Rinehart, Mary

Rinehart, Mary (b. Roberts)

(1876–1958) writer; born in Pittsburgh, Pa. Born into a strict religious family with limited financial means (her father would commit suicide), by age 15 she was selling stories to a Pittsburgh newspaper. She graduated from the Pittsburgh Training School for Nurses (1896), then married a doctor and had three children by age 25. In 1903 she took up writing short stories to help support her family, and her first novel, The Circular Staircase (1908), launched her career as an immensely successful author of a new genre that combined humorous elements and some romance with a mystery story. During World War I she went to Europe as a journalist and later wrote several books promoting women's contributions to the war effort. While turning out her endless succession of popular mysteries, she also collaborated on several successful plays with Avery Hapgood (including The Bat (1920), an adaptation of The Circular Staircase); she was also something of a proto-feminist, supporting women's suffrage, writing articles about women's new roles in society, even telling in a national magazine as early as 1947 about her surgery for breast cancer. With her support—and her best-selling books as a mainstay—her sons, Stanley Marshall Rinehart Jr. and Frederick Rinehart, founded a publishing firm, Farrar and Rinehart, in 1927 (becoming Rinehart and Company in 1946). Although constantly on the best-seller list in her day—she sold over 10 million copies—her works had little literary merit and soon faded from view.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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