Elizabeth Madox Roberts’s life was marked by a few salient facts. Descended from early settlers of Kentucky, she was the second of eight children born to Mary Elizabeth Brent and Simpson Roberts, Confederate veteran, teacher, grocer, and occasional surveyor-engineer. Roberts lived most of her life in Springfield, a small county-seat town on the southwestern edge of the Kentucky bluegrass region. She attended high school in Covington, Kentucky (1896-1900) and college at the University of Chicago (1917-1921), where she received the David Blair McLaughlin Prize for prose and the Fiske Poetry Prize, served as president of the poetry club, and became a member of Phi Beta Kappa before graduating with a doctorate in English. She began college at the age of thirty-one because limited finances and ill health delayed her. She suffered from poor health much of her life.
From 1910 to 1916, Roberts made various stays with a brother and a sister in Colorado, in part to recuperate from what was possibly tuberculosis. At the height of her literary career, she experienced severe headaches and a skin rash, both possibly nervous in origin. During her last years, when she wintered in Florida for her health, she suffered severely from Hodgkin’s disease (cancer of the lymphatic system), the eventual cause of her death.
Because of her ill health and perhaps her own disposition, Roberts led a quiet personal life, at times almost reclusive. She never married, though she always enjoyed a circle of friends, including friends from her Chicago years whom she later wrote and sometimes visited. In a sense, she never left the family circle, building her own house onto her parents’ Springfield home when she came into money from her writing. She also enjoyed contacts and visits with her brothers and sisters. At heart, she was a solitary, introspective individual who guarded her privacy, growing a hedge...
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