A Lady of Letters : A Quiet Resignation

While Keyes had broad and bold plans for the magazine her time as editor was short lived as she resigned in December 1939, less than two years after accepting the position.[1] At the same time, she resigned her membership in the organization. In a letter to the DAR President, Mrs. Henry M. Robert, Jr., Keyes stated that “obstacles and restriction” had forced her to tender her resignation as editor but she, according to the Washington Post, “declined to elaborate” on the what these were.[2] In the afterword to her posthumously published autobiography, All Flags Flying, her son, Henry W. Keyes, wrote that his mother’s “effort to broaden the magazine’s scope did not find favor with ladies whose photographs, depicting them with be-ribboned, be-badged and be-corsaged bosoms dedicating an interminable succession of plaques, were no longer a feature; while Mrs. Keyes, on her part, became disenchanted with a budget which was less than the allowance for official flowers and did not provide legal fees to collect overdue advertising charges. In vain, she pleaded with the society to pay secretarial salaries commensurate with those then current in Washington.”[3]

Keyes was not the only prominent woman to resign from the DAR that year. At the time, the DAR was embroiled in a national controversy because the society refused to allow Marian Anderson, an African-American singer, to perform at their venue, Constitution Hall. Outraged by the prejudice, “some angry members resigned from the organization, including First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.”[4] Whether or not Keyes resigned because of the Marian Anderson controversy or because of her inability to fully develop the DAR magazine as she intended is unclear. Her son wrote that the “climax” of Keyes’s difficulties with the DAR leadership came with the cancellation of Anderson’s scheduled concert. “The latter [cancellation] may not have been to blame, but Mrs. Keyes thought they could and should have insisted that the concert take place there. She resigned as editor of the magazine and, with much regret, as a member of the organization.”[5]

            Keyes’s departure from the DAR magazine coincided with her increasing success as a popular novelist. Her first novels were The Old Gray Homestead and The Career of David Noble.

These were followed by Lady Blanche Farm, The Safe Bridge, and Senator’s Marlowe’s Daughter. She was now a best-selling author in both the United States and the United Kingdom. Frances Parkinson Keyes would from then on be remembered not as a writer of important magazine articles that advocated a progressive women’s agenda or as the editor of a national historical magazine but as a best-selling popular novelist. She continued to aim to be known as a “lady of letters” but the public embraced her as a “queen of fiction.”

[1] “Mrs. Keyes Quits Editorship and D.A.R., Assails Policies,” Washington Post, 7 December 1939.

[2] “Mrs. Keyes Quits Editorship and D.A.R. Assails Policies,” Washington Post, 7 December 1939. See also “Mrs. Keyes Left D.A.R. Over Funds, Writers,” Washington Post, 8 December 1939 and “Mrs. Vandenberg Quits the D.A.R. Magazine,” New York Times, 10 December 1939.

[3] Frances Parkinson Keyes, All Flags Flying: Reminiscences of Frances Parkinson Keyes, (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1972), 651-652.

[4] Heather Cox Richardson, "Marian Anderson: The Contralto Who Launched the Civil Rights Movement," The Historical Society, 27 February 2013, http://histsociety.blogspot.com/2013/02/marian-anderson-contralto-who-launched.html.

[5] Keyes, All Flags Flying, 652.