In August, we would like to introduce you to our next Greene County V.I.P., Helen Hooven Santmyer (See Fig. 1). She was a New York Times best-selling author and women’s rights activist best known for novel…And Ladies of the Club which was later adapted into a TV miniseries.
Fig. 1. Photograph of Helen Hooven Santmyer (courtesy of Good Reads, www.goodreads.com)
Helen Hooven Santmyer’s personal story began in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she was born to Bertha Hooven and Joseph Santmyer on November 25, 1895. In 1900, young Helen relocated to Xenia with her family when Helen was five. Inspired by Louisa May Alcott at a young age, Helen knew she wanted to be a writer and began keeping a diary to help her hone her observational skills by age eleven.
After graduating from Xenia High School with honors in 1913, Santmyer went on to attend Wellesley College from 1914-1918 earning a B.A. degree in English Literature and Composition.
Santmyer also was a member of the Equal Suffrage League serving as Secretary-Treasurer and moderator for debates . She would go on to take a job with the National Woman’s Party mainly doing secretarial work.
In 1925, Santmyer published her first novel, Herbs and Apples. While it garnered critical praise, Santmyer enjoyed only modest financial success.
Santmyer would go on to attend Oxford University (England) from 1924-1927 earning a BLD (Bachelor of Literature Degree) .
In 1929, Santmyer published her second novel The Fierce Dispute. It was not until 1962 that she would publish another major work.
Santmyer went on to teach at Cedarville College from 1935 to 1953  and then as a librarian’s assistant at the Dayton Public Library from 1953 to 1960 .
Finally, in 1962, Santmyer returned to her role as a published author with the memoir Ohio Town which described her experiences growing up in Xenia. It was not until 1982 that Santmyer would publish what would become her life-changing novel ...And Ladies of the Club with a limited run with little publicity . However, in 1984 this novel was read by a woman from Cleveland would go on to forward the novel to her son, a television producer in California . Santmyer’s novel was then turned into a mini-series for TV. By the summer of 1984, Santmyer was sought after by the press granting interviews and appearing on the Tonight Show, the Today Show, and many other similar talk shows when she was 88 years old . Santmyer’s book also enjoyed international success and inspired visitors to visit Xenia from great distances to learn more about the place that served as Santmyer’s inspiration (See Fig. 2).
Fig. 2. Photograph of Helen Hooven Santmyer later in life. (courtesy of Find a Grave, www.findagrave.com)
Helen Hooven Santmyer was able to enjoy the success as an author she had worked for decades to achieve before passing away on February 21, 1986 at the age of 90 (See Fig. 3).
Fig. 3. Application to Probate Will of the Estate of Helen H. Santmyer. Greene County Probate Court, Estate 22478 (Greene County Archives).
She was survived by her brother Philip Santmyer, Sr. and her sister Jane Anderson (See Fig. 4)
Fig. 4. Next of Kin, Estate of Helen H. Santmyer. Greene County Probate Court, Estate 22478 (Greene County Archives).
As is seen in her will (Fig. 5), Helen Santmyer treasured her dear friend Mildred Sandoe and remembered her with a trust funded from any royalties and income her writing would go on to earn (See Fig. 5).
Fig. 5. Last will and testament of Helen H. Santmyer. Greene County Probate Court, Estate 22478 (Greene County Archives).
To find out more about Helen Hooven Santmyer, visit the Helen Hooven Santmyer Papers (finding aid: https://library.osu.edu/finding-aids/rarebooks/santmyer.php) located at The Ohio State University's Rare Books & Manuscripts Library. This fascinating collection includes her manuscript for …And Ladies of the Club as well as a scrapbook, poetry, memorabilia, correspondence, and photographs.
Until next time!
Application to Probate Will, Estate of Helen H. Santmyer. Greene County Probate Court, Estate 22478 (Greene County Archives).
Baxter, J. (1999, Oct. 7). “Helen Hooven Santmyer Author of ‘…And Ladies of the Club’ found fame at age 88.” Xenia Daily Gazette, p. 7A
Last will and testament of Helen Hooven Santmyer. Greene County Probate Court, Estate 22478 (Greene County Archives).
McDowell, E. (1984, 12 Jan.). “Happy End for Novelist’s 50-Year Effort.” New York Times, pp. 1, 3
Next of Kin, Estate of Helen H. Santmyer. Greene County Probate Court, Estate 22478 (Greene County Archives).
Photo of Helen Hooven Santmyer. Good Reads. https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/92881.Helen_Hooven_Santmyer
Photo of Helen Hooven Santmyer. Find A Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/32131641/helen-hooven-santmyer/photo
The Ohio State University Press. “..And Ladies of the Club” [description]. https://ohiostatepress.org/books/titles/9780814203231.html.
Quay, J. (1995). Early Promise, Late Reward: A Biography of Helen Hooven Santmyer. Glen Rock, NJ : Knowledge, Ideas & Trends, Inc.
Trolander, I. D. (Ed.). (1994) Women of Greene County: Biographies of women, 1750-1994 : histories of women's organizations, 1861-1994. United States: Women’s History Project of Greene County, Inc.
 The Ohio State University Press, n.d.