Mary Virginia Terhune

Mary Virginia Hawes Terhune

Terhune circa 1903
Born Mary Virginia Hawes
(1830-12-21)December 21, 1830
Amelia County, Virginia
Died June 2, 1922(1922-06-02) (aged 91)
Manhattan, New York City
Cause of death Natural causes
Resting place Pompton Lakes, New Jersey
Residence Sunnybank estate, Pompton Lakes, New Jersey
Nationality American
Occupation Writer
Years active 1844–1922
Notable work Alone
Common Sense in the Household: A Manual of Practical Housewifery
Eve's Daughters
Spouse(s) Edward Payson Terhune (1856–1907)
Children Christine Terhune Herrick
Albert Payson Terhune

Mary Virginia Terhune (née Hawes, December 21, 1830 – June 3, 1922), also known by her penname Marion Harland, was an American author. She began her career writing articles at the age of 14, using various pennames until 1853, when she settled on Marion Harland. Her first novel Alone was published in 1854 and would go on to sell over 100,000 copies. For fifteen years she was a prolific writer of best-selling women's fiction novels, as well as writing numerous serial works, short stories, and essays for magazines. After marrying Presbyterian minister Edward Payson Terhune in 1856, Terhune had six children, though three died as infants. In the 1870s, shortly after the birth of her last son Albert Payson, she broke from her novel writing and published Common Sense in the Household: A Manual of Practical Housewifery, a cookbook and domestic guide for housewives.

Though Terhune continued writing novels, she began to concentrate primarily on non-fiction, publishing additional cookbooks and domestic works, as well as biographies, travel guides, and histories. She also spoke as a public lecturer and was the first woman elected to the Virginia Historical Society. In 1873, the Terhunes relocated to Europe for two years while Mary recovered from tuberculosis. After their return, they continued living in the northeastern United States, moving as her husband's job demanded.

After breaking her wrist in her seventies, Terhune learned to use a typewriter. In her 90s, she went blind, but continued work by dictating to a secretary. Her final work, the novel The Carringtons of High Hill, was published in 1919. Terhune continued creating articles and essays until she died on June 2, 1922. Over her life, she published 25 novels, 25 non-fiction works on homemaking and cooking, three short story collections, several biographies, travel guides and histories, and numerous essays, articles, and serial works. Two of her children, Christine Terhune Herrick and Albert Payson Terhune, became noted writers as well, with Herrick following in her mother's footsteps as an authority of domestic matters, and Albert Terhune's becoming notable for his novels featuring collies. Her middle child, Virginia Van de Water, also became a writer, though less well known. Late in life, Mary Terhune co-wrote works with each of them.


Early life

Born December 21, 1830 in Dennisville, Virginia, Mary Virginia Hawes was the third of nine children born to Samuel Pierce and Judith Anna Smith Hawes.[1][2] Terhune was home schooled until her family moved to Richmond, Virginia in 1844, where she attended a girl's seminary school for two years of formal education.[2] At the age of fourteen, Hawes began writing articles for area newspapers under various pseudonyms.[1][3]

Her real interest lay in fiction writing, but she initially was unsuccessful in selling her works to magazines. At sixteen, Hawes secretly began work on her first novel, while continuing to try to sell stories to magazines. In 1832, she won a contest held by The Southern Era with her serial novel, Kate Harper, which was published under the pen name Marion Harland.[1][3] At this time, Hawes shared her completed novel Alone with her two siblings, and edited it for submission to the largest bookstore in Richmond, which published books sporadically. After it was rejected, her father paid the owner to have it published in 1854.[3] Alone was republished the following year by J. C. Derby,[1] and was considered to be an "emphatic success".[4] Though six publishers expressed interest in Hawes' in-progress second novel, The Hidden Path, she had it published by Derby in 1856.[1][3] Hawes' career as a writer became firmly established.[1][2]

Around the same time, she met a young Presbyterian minister, Edward Payson Terhune, with whom she felt a mutual attraction. Hawes did not at first want to marry a clergyman due to the "duties and liabilities" pressed upon a minister's wife. After Terhune moved to Charlotte Court House, Virginia to assume leadership of a small church, he continued to court her.[3] They were married on September 2, 1856.[1][3] After their marriage, Mary Terhune continued writing her fiction, publishing a novel a year and monthly episodes of serial works.[2]

The Terhunes moved to Newark, New Jersey in February 1859, after the Reverend accepted a pastorate position there to be closer to his aging father.[3] A few years after their move, the Civil War (1861–1865) cut Mary off from her family, including her brothers who fought for the Confederacy (she supported the Union). Though she frequently wrote about the South in her novels both before and after the war, and expressed her great love of her home state, the Terhunes lived in the North for most of her life.[2] During the first sixteen years of marriage, Mary Terhune gave birth to six children, but lost three of them to early death from illness.[3] Terhune dealt with her pain by turning to her writing. For the next 12 years, from 1862 to 1874, she published a story monthly in the magazine Godey's Lady's Book, which had a circulation of 100,000–200,000, in each but four of its issues. Terhune, or rather her pseudonym Marion Harland, became a household name.[2]

From novelist to domestic expert

After finding current cookbooks less than helpful, she followed her friends' advice and began collecting her own tested recipes written in a more accessible manner. Against the advice of family and friends, who were concerned about her publishing outside her normal realm, in 1872 Terhune began soliciting Common Sense in the Household: A Manual of Practical Housewifery, a work gathering recipes and housekeeping tips, for publication. Her regular publisher, Carleton, turned down the work, as did other publishers. Eventually, Charles Scribner agreed to publish it in 1872, with little expectation but hoping his acceptance would result in his being able to publish her next novel. The work quickly began a best seller, going through ten printings in less than a year, and earning Terhune more than $30,000 in royalties.[3] It was reprinted in French, Spanish, German, and Arabic.[1] During its first ten years, it sold 100,000 copies,[4] and according to a 1920 article in Ladies Home Journal, it would go on to sell over one million.[3] Terhune was much satisfied with her non-fiction work, telling her husband that it was more useful than all of her novels combined.[1][3] Afterward, she became more well known as a writer of domestic topics.[3] She continued to write novels and short stories as well, but at a less frequent pace.[2]

Terhune's last son Albert was born December 21, 1872 on her forty-second birthday, and she referred to him as the "greatest gift" she'd received.[3] The following year, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and the family moved to Europe for two years so she could recover.[1] Considered a "cheery, indomitable" woman, Terhune continued working and writing all of her life.[3] When interviewers asked how she maintained her energetic pace, she frequently credited her religious devotion and her sense of humor.[4] After she broke her wrist in her seventies, she learned to type and wrote Marion Harland's Autobiography in which she reminisced about the pre-Civil War South where she was raised.[3]

Final years and death

The Terhunes moved to Springfield, Massachusetts after Edward was transferred. They moved again in 1884, to Brooklyn, New York, where Edward successfully revived an ailing parish, at the cost of his own health.[1] He died on May 25, 1907, a year after they celebrated their golden anniversary.[1]

In 1919, Terhune began a new series of articles about her childhood for The Ladies Home Journal. Despite going blind at the age of 90, she continued writing by dictating to a secretary, completing numerous magazine articles and what would be her final novel, The Carringtons of High Hill.[1][3][4]

She died on June 2, 1922 in her Manhattan, New York City home.[1][3][4] Her obituary was published in numerous papers.[2]

Legacy and honors

Writing style and themes

Terhune's first writings, written under a more masculine pseudonym when she was 14, were evangelical essays for the Watchman and Observer, a weekly religious paper. Starting with the publication of her first novel, Alone, in 1855, she became one of the top-selling authors of women's fiction. Her early novels all featured a romantic story element, with many also including "sensational episodes-murders, fires, accidents, and sudden deaths." The works explored a variety of topics, with earlier works looking at the "domestic and religious lives of young women" and later works delving into depravity, alcoholism, drug addiction, and mental illness. Literary critics considered her to be a "plantation novelist" at the time. More recently, critics have appraised her differently, noting that Terhune set several novels outside of the South, including two set in New York. They also noted that she was critical of various social institutions considered acceptable in the South, including slavery and marriages between close relatives.[2]

After her shift in the 1870s to more non-fiction works, her occasional novels and short stories continued to examine contemporary issues women dealt with in their daily lives. Some of her best-known works in this period included The Hidden Path and Sunnybank. While other of her novels she wrote during this time were criticized for lacking believability and drawing out the heroine's suffering, Terhune is considered always to have "told a good story". Her first fourteen novels were reprinted and continued to be top sellers well after her own death in the early twentieth century.[2]

Terhune well understood the literary market and how to write what would sell to her audience. Her shift to non-fiction in the 1870s came after the end of the Civil War, when the demand for women's fiction began to drop. With her new domestic writings, she appealed to inexperienced young housewives' need to know how to cook, and to manage their households and staff. Her recipe books included a range of styles of dishes from around the country, that also responded to the differing resources of her readers. Once her domestic authority was established, Terhune became a Chautauqua lecturer, speaking primarily to women on topics of home and family. By the 1890s, her name guaranteed high sales, and she explored other genres, including biographies, travel books, and histories, noted for being mostly opinion pieces with little research behind them. Toward the end of her life, Terhune wrote a syndicated advice column.[2]

Selected list of works


Four of Terhune' novels are available for reading online or download at Project Gutenberg (

Short story collections



  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 Burstyn, Joan N. "1866–1920". Past and Promise: Lives of New Jersey Women. pp. 197–198.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 Smith, Karen (1991). "Legacy Profile: Marion Harland (1830–1922)". Legacy. 8 (1): 51–57. ISSN 0748-4321.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 Litvag, Irving (1977). "Beginnings, 4". The Master of Sunnybank: A Biography of Albert Payson Terhune. New York: Harper & Row. pp. 10–17. ISBN 0-06-126350-8.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Marion Harland, Author, Dies at 91. Mrs. Mary Virginia Terhune, Writer Since Childhood, Succumbs at Her City Home". New York Times. New York City. June 4, 1922. p. 24. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved July 5, 2010. Mrs. Mary Virginia Terhune, widow of the Rev. Edward Parson Terhune and known to many thousand readers throughout the United States by her pen name, Marion Harland, died Friday night of old age at her home, 311 ...
  5. 1 2 "Writer of Many Books; A Talk with Marion Harland at Her Home in New Jersey". New York Times. New York City. May 17, 1902. p. BR18. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved July 6, 2010.
  6. Copyright 1860 Derby and Jackson, New York, 499 pages.
  7. Copyright 1863 1863 Sheldon and Company, New York.
  8. "Recent Novels". The Nation. 18 (448): 78. January 29, 1874. ISSN 0027-8378.
  9. "Notes". The Nation. 50 (1302): 470. June 12, 1890. ISSN 0027-8378.
  10. 1 2 "The Trained Mother". The Independent. July 20, 1914. Retrieved August 23, 2012.
  11. "January 29, 1874". The Nation. 56 (1451): 297. April 20, 1893. ISSN 0027-8378.
  12. "Science". The Nation. 95 (2478): 620–621. December 26, 1912. ISSN 0027-8378.
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