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Source: October 1998 Volume 36 Number 4, Pages 113–118

Lida Larrmore: Tredyffrin Novelist (Lida Larrimore Turner Thomas 1896-1960)

Barbara Fry

Page 113

Lida Larrimore wrote novels of a type popular with American women in the early and middle years of the twentieth century. She published seventeen such novels between 1928 and the early 1950s, all of which provide clues to her success. They show her skill in creating characters and plots depicting fine young persons reaching for a quality of life so valued by the earlier inhabitants of this century.

The author was born Lida Larrimore Turner on June 27, 1896 in Girdletree, on the eastern shore of Maryland, where her father Henry Clay Turner was a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church. She was named for her mother. When her father was transferred to a new pastorate in 1912, the family moved to Waterville, Maine where a good classical education was available for Lida. Her high school was Coburn Classical Institute. Her first two years of college were taken at Colby College in Maine, and after another family transfer, she completed her undergraduate work at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Miss Larrimore's writing career began with a play she created out of necessity. While teaching English at Chester High School in the early 1920s, she could not find a play suitable for her young people so she wrote "Cousin Julia's Jade Earring," a one-act comedy which was published by Penn Publishing Co. It was popular among high school drama groups for many years.

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Her only juvenile novel, "The Blossoming of Patricia-the-Less," came in 1924, and she soon returned to writing plays.In 1927 Penn Publishing Co. offered a $1000 prize for the best play submitted. She won the competion with a three-act comedy, "Yesterday's Roses." In 1928 the publisher raised the prize to $1500. Miss Larrimore won that too with "The Third Floor Front." Her last play, "Enchanted Summer", was published by Hurst & Blackett, Ltd. in 1929.

"Tarpaper Palace," her first novel, was brought out a year earlier in 1928 by Macrae-Smith-Company, a practically new publishing firm in Philadelphia. On its twenty-fifth anniversary in 1950, Macrae-Smith-Company was still publishing Lida Larrimore. Many of her works later appeared in a less expensive edition by Grosset & Dunlap, New York.

On February 27, 1931, Lida Larrimore "Larry" Turner married a widower, Charles Thomas of Tredyffrin Township, whose wife had died four years earlier. He was co-owner of a landscape nursery business operated on the Thomas farm in the Great Valley at County Line Road. Her husband's brother and partner, Raymond Thomas, a landscape architect, designed and built a stone house on Pugh Road, across from the farm, for Charles and Larry. They called it Robin Hill. A studio for Larry to use when writing was included over the garage . She titled her fifth novel, published the next year, "Robin Hill". The Thomases had two daughters, Lida Larrimore, born 1932, whom they called Larry; and Nancy Lee, born 1938, called Lee.

Lida's father retired from the ministry in 1937. He had begun his last pastorate at Paoli Methodist Church in 1932, and was widowed the next year. Reverend Turner spent the early years of his retirement living with Lida and Charles Thomas. Later, in ill health, he moved to the Dowden Home in Newtown Square where he died in 1955.

Lida wrote seventeen novels in a span of less than twenty-five years. She was a disciplined writer. Her education had not included courses in writing, journalism or short story construction. She felt rather that such a career could be accomplished by going right to the job of writing and doing it with dedicated effort.

As her career matured, she developed a solid daily writing schedule. She regularly worked four hours every day. After four hours she felt "mistakes crept into her copy." When nearing the end of a book, however, she would find herself going "full speed ahead" to complete the task.

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After diligent searching of used book stores for a few years, I have come upon five of her novels. I find they are of a style popular with women readers of her generation. They are moral and romantic, but never simplistic. Her characters are well developed; her heroines are usually young women choosing a path for the future who eventually display very good judgment in surmounting early obstructions.

Her work had much in common with a very prolific writer of the period, Grace Livingston Hill, although Mrs. Hill's career began almost thirty years earlier and ended after World War II. Larrimore novels, like Hill novels, would have appealed to the same readers looking for romantic stories with happy outcomes after some complicating difficulties; still, there are definite differences between the two writers.

Grace Livingston Hill wrote with a strong fundamentalist religious accent; while Lida Larrimore's novels, although moral, were inclined toward a more sophisticated life style. Larrimore's women, for example, might smoke, but this would never happen with Hill's heroines. Also, in Hill's novels, the poor girl often married a rich young man, but in the Larrimore novels that I found, the heroine often made the moral choice by selecting the young man of far less means. He was, however, always one who had great potential for some kind of success as a struggling doctor or emerging engineer or a fine artist, for example, but money would not be his objective.

The five Lida Larrimore novels I first collected are:

"The Wagon and the Star" (1929) was Lida Larrimore's second novel. Here, a young woman has the courage to choose a penniless young engineer after breaking an engagement that suited her wealthy New England family, but was inappropriate for herself.

In "Mulberry Square" (1930), an aging Victorian neighborhood in Philadelphia is brought to view in the life of the doctor's family that serves the residents trapped forever there.

"The Silver Flute" (1931) recounts the struggles of newly orphaned children from New England in adjusting to wealthy suburban living near Philadelphia.

"Two Keys to a Cabin" (1936) moves from the Maine woods to society in New York City, and on back to a Massachusetts setting, as two young people learn to merge differing life styles.

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"Stars Still Shine" (1940) contrasts two families, a large extended Irish family living in the University of Pennsylvania area of Philadelphia, with a wealthy Quaker family of the Chester Valley, likely of Tredyffrin. The relaxed urban family runs a flower shop, and grows its roses within the city. Life in the wealthy Valley family is formal and unbending. Set be­tween the two World Wars, it exposes us to the morality, values and life styles of that short, long-gone time in nearby localities.

Recently I had the good fortune to receive from Larri Thomas Hoy, daugh­ter of Lida Larrimore, a sixth novel, "The Lovely Duckling" (1951). This, the iast published Larrimore novel, captures the end of one era in Tredyffrin Township and the beginning of the next. The fictional story is based on events in the life of Larri Thomas during the summer of 1949, when she graduated from Tredyffrin Easttown High School.

Principal scenes in the book shift between the Thomas home and the Lambertville Music Circus. Real life Larry, now Larri, scholasticaily hon­ored at graduation, proved she had talent and tried to decide between two promising futures, one beginning in a college in New England or, the second, a life of dancing and the theatre. The Lambertville Music Circus was newly opened. Tredyffrin Easttown High School would become Conestoga in four years. The great influx of suburban population was just beginning to change Tredyffrin and Easttown forever.

In 1949, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins - all were expected to be concerned about the future of the young people of the family. Here was the extended family at its best and at its worst. Graduation was a family affair. Some young persons had freedom of choice in relationships; some were under the control of their families.

The heroine of the novel, like Larri Thomas, was rewarded for her natural talent, and years of training, with a place on the dance troupe at Lambertville Music Circus, which opened just a few years ahead of our own Valley Forge Music Fair. Theatre people were kind, helpful, encouraging. Life in Lambertville was exciting, demanding, and plays out in the novel with color and complications. Relationships between the gifted and not so gifted are explored. On the 255 pages of "The Lovely Duckling," a very different time not so long ago comes back with warmth and reality.

Lida Larrimore's books are difficult to find today, and that is unfortunate for they present a well balanced view of how people of the time lived; be they advantaged, average or disadvantaged. The books also encompass

Page 117

what these people thought about, how their moral choices were made, and what dreams and desires motivated them. Her work also received professional recognition and acclaim. In her mature years she was honored by Dickinson College on the occasion of its 175th anniversary for her contributions to the literary field.

Lida Larrimore Turner Thomas, Tredyffrin's novelist, died on July 2, 1960, just five days past her 64th birthday. She was buried in the cemetery at Valley Friends Meeting, where her marker stone displays her artistic temperment. Instead of a squarely chiseled inscription on gray granite similar to others, her name is displayed on a pink marble stone upon a bronze marker, inscribed with her flowing cursive signature.



Annual Minutes of the Philadelphia Conference (Methodist Church), Obituary of the Rev. Henry Clay Turner. (Philadelphia: Annual Conference Journal, 1956)

Burke, W. J. and Will D. Howe, Augmented and Revised by Irving R. Weiss, 3rd Edition, American Authors and Books, 1640 to the Present Day, Lida Larrimore Turner (Mrs. Charles Edwin Thomas). (New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1967)

Flood, Irma, in The magazine Main Line, "Main Line Author of the Month, Lida Larrimore". (March 1951)

Moore, Anne Hollingsworth Thomas, "Books written by Lida Larrimore." (Unpublished Paper in T-E History Club Archives, 1994)

Tredyffrin Easttown History Club Quarterly. (Berwyn: Vol. 32, No.3, July 1994)

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Novels written by Lida Larrimore (Published by Macrae-Smith-Company)

1928 Tarpaper Palace
1929 The Wagon and the Star
1930 Mulberry Square
1931 The Silver Flute
1932 Robin Hill
1933 Jonathan's Daughter
1934 True by the Sun
1935 No Lovelier Spring
1936 Two Keys to a Cabin
1937 Tuesday Never Comes
1939 Uncle Caleb's Niece
1940 Stars Still Shine
1941 Beyond Tomorrow
1944 Bugles in her Heart
1948 Each Shining Hour
1950 Faraway Haven
1951 The Lovely Duckling

Plays written by Lida Larrimore

1923 Cousin Julia's Jade Earring (Comedy, One Act) Penn Publishing Co.
1924 The Blossoming of Patricia-the-Less (Juvenile Fiction) Penn Publishing Co.
1927 Yesterday's Roses (A Comedy in 3 Acts and First Prize Winner) Prize Plays of 1927, Penn Publishing Co. Play Contest
1928 The Third Floor Front (A Comedy in 3 Acts and First Prize Winner) Prize Plays of 1928, Penn Publishing Co. P!ay Contest
1929 Enchanted Summer Hurst & Blackett, Ltd., Paternoster House, E.C.A.

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