A Writer’s Life

American Rural Home letterheadShe was one of those “scribbling women” famously derided by Nathaniel Hawthorne–lady authors who, through idleness, creative yearnings, or economic necessity, inundated 19th-century publishers and popular magazine editors with their prose, poetry and articles.

Cornelia Stanley (Allen) Smith (b. 1839?) was a native of western New York who could trace her ancestry back to the Mayflower Pilgrims.  The wife of Philadelphia banker Alfred Smith, she was the mother of two young children by the mid-1860s.  For the next three decades, both personally and through literary agents, she submitted her poems, stories, and articles under the pen name “Clio Stanley” to publications such as the New York Weekly, The American Rural Home, the Chicago Ledger and the children’s magazine The Nursery.

Like authors everywhere, Smith endured a steady stream of rejections.  “The third installment of your story is just received, and is herewith respectfully returned, together with the portions preceding,” advised Moore’s Rural New Yorker.  “We regret to have to return your manuscript but it is quite unsuitable for our columns,” wrote another prospect.  While some of the rejections were fairly brusque, others offered an apology common to the trade.  “We are really so overstocked with manuscripts of all kinds that we have to decline everything that is sent in just now,” explained Saturday Night to Smith, by 1873 one of its longtime contributors.

Sometimes, however, “Clio Stanley” hit pay dirt.  “The two little poems sent to us are accepted for publication,” wrote Arthur’s Home Magazine, although the publication date was uncertain as there was “so much matter already in our hands.”  Moore’s Rural New Yorker paid $6 for her story “Linnet,” and The People’s Literary Companion remitted $15 for two stories, “Making Believe” and “Behind the Door.”  Sometimes her assignments were unsolicited.  A children’s publisher asked for an article to accompany a photo of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, and Saturday Night requested “one of your prettiest pieces of poetry” for its Valentine’s Day issue, an assignment that likely earned Smith about three dollars.

Editors’ letters to Cornelia Stanley (Allen) Smith are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Special Collections Library.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For other collections about authors, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

Saturday Night letterhead

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