F. Scott Fitzgerald

Writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, best known for his classic American novel The Great Gatsby, was born on September 24, 1896, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Named for his distant cousin Francis Scott Key, author of the “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Fitzgerald was descended, on his father’s side, from a long line of Marylanders. His mother, Mary McQuillan, was the daughter of an Irish immigrant who made his fortune as a wholesale grocer in St. Paul.

Portrait of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Carl Van Vechten, photographer, June 4, 1937. Van Vechten Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby. New York, C. Scribner’s sons, 1925.

Fitzgerald achieved fame almost overnight with the 1920 publication of his first novel, This Side of Paradise. The novel, which draws heavily upon his years at Princeton, tells the story of a young man’s quest for fulfillment in love and career. The success of this novel enabled Fitzgerald to marry Zelda Sayre, whom he had met while stationed at Camp Sheridan, near Montgomery, Alabama. Over the course of the next decade and a half, while struggling to cope with the demons of his alcoholism and her emerging mental illness, the Fitzgeralds enjoyed a life of literary celebrity among the American artists and writers who had expatriated to Paris after the First World War. The American artistic community in Europe included such notable figures as Ernest Hemingway, Archibald MacLeish, John Dos Passos, and Gertrude Stein.

Panoramic view of St. Paul, Minn. Haines Photo Co., 1911. Panoramic Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division

In 1924, Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby, considered his greatest work. Although it initially met with little commercial success, the novel about the American aspiration for material success has become one of the most popular, widely read, and critically acclaimed works of fiction in the nation’s literature.

Fitzgerald continued to publish novels and stories during the 1920s and 1930s. By 1936, however, both his marriage and his health were deteriorating. He spent the years 1936-1937 in the vicinity of Asheville, North Carolina, where his wife was receiving psychiatric treatment for recurrent schizophrenic episodes. For the last years of his life, Fitzgerald lived in Hollywood, earning his living as a screenwriter. Fitzgerald died on December 21, 1940 at the age of forty-five, leaving his final novel, The Last Tycoon, unfinished.

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  • Watch Maureen Corrigan discuss her new book So We Read On: How the Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures, which explores F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece and investigates its influence on the American people.
  • Browse the collection, Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929 to learn more about the economic background of the era between the two World Wars. The “Roaring Twenties” was a period of great prosperity but Gertrude Stein dubbed the Fitzgeralds and their artist friends as the “Lost Generation.”
  • Search Today in History on writer, poet, or playwright to read more about the lives and works of such illustrious American authors as Eugene O’Neill, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and Zora Neale Hurston. Also visit the Today in History feature on legendary jazz pianist and composer Jelly Roll Morton, whose career flourished in the twenties.
  • The collections of the Library’s Manuscript Division represent all areas of American studies, including our country’s rich cultural and literary legacy. The letters and drafts of several American poets and writers, including Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Langston Hughes are among those showcased online.
  • Search across the digital collections on the keyword Irish to explore materials chronicling the experience of the Irish in America. You may wish to start with Irish American Resources at the Library of Congress and Free to Use and Reuse: Irish Americans.

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was born free on September 24, 1825 in Baltimore, Maryland. She was one of the most prominent and active African American women of the nineteenth century. Her life was a fusion of literature and activism with accomplishments as a lecturer, writer, poet, journalist and advocate of emancipation, women’s rights, and social justice.

Frances E.W. Harper…. Illus. in: Poems/ Frances E.W. Harper. Philadelphia: George S. Ferguson Co., 1898, frontispiece. Prints & Photographs Division

Unlike most nineteenth century women, she was well educated. She attended the prestigious Watkins Academy for Negro Youth which stressed leadership and activism. Its rigorous curriculum included: the Bible, history, geography, mathematics, English, rhetoric, and oratory. After the academy, she was employed by a bookstore owner who allowed her to continue her education by independently reading in her free time.

In 1854, after a couple of teaching positions, she presented a lecture in New Bedford, Massachusetts titled, “The Elevation and Education of Our People.” This presentation was the catalyst for her to be hired as a traveling lecturer by the Maine Anti-Slavery Society. Her excellent presentations and wonderful reviews in both the Black and the white press enhanced her reputation. Consequently, she was hired as a public lecturer by additional anti-slavery societies and other organizations.

In her anti-slavery lectures, she frequently incorporated recitations of poems that reflected the tragic circumstances of slavery from her book Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects. Published in 1854, it effectively launched her literary career and was remarkably successful with sales of over 10,000 in three years. During her life, numerous revised editions were published.

Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects. By Frances Ellen Watkins Harper. Boston: J. B. Yerrinton & Son, Printers, 1854. African American Perspectives: Materials Selected from the Rare Book Collection. Rare Book & Special Collections Division

After the Civil War, she traveled throughout the South speaking on education, civil rights, temperance, domestic reform, and the need to end lynching. During this challenging time, she was well received and highly requested.

While lecturing, she continued to write. When The Two OffersExternal was published in The Anglo-African Magazine in 1859, she became the first Black short story writer in the United States. Her range of letters, poems, and essays published in journals and newspapers established her as an internationally recognized journalist. She published several collections of poetry and was reputed to be one of the nineteenth century’s best loved Black poets. In 1892, she was one of the first African American women to publish a novel. Iola Leroy or Shadows UpliftedExternal was a best seller and her most well-known literary achievement.

Harper’s literary productions were heavily influenced by her politics. Over her life, her numerous writings and lectures contained an impressive range of subjects that included: enslavement and abolitionism, human rights and dignity, women’s rights and equality, racial and social justice, lynching and mob violence, voting rights, moral character, racial self-help and uplift, and multiracial cooperation for common good.

In 1871, she purchased a home in Philadelphia. This was a notable accomplishment for a woman during this time.

In her activist capacity, Harper founded, supported, and held high office in several national African American and Anglo progressive organizations. In the Anglo organizations, she was often the only African American. Even though she was in conflict with the members at times, she participated in their national conventions and served on their executive boards. For example, in 1866, Harper spoke at the National Woman’s Rights Convention in New York. Her speech, We Are All Bound up TogetherExternal,” urged her fellow attendees to include African American women in their fight for suffrage. She challenged all the organizations to work together based on common interests. Her philosophy was that freedom and justice were the rights of all humans and that each and all were obligated to struggle to secure these.

Additional examples of her activism include: a signer of the constitution of the Ohio State Anti-Slavery Society, superintendent of the Colored Branch of the Philadelphia and Pennsylvania Chapters of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, director of the Northern United States Temperance Union, director of the American Association of Colored Youth, founding member and vice president of the National Association of Colored WomenExternal.

Frances E. W. Harper would have been considered exemplary in any century, but to accomplish what she did in the nineteenth century was truly amazing. She died in Philadelphia in 1911, leaving a legacy of literary and activist achievement.

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