|Jeanne Judson in 1919, at age 31|
Jeanne’s mother Margaret Read was born in Kentucky but moved to Michigan in time to marry Charles at age 28, when he was 37. Charles and Margaret had four children—Jeanne was the third child—and the family moved from Three Rivers to Grand Rapids in the early 1900s. Charles and Margaret divorced at some point after that, and he moved away from Grand Rapids, returning to live at the Soldiers’ Home there in 1909, where he remained until his death in 1915 at age 67. For her part, Margaret spent most of her life in Grand Rapids, and died in 1941 at age 85.
The few short biographical sketches about Jeanne make much of the many cities in which she lived when she was young. An account of her marriage called her “a Detroit newspaperwoman who worked in St. Louis and Chicago,” and in 1919, when she was 30, Jeanne stated, “I have lived in San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit, New York, Grand Rapids, St. Louis, and many smaller towns.” She also stated, “I have earned my own living since [1903 when] I was fifteen years of age—as a printer, a proofreader, a reporter, a press agent, an advertising copy writer and advertising salesman,” and it was said that she “was connected with leading Chicago and St. Louis stores in advertising capacities.” It’s not clear where Jeanne was living when she began working at 15; the family was in St. Joseph, Michigan, in 1900, when she was 12, and then she turns up living alone in Kalamazoo in 1907 at the age of 19. Her father may have helped her get her job in that city; in 1904 he was working for a printer there, and though he seems to have moved away after a year, Jeanne had a job as a proofreader working for the same company when she lived there three years later. Between 1909 and 1911 she was living in Grand Rapids with her mother and sister Hope, working as an advertising “solr” (saleswoman?) for the Evening Press.
During this time tragedy befell the family when Jeanne’s oldest sibling, her only brother, died in 1910 at age 26 in Grand Rapids when she was 22. A newspaper report stated, “Bert Judson, a molder, swallowed cyanide of potassium, turned on the gas in a room at a local hotel, and was found dead the next day. He had been out of work since coming here from Kalamazoo and was despondent.” (A character in her book “Beckoning Roads,” published ten years later, also commits suicide in a hotel room.) As Jeanne’s father had just been institutionalized at the Old Soldier’s Home the previous year, financial pressures may have been increasing on the family, putting stress on Bert as the only remaining male provider in the family. In 1904 Jeanne’s older sister Fern had married a man who was 43 when she was 18 (he may have married a 13-year-old black girl when he was 30; he had one child with this woman, a daughter, a year later), so the weight of supporting her mother and her sister Hope was entirely on Jeanne’s shoulders at that time, when she was 22 years old.
In 1912 Jeanne was living in St. Louis with her mother and Hope and working as a “copyist,” and that year published at least one article for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Two years later she was in Detroit working in advertising for the Detroit Saturday Night newspaper. It’s not clear where she lived in 1915, but that year she may have moved to New York City, where she worked for Smart Set, a literary magazine; she is also said to have worked for Puck magazine, which was billed as “America’s cleverest weekly,” and written for Harper’s Bazaar.
She was living in New York in February 1916, when she was 27, but that month took a job working as a lecturer, travelling through the Midwest as a “young advertising woman of the day” giving lectures in advance of the play “Eternal Magdalene.” At an early stop in Buffalo, one misguided reviewer lauded her for ending her presentation early, as “it is an effort for a woman to stop talking at any time,” he stated, going on to describe her as an “extraordinary” “refreshing novelty,” “a bundle of high-voltage nerves”; in Omaha she was better appreciated as “a charming type of the up-to-date young woman who combines good looks, style and brains.”
She was writing feature stories for the New York Sun in July 1916, and in October 1916 she travelled to England for “two months’ service in British munition factories and at the Anstie Grange and Hill VAD hospitals in Farnham, Surrey.” Some sources say she was sent to England on assignment from The Mother’s Magazine, and that she served as a nurse at a hospital while she was there. It would make sense that she had had some hospital experience, as she did go on to write at least nine nurse- or doctor-themed romances. Interestingly, one of the first newspaper articles she wrote after her return from England was an article exhorting women not to volunteer in overseas hospitals. “There will be very little opportunity for American women to engage in the work of ‘entertaining Tommy’ or of ‘soothing fevered brows’ in hospitals,” she wrote. “If you are not a trained nurse, your place is at home.”
She published at least ten short stories in magazines in 1917 and 1918, and two more in late 1919. She also published two novels about this time, Beckoning Roads and The Stars Incline, released in 1919 and 1920, respectively. Beckoning Roads was initially a serialized novel that ran in Redbook magazine called “The Call of Life,” and was released as a film in December 1919. Her first work made into film was a short story called “The Church Window Angel”; the movie was ultimately released with the title “Social Briars” in May 1918. Both of the movies made from her stories were silent films and are now listed as lost, with no remaining copies in existence. Redbook magazine (admittedly a biased source) declared in 1920 that "No young American novelist of our days has, in so short a time, achieved more popular acclaim for the excellence of her work than Jeanne Judson.” She did not publish another novel for 32 years, and published only eight other short stories in her lifetime, five of those between 1920 and 1923.
|Charles "Gordon" Stiles in 1918, age 38|
After serving in the war, Gordon joined the London office of the Chicago Daily News, where he was working at the time of the marriage. He remained in London until December 1919, when he relocated to Berlin. The couple was living in the city in March 1920 when a short-lived coup was staged against the German government. One newspaper reported that Gordon had been tipped off to the impending assault on the government and was able to file the first news articles as it occurred; he was also given the first interview with the would-be president. For her part, Jeanne’s experience was not so satisfying; an article headlined that they had witnessed the revolution first-hand stated that “American women living in the Adlon Hotel generally went through the trying time of the past week with fortitude. One report had it that the American authorities in Coblenz are to send a special train to carry the women and children to safety. Among the American women here are Mrs. Gordon Stiles, wife of the Chicago Daily News correspondent.”
|Jeanne (above left) and her sisters |
Hope (above right) and Fern (below)
When Jeanne left Berlin is unclear, but Gordon continued to report from Berlin through September of 1920. After that he seems to have stopped working as a reporter; she also stopped writing for newspapers; perhaps her success with her films and two novels gave her some financial independence. The couple’s first child, Duncan, was stillborn on Christmas day in 1920 in Amesbury, England, which is where Stonehenge is located. She was “newly” back from Berlin in New York in December 1921, and the couple’s daughter, Pamela, was born in 1923 in New York. Beyond these clues, it’s not clear where they were living in the 1920s.
The couple divorced in 1930. Charles died five weeks later at the age of 49 when a car he was driving struck a tree and killed him and his passenger, a 28-year-old woman. “She was his mistress,” Roberts reports. That year Jeanne had returned to Grand Rapids and was living with her mother, daughter, sister Hope, and Hope’s husband, a prominent editor of the Grand Rapids Press. Here she seemed to have the first period of prolonged stability in her life, remaining at the same address in Grand Rapids for at least 12 years. She worked as the editor of a furniture trade magazine and also wrote and lectured on furniture, and in 1940 she published a book about furniture. During this time, Jeanne’s sister Hope died at age 38 of uterine cancer, and her mother died in 1941, so after that point she had only her daughter Pamela to consider.
Pamela left Michigan to attend Yale University, and Jeanne, then age 54, decided to come along. She moved to 110 E. 17th Street in New York, where she lived for several decades. Jeanne seems to have always had a fondness for the Union Square area of the city, having lived at 126 E. 23rd Street the year before she married and been a frequent patron of the fashionable restaurant at the Hotel Brevoort at 5th Avenue and 8th Street around that same time. She continued to work for trade magazines (including Curtain and Drapery Magazine) until 1953, when she was 65.
In 1952, perhaps returning to her first career after retiring from her work as an editor, Jeanne began writing romance novels. She ultimately wrote 68 romance novels under her own name and the pseudonyms Emily Thorne and Frances Dean Hancock. Her last novel was published in 1975, the year she turned 87. “She retained her journalist habits,” Roberts recalls with fondness. “Every day around noon she would have a glass of Seagrams 7 and a Chesterfield cigarette. That’s a pretty raw cigarette. And Seagrams 7—that’s some cheap stuff.” In the late 1970s she moved to West 110th Street near Columbia University to the apartment where Pamela and Roberts lived, and she spent the last few years of her life with them. There she used to enjoy walking to the park next door to the Cathedral of St. John on Amsterdam Street and sitting in the sun, reading a book. “Jeanne converted to Catholicism and was very serious to her Catholic faith,” says Roberts. “That was very important throughout her life.” She retained a wry sense of humor to the end, and had no fear of dying, Roberts says. “She’d say, ‘See you tomorrow—maybe,’” he remembers. She passed away at home on January 9, 1981, at the age of 92.
Jeanne once wrote, “I believe that most people don't get what they want in the world because they aren’t quite sure what it is that they do want. I believe that any person who knows exactly what he or she wants, has only to reach out and take it from an unresisting world.” We can hope that Jeanne knew what she wanted, and that she felt, in the end, that she was able to obtain it.
Francis Dean Hancock
City Nurse, ©1959, written as Frances Dean Hancock
A Doctor for the Nurse, ©1954, written as Frances Dean Hancock
Also published as Visiting Nurse, written as Jeanne Judson
Doctor Mary, ©1964, written as Jeanne Judson
The Doctor of Blue Valley, ©1960, written as Frances Dean Hancock
John Keith, Intern, ©1963, written as Frances Dean Hancock
Nurse Julie and the Knight, ©1965, written as Jeanne Judson
Nurses Don't Tell, ©1962, written as Jeanne Judson
Resident Nurse, ©1966, written as Frances Dean Hancock
Small Town Nurse, ©1956, written as Emily Thorne
Also published as Enter Nurse Marian, written as Emily Thorne
A Strange Case for Dr Rolland, ©1962,l written as Jeanne Judson
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