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Kelly, Florence Finch (1858–1939)

Kelly, Florence Finch (1858–1939)

American journalist and author who worked at The New York Times Book Review for three decades beginning in 1905. Often confused with Florence Kelley (1859–1932). Born in Girard, Illinois, on March 27, 1858; died in New Hartford, Connecticut, on December 17, 1939; youngest of six sons and two daughters of James Gardner Finch (a farmer) and Mary Ann (Purdom) Finch; briefly attended a county high school, Miami County, Kansas; graduated from the University of Kansas, 1881; married Allen P. Kelly (newspaper publisher), on December 9, 1884: children: son who died in childhood; Sherwin Kelly, a geophysicist.

Selected writings:

With Hoops of Steel (1900); The Delafield Affair (1909); What America Did: An Everyman's Story of the War (1919); Flowing Stream (1939).

One of eight children of Mary Ann Finch and James Finch, a farmer, Florence Finch Kelly was born in 1858 in Girard, Illinois, but spent much of her girlhood in Miami County, Kansas, where her family moved when she was 11. Kelly aspired to a writing career from an early age, but found it necessary to work as a teacher for two years before she could properly educate herself. Graduating from the University of Kansas in 1881, she worked briefly in Chicago before settling in Boston, where she worked as a reporter and columnist for the Globe for three years. She left the Globe, dissatisfied with the low pay and lack of recognition, and worked on a paper in Troy, New York, before joining Globe colleague Allen P. Kelly in his attempt to established a newspaper in Lowell, Massachusetts (The Lowell Bell). The paper failed, but Florence's relationship with Allen flourished, and the couple married in 1884. They had two sons; the first died before he was five, and the second, Sherwin, grew up to become a geophysicist. For many years, the couple criss-crossed the country, working on newspapers in San Francisco, New Mexico, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia. In addition to her newspaper writing, Kelly wrote three novels during the 1890s, publishing them anonymously or under a pseudonym.

Widowed at the age of 47, Florence Kelly moved with her ten-year-old son to New York, where she secured a job reviewing books for The New York Times. She stayed there for three decades, eventually earning her own byline. In support of publisher Adolph Ochs' goal of "democratizing" literature, she turned out hundreds of reviews a year, mostly of nonfiction. In addition to reviews, she contributed feature stories, interviews, and syndicated articles to the paper. On her own time, she published another half-dozen books of fiction and nonfiction. In 1916, she took a leave of absence from the paper to campaign for the reelection of Woodrow Wilson. Kelly retired at the age of 78 and died in 1939, shortly after completing her autobiography Flowing Stream.

sources:

Edgerly, Lois Stiles. Give Her This Day. Gardiner, ME: Tilbury House, 1990.

James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.

Weatherford, Doris. American Women's History. NY: Prentice Hall, 1994.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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