Scope and Contents
Correspondence, manuscripts, notes and notebooks, diaries, press clippings, photographs, and printed material of a West Virginia essayist, short-story writer, poet and novelist, who won the first O. Henry Memorial Prize in 1919 for her short story, "England to America." The papers include correspondence from editors, publishers, agents and critics; readers' correspondence; family letters; manuscripts of short stories and other works; outlines, plots, and drafts; and diaries and notebooks primarily concerned with religious meditation, Christian mysticism, and Miss Montague's concept of human ennoblement through suffering. Correspondents include Bernard Baruch, Russell Doubleday, Howard M. Gore, M.A. DeWolfe Howe, Vachel Lindsay, Christopher Morley, Philip Van Doren Stern, Joseph P. Tumulty, and Woodrow Wilson.
Language of Materials
Conditions Governing Access
No special access restriction applies.
Conditions Governing Use
Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright holder. For more information, please contact the West Virginia and Regional History Center.
Biographical / Historical
Margaret Prescott Montague was born on November 28, 1878 at “Oakhurst," the Montague homestead near White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. Of New England parentages, she inherited the cultural milieu of the Back Bay as well as that of the West Virginia highlands. Her early education was undertaken by her parents; in her middle teens she was attending Miss Gussie Daniel's school in Richmond, Virginia. It was Miss Gussie, according to Miss Montague, who "discovered my small ability."
Under the influence of the local colorists, Miss Montague turned to the mountain folk of West Virginia for her early novels: The Poet, Miss Kate , and I (1905), The Sowing of Alderson Cree (1907), and In Calvert's Valley (1908). Linda (1912), showed a trend away from the earlier folk literature, oscillating as the novel did between the Back Bay and the back woods.
From 1909 on Miss Montague was subject to “severe physical afflictions” that left her partially blind and deaf for the rest of her career. Always an intensely religious person, she now sought to find self-realization and truth in Christian mysticism and a philosophy of ennoblement through suffering. These themes marked much of her work after 1915. Closed Doors (1915) was a study of handicapped children at the West Virginia School of the Deaf and Blind. In "The Lucky Lady” (1933) Miss Montague asserted that man was still master of his fate and also his handicaps. She recorded her mystical experiences in such articles as "Twenty Minutes of Reality” (1916) and “Leaves from a Secret Journal'' (1926) written under the nome de plume of Jane Steger.
From 1915 she turned more and more to the shorter forms of prose, the short story and essay. She wrote a series of wartime stories, and won the first O. Henry Memorial Prize in 1919 for "England to America" which has become an American classic. Her passionate interest in politics, absent in most of her writings, was the moving force of “Uncle Sam of Freedom Ridge” (1920), a plea for ratification of the League Covenant. The story was made into a film and became an issue in the presidential election of 1920.
In Deep Channel (1923), her last full length novel, Miss Montague returned to the locale of her earlier novels, yet the book was a more skillful and sophisticated work, closely tied to the new literature of the 1920s and, in the words of Professor Stuart P. Sherman, "animated by the passion for self-realization.” In a lighter vein were the legendary exploits of Tony Beaver, the Paul Bunyan of West Virginia, which Miss Montague published as a collection of short stories in Up Eel River (1928).
While the author continued writing short stories, essays, poetry, and completed a long unpublished novel in the 1930s, her didactic writings had been part of a world less harsh and irrational than that the United States of the depression decade. Her works now belong to a passing era. Nevertheless, she was active with her pen almost until the time of her death in Richmond, Virginia on September 26, 1955.
6.5 Linear Feet (Summary: 6 ft. 5 3/4 in. (14 document cases, 5 in. each); (3 document cases, 2 1/2 in. each); (1 oversize folder, 1/4 in.))