Frances Noyes Hart: WWI translator and canteen worker; mystery author.

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Frances Newbold Noyes, from the 14 Jan 1920 Washington Herald

Born 125 years ago today in Silver Spring, MD, Frances Newbold Noyes Hart was the daughter of Frank Brett Noyes, the publisher of the Washington Star and president of the Associated Press. She published her first book, Mark, in 1913. From 1917–18, she was a translator for Naval intelligence, then went to France as a YMCA canteen worker ca. April 1918. My AEF—A Hail and Farewell (McClure’s Dec 1919; book publication 1920) provides a look at her experiences in France:

There were very few things we didn’t try together. I’ve served you everything from soup to doughnuts; sold you everything from [cigarettes] to postage-stamps. I’ve given you everything from ice-cream to good advice. . . . I have been in hospitals with you when you were dying, and I had to smile at you. . . . I’ve written your letters for you when you hadn’t any fingers to write with, or you hadn’t any words, when you had been so brave you couldn’t tell them about it, or when you had been so weak. . . . I couldn’t bear to think of you, so young, so heartbreakingly young and so mortally tired, going whistlingly back through the darkness into that hell. (pp. 3, 5, 12)

trialShe received second prize for her short story “Contact” in the O. Henry Memorial Prize competition in 1920 and provided a spirited rebuttal in “The Feminine Nuisance Replies” to Joseph Hergesheimer’s assertion in the July 1921Yale Review that “literature in the United States is being strangled with a petticoat.” She married lawyer Edward Henry Hart in January 1921 and had two daughters. Her novel The Bellamy Trial (1927) is based on the Hall-Mills murder case in New Jersey and appears on the Haycraft-Queen Cornerstone list of essential mysteries. Called “probably . . . the greatest mystery story written this century” by Herbert Carter in the American Mercury, the book was adapted as a silent film in 1929 (now considered lost) and as a play in 1931.

Her other novels include Hide in the Dark (1929), Pigs in Clover (1931), and The Crooked Lane (1934).

Given that Hart’s mother was a Newbold, a logical question that arises is about Hart’s possible connection to Edith Wharton (aka Edith Newbold Jones, who also was involved in war work). They are only related by marriage. Wharton’s uncle was Thomas Haines Newbold (spouse of her mother’s sister, Mary Rhinelander Newbold, and cousin to Hart’s great-great grandfather, Caleb Newbold).

Hart died in 1943 and is buried in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, DC.

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Grave of Frances Noyes Hart in Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, DC.  Photo by Elizabeth Foxwell

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