at age 40, she broke her back in a traffic accident, and, with the encouragement of friend and playwright Edward Sheldon, took up writing as a way to occupy her time. Between 1926 and 1930 she wrote several short stories and three plays, including an adaptation of Edith Wharton's novel The Age of Innocence. In 1931 she won the Pulitzer Prize for her first novel, Years of Grace.[4]

A 1936 lawsuit against Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for copyright infringement claimed that the script MGM used for the motion picture Letty Lynton (1932) plagiarized material from the play Dishonored Lady by Edward Sheldon and Barnes.[5] The film is still unavailable today because of this lawsuit.

Personal life[edit]

Barnes grew up the youngest of four siblings in Chicago, Illinois. As a child, Barnes had a keen interest in theater and reading. She befriended Edward Sheldon,[6] the playwright who would encourage her to become a writer many years later. Barnes was the wife of a prominent Chicago attorney, Cecil Barnes, with whom she had three children. Her older sister was suffragette and fellow author Janet Ayer Fairbank (1878–1951), and her niece Janet Fairbank (1903–1947) was a well-known operatic singer. Her son was the noted architect Edward Larrabee Barnes (1915–2004).[7]


Katharine Cornell in the Broadway production of The Age of Innocence (1928)


  1. ^ Fischer, Heinz Dietrich (1997). Novel/fiction Awards 1917-1994: From Pearl S. Buck and Margaret Mitchell to Ernest Hemingway and John Updike. Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 9783598301803.
  2. ^ Haytock, Jennifer (2013-08-20). The Middle Class in the Great Depression: Popular Women's Novels of the 1930s. Springer. ISBN 9781137347206.
  3. ^ Margaret Ayer Barnes Collection at Bryn Mawr Library
  4. ^ Stringer, Jenny; Sutherland, John (1996). The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-century Literature in English. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780192122711.
  5. ^ Schechter, Roger; Thomas, John (2010-08-17). Principles of Copyright Law (Concise Hornbook Series). West Academic. p. 373. ISBN 9781628105179.
  6. ^ "Pennsylvania Center for the Book". Retrieved 2019-09-27.
  7. ^ "Mrs. Barnes Dies - Pulitzer Prize Author - 'Years of Grace' novel a Chicago Story". The Chicago Daily Tribune: D6. October 26, 1967.

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