Wharton, Edith

Edith Wharton (1862-1937) was a writer and the first woman to earn a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction; she was also a friend of Theodore and Edith Kermit Carow Roosevelt.

Like Theodore Roosevelt, Edith Newbold Jones was born into a wealthy New York family. Her parents, George Frederic and Lucretia Rhinelander Jones, took Edith and her two siblings with them on their many trips to Europe, and Wharton spent much of her youth in France, Germany, and Italy. Edith Wharton to Theodore Roosevelt, from the Library of Congress Theodore Roosevelt PapersWharton completed her first volume of poetry, Verses, at age 16. At 23, she married Edward Robbins Wharton and the couple settled in 1901 at their custom-designed home, The Mount, in Newport, Rhode Island. There Wharton wrote two of her most-celebrated works, The House of Mirth in 1905 and Ethan Frome in 1911. After she and her husband divorced in 1913, she moved to France, where she lived for the rest of her life; she remained in Paris during World War I and did charity work on behalf of refugee women and children.

It is unclear where Wharton and Roosevelt first met, but in May 1897, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Roosevelt declined an invitation from Wharton to stay with her on a visit to Newport, Rhode Island. Over the years, the two corresponded occasionally and warmly. Wharton provided some letters of introduction to individuals looking to meet Roosevelt and the two exchanged holiday greetings, postcards, book recommendations, and comments on each other’s writing. After Edith Roosevelt suffered an accident in 1911, Wharton sent her condolences and Roosevelt responded that Wharton’s book Ethan Frome was the first thing which Mrs. Roosevelt read during her recovery.

Wharton also involved Roosevelt in some of her charitable work, including a committee on tuberculosis in 1904 and much of her work during World War I. Roosevelt wrote an introduction to a 1916 collection Wharton edited, The Book of the Homeless, from which the profits went to war refugees. He also gave $500 to a home for war refugee women and children in Paris with which Wharton worked. After Roosevelt’s son Quentin’s death in 1918, Wharton wrote a heartfelt letter to Roosevelt extending her sympathies and described the mourning for Quentin Roosevelt in Paris. Upon Roosevelt’s death in 1919, Wharton wrote an elegy entitled “With the Tide,” which celebrated Roosevelt’s achievements and described the many friends waiting for him in the afterlife. Wharton published her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Age of Innocence in 1920 and died in Paris in 1937.

Sources and Further Reading:

Bailey, Thomas, and Katherine Joslin. Theodore Roosevelt: A Literary Life. Lebanon, NH: ForeEdge, 2018.

“Edith Wharton: A Biography.” The Mount. https://www.edithwharton.org/discover/edith-wharton/.

Lee, Hermione. Edith Wharton. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007.

Olin-Ammentorp, Julie. Edith Wharton’s Writings from the Great War. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2004.

Wharton, Edith. My Dear Governess: The Letters of Edith Wharton to Anna Bahlmann. Edited by Irene Goldman-Price. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012.

Entry contributed by John Hest, M.A.