Channing, Grace Ellery
Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies
10 Garden Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
14 linear ft.
Grace Ellery (Channing) Stetson, author, was born on December 27, 1862, in Providence, Rhode Island, the daughter of William Francis Channing and Mary (Tarr) Channing. Her grandfather was William Ellery Channing, the founder of the American Unitarian Church, and her father (WFC) was an inventor who patented a portable electro-magnetic telegraph (1877), an electric fire alarm, a ship railway, and other inventions. GECS was educated in private schools, graduated from the Normal Class for Kindergarten in 1882, and taught in the free kindergarten on Fountain Street in Providence. In 1885, GECS became ill with what was suspected to be tuberculosis, and moved with her family to Pasadena, California. GECS had been a friend of Charlotte (Perkins) Stetson Gilman (CPG), and it was to the Channing family that CPG came with her daughter Katharine in October 1885, when her health and her marriage were breaking down. GECS and CPG together wrote and produced several successful plays. CPG returned East and GECS followed her; during the winter of 1887-1888 they lived together and GECS gave CPG moral support during her separation from her husband, Charles Walter Stetson (CWS). They again collaborated on a play and GECS helped CPG sell property, settle her debts, and move west in October 1888. CPG settled in California, and, after three attempts, was divorced from Charles Walter Stetson (CWS) in 1894. Meanwhile, GECS left California and made a lengthy visit to Europe with her friend Augusta Senter, traveling in Italy and Germany from October 1890 until November 1893. In June 1894, shortly after CPG's divorce, GECS and CWS were married. In May CPG had sent Katharine, now aged nine, east. From this time Katharine (KBSC) made her home with the Stetsons; she regarded GECS as her second mother and kept in close touch by letter throughout GECS's lifetime. In December l894 the Stetsons left Rhode Island for good and returned to California, where they remained until their departure for a ten-month tour of England, Italy, and Germany in August 1897. On returning from Europe, they briefly visited Pasadena, and then settled in Boston. In a 1917 letter to Mrs. Chase, GECS recalled that in l902 CWS was "emerging from the long eclipse which had temporarily made him unable to do anything...into ten years of serene and great work." At that time, CWS reached the height of his fame, exhibiting fifty paintings in five major cities. He was hailed as a great American colorist and compared to George Innes. In April the Stetsons and Katharine settled in Rome, where they could live more cheaply than in the United States. Their circle in Rome included Elihu Vedder, painter and poet, Diego Angeli, art critic, and Franklin Simmons, sculptor. Their residence in Italy was made possible by loans from Mary and Clarence Wood (GECS's sister and brother-in-law). GECS wrote and sold many articles and stories; in return for financial assistance, she helped prepare Elihu Vedder's autobiography for publication. Despite deafness and continuing poor health, CWS worked successfully in Rome, selling principally to American tourists. He held two major exhibitions: in Rome, l905, and in Paris, l9l0. He died on July 20, l9ll, on the eve of his return to the United States for a major exhibition, from complications after intestinal surgery. GECS returned to the United States in l9l2 and organized an extended touring exhibition of CWS's paintings that was shown in Boston, Washington, and Toledo. Unfortunately, his style had fallen out of favor; he painted neither the impressionist, the realist ("Ash-Can"), nor the modernist style (exhibited in the Armory Show, 19l3). GECS was unable to sell his work and feared that the paintings would have to be auctioned off to pay the cost of warehousing. In l9l6, GECS was accredited as a war correspondent and traveled to France and the Italian front. From l9l8 to 1937 she lived in New York, increasingly concerned about debts, low income, and her poor health. She died on April 3, l937. GECS was one of three children in a close but troubled family; throughout her life she kept in constant touch with her siblings and helped them through personal and family crises. Mary Channing Wood (MCW) married twice and was plagued by poor health, marital problems, and worries over her children. (Her daughter Dorothy was divorced in l9l6, and her son Ellery was estranged from his parents.) Harold, GECS's brother, was frequently committed to institutions because of alcoholism and mental illness; he drifted from one casual job to another, eventually settling down as a gardener in California. Except for MCW, the family had constant money problems. GECS began her career as a writer by editing her grandfather's memoirs, Dr.Channing's Notebook (l887). Her earliest essays were published in the periodical Land of Sunshine (later Outwest); they featured mentally and physically infirm easterners who came west and found health, happiness, and spiritual renewal. After her visit to Italy in l890-1893, GECS wrote articles describing Italy for the American audience: "What lessons Rome can teach us," and "Florence of the English poets." Many of her stories in Harper's, The Atlantic Monthly, and The Saturday Evening Post were didactic and dramatic portraits of women who found happiness in self-sacrificing love for and dependence on good men, or who nobly endured the weakness of their partners and lived and suffered happily ever after. The Sister of a Saint (l895) and The Fortune of a Day (l900) were collections of short stories concerning heroines who suffered beautiful martyrdoms. A collection of poems, Sea Drift, was published in 1899. As a war correspondent, GECS wrote about the Italian front and Italy's part in the war. Her stories and poems criticized exemption from military service, encouraging the war effort and the "l00 percenters" and idealizing the sacrifice of wives and mothers who encouraged their menfolk to enlist. GECS's political views, expressed in articles and letters to the editors of numerous newspapers, were extremely conservative: she admired Mussolini, expressed disappointment over Woodrow Wilson's handling of the peace, and condemned "the [Franklin D.] Roosevelt crowd" (see #97, 387, 392). Her poetry idealizing war and war heroism won much praise. As an author, GECS was well regarded in her lifetime both for the didactic quality of her stories and as a stylist. In a critical essay in l905 the editor of Harper's praised her "subtle disclosure of truth...in English that was not simply reproachless, it was satisfying..., having the positive charm of sureness and ease." William Dean Howells wrote (l908), "Your work I constantly admire in Harper's where I can assure you that all Franklin Square unites with the public in valuing it." This collection of family and professional papers is divided into four series: Series I, Channing family and personal papers (l-258), consists of photographs, biographical and genealogical data, clippings about GECS, Channing family estate papers, and correspondence from three generations of the Channing family. (For William Ellery Channing's correspondence and GECS's typed transcripts of his correspondence, see #360-364.) First generation (28-60): letters and scientific notes of William Francis Channing, and letters and autobiography of Mary (Tarr) Channing describing her upbringing in a New England factory town, where her mother kept a factory boarding house. Second generation (61-207): correspondence