Biographical / Historical
Mary Roberts Rinehart (née Mary Ella Roberts) was born in 1876 and raised in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, now the North Side of Pittsburgh. Mary and her parents, Thomas (Tom) and Cornelia Roberts, lived with Tom's mother and siblings until Mary's sister Olive was born. At 17, Rinehart enrolled in the Pittsburgh Homeopathic School for Nurses. She drew on her experiences nursing patients in the Pittsburgh Homeopathic Hospital in some of her writing. In 1896, shortly after her graduation from nursing school, she married Stanley Marshall Rinehart, a young doctor. In their house in Allegheny City, Mary Roberts Rinehart managed the household, assisted with Dr. Rinehart's medical practice, and began raising their family of three sons: Stanley Marshall Rinehart Jr., born 1897, Alan Gillespie Rinehart, born 1900, and Frederick "Ted" Roberts Rinehart, born 1902.
In the early 1900's, Rinehart began writing in earnest as a way to contribute to the family's income. The poems and short stories of her early career were published in magazines such as Munsey's Magazine and The All-Story. Her first book, The Circular Staircase, was published in 1908. As her popularity grew so did the family's income, and they moved to a large house in Glen Osborne, Pennsylvania around 1912. In early 1915, Rinehart asked her Saturday Evening Post editor to send her to Europe to report on World War I prior to U.S. involvement. Rinehart toured the Belgian front and interviewed Albert I, King of the Belgians, and Queen Mary of England at a time when very few journalists were granted such access. Rinehart returned to Europe in 1918 to report on the war to the War Department and was in Paris on November 11 when the armistice ended the war.
The Rineharts moved to Washington, D.C. during the winter of 1921-22 when Dr. Rinehart accepted a position with the Veterans' Bureau. There, Rinehart continued to write and also became involved in Washington society, hosting and being hosted by presidents, senators, and ambassadors. In summer the family traveled to their cabin at Eatons' Ranch in Wyoming, a part of the country that Mary fell in love with after being invited to join a horse packing expedition out west in 1916. In 1929 her sons Stan and Ted, along with John Farrar, launched Farrar & Rinehart Publishing Company, which would publish many of her works. Dr. Rinehart died in 1931 after a period of poor health. A few years later, Rinehart relocated to New York City, where she would be closer to her sons and their growing families. In 1937 she purchased a large house in Bar Harbor, Maine, and spent summers there until 1947 when her house burned down in a large fire. Rinehart died in 1958 in New York City at the age of 83. She experienced several episodes of poor health during her life, including breast cancer and coronary thrombosis. Despite this, she lived an active, busy life filled with writing, travel, family, and other pursuits.
More detailed information about Mary Roberts Rinehart's life can be found in her autobiography My Story, published in 1931, and My Story: A New Edition and Seventeen New Years (1948), as well as in Improbable Fiction: The Life of Mary Roberts Rinehart by Jan Cohn (1980).
[Biographical note written by the University of Pittsburgh]