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Edith Roelker Curtis papers

Identifier: SSC-MS-00039

Scope and Contents

The Edith Roelker Curtis Papers document Curtis' literary output, family history and personal reflections. The collection of diaries, which were annotated by Curtis' granddaughter, Edith Byron, covers many years, beginning again in the mid-1920 and extending until the end of her life in 1977. There is also lesser amount of family correspondence and photographs. Curtis' introspections give a perspective on a life's journey that included a troubled marriage and complex family life; a struggle to make a career as a writer; and day-to-day observations of New England life, from Boston elite society to small town New Hampshire. The collection contains a large amount of material related to Curtis' writings, both published and unpublished. It includes research, correspondence with publishers, drafts, fan mail, reviews, and publications, which ranged from books that were well-received by scholarly audiences to pulp pieces in confessional magazines. In addition to books and articles, the collection contains unpublished poems and stories in which she took up themes of romance, interpersonal drama, and the pastoral alongside the travel narratives and historical vignettes that made up a large amount of her published work. Of interest is research and draft material from an unfinished biography of Josiah Tattnall, whose extensive naval career has not otherwise received scholarly attention.

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 1845 - 1990


Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research use without restriction beyond the standard terms and conditions of Smith College Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright to unpublished works by Edith Roelker Curtis is owned by the Sophia Smith Collection. Permission must be obtained to publish reproductions or quotations beyond "fair use." Copyright to materials authored by others may be owned by those individuals or their heirs or assigns. It is the responsibility of the researcher to identify and satisfy the holders of all copyrights.

Biographical / Historical

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.

[NOTE: This biographical note also appears in a Wikipedia article and the text is available for modification and reuse under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0 Unported License and the GNU Free Documentation License].


21.104 linear feet (32 containers)


Author, Poet, Biographer, Diarist. Papers include correspondence, photographs, line-a-day diaries; scrapbooks, financial records, and material relating to her literary career, including published and unpublished manuscripts, poetry, stories, articles, publicity, reviews, fan mail, research material, and forty-two volumes of diaries. Curtis' introspections give a perspective on a life's journey that included a troubled marriage and complex family life; a struggle to make a career as a writer; and day-to-day observations of New England life, from Boston elite society to small town New Hampshire.


This collection has not been fully processed and is arranged in four accessions as received from the donor between 1962 and 2011:

  1. ACCESSION 1 (no accession number)
  2. ACCESSION 2 (no accession number)
  3. ACCESSION 3 (No. 03S-77)
  4. ACCESSION 4 (No. 11S-25)


This collection has been added to over time in multiple "accessions." An accession is a group of materials received from the same source at approximately the same time.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Edith Roelker Curtis donated her papers to the Sophia Smith Collection beginning in 1962. Additions to the papers have been given by various family members. Some materials were transferred from the Georgia Historical Society.


Periodic additions to this collection are expected. The collection has not been fully processed and therefore may be difficult to use.

Related Materials

Related materials can be found in the Curtis-Iselin Family Papers.

Processing Information

Finding aid written by Amanda Izzo, May 2011.

Processing Information

Between September 2022 and February 2023, Smith College Special Collections renumbered many boxes to eliminate duplicate numbers within collections in order to improve researcher experience. A full crosswalk of old to new numbers is available.

Edith Roelker Curtis papers
Finding Aid
Finding aid prepared by Amanda Izzo.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (
  • 2017-07-26T17:48:14-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.

Repository Details

Part of the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063