Patton, Frances Gray (1906–2000)

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Patton, Frances Gray (1906–2000)

American writer . Born Frances Gray Lilly on March 19, 1906, in Raleigh, North Carolina; died on March 28, 2000, in Durham, North Carolina; daughter of Robert Lilly (a newspaper editor) and Mary S. MacRae (Gray) Lilly; attended Trinity College (now Duke University); graduated from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; married Lewis Patton (an English professor), in 1927; children: Robert, Mary, and Susannah.

Selected works:

The Finer Things in Life (1951); Good Morning, Miss Dove (1954); A Piece of Luck (1955); Twenty-Eight Stories (1969).

Frances Gray Patton earned a place in American letters through her single novel, Good Morning, Miss Dove (1954), and her numerous short stories, which appeared in The New Yorker and other major magazines during the 1940s and 1950s and were collected in several volumes. The novel, which was dubbed a minor classic, was developed from an earlier short story "The Terrible Miss Dove" and chronicles the life of a strict but beloved geography teacher in a small American town, whose sudden illness impacts the entire community. Good Morning, Miss Dove enjoyed enormous popularity in both the United States and London, although The New York Times' reviewer Charles Poore thought it "ruthlessly sentimental." The formidable Dove, described as "the public conscience of Liberty Hill," is a dedicated teacher who deems herself responsible for the character of each child in her classroom, a task which encompasses preparing the children for the "inescapable perils of independent thinking" and driving home the fact that "life demanded all the disciplined courage and more, that one could bring to it." It was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection and in 1955 was made into a movie starring Jennifer Jones .

A fourth-generation North Carolinian, Patton may have been influenced by her literary family. Her father Robert Lilly was the editor of The Raleigh Times, her brothers were journalists, and her mother Mary S. Gray Lilly also published occasional pieces. Patton began writing for her high-school newspaper, then attended the University of North Carolina on a playwriting fellowship. In 1927, she married Lewis Patton, a University of North Carolina English professor. The couple settled in Durham, where they raised three children, two daughters and a son.

The first of Patton's short stories, "A Piece of Bread," concerning a young Southern girl's encounter with a chain gang, won a Kenyon Review prize in 1945, and was included in that year's O. Henry Memorial Award Prize Stories. Henceforth, her stories appeared regularly in Collier's, Harper's, and McCall's, as well as The New Yorker, and were collected in The Finer Things in Life (1951) and A Piece of Luck (1955). Patton published a third volume of stories, Twenty-Eight Stories, in 1969. A life-long resident of Durham, Patton also taught creative writing at Duke University and the University of North Carolina. She died in March 2000, at age 94.


Mainiero, Lina, ed. American Women Writers: From Colonial Times to the Present. NY: Frederick Ungar, 1982.

"Obituary," in The New York Times. April 2, 2000.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts