She went to nursing school, having grown up in western Pennsylvania. The acceptable careers for women at the time were teacher and nurse and our woman of distinction for today went to nursing school. She attended at the Pittsburgh Training School for Nurses at Pittsburgh Homeopathic Hospital, where she graduated in 1896. In her words, the hospital was “all the tragedy of the world under one roof.” She would go on to marry a doctor and have three sons. Their affluent lifestyle did not last the Stock Market crash of 1903 so she began writing as a means of providing a supplemental income.
Our nurse turned writer penned 45 short stories during her 27th year and was quite popular with readers of the “Saturday Evening Post”. In 1907 she had her first novel published which sold approximately 1.25 million copies and made Mary Roberts Rinehart a household name. The family moved to Sewickley, Pennsylvania and later to Washington, DC when her husband was appointed to the Veteran’s Administration. After his death, Rinehart moved to New York City and with her sons established the publishing house Farrar & Rinehart, serving as its director.
Mary Roberts Rinehart served as a war correspondent for The Saturday Evening Post at the Belgian front during World War I. During her time in Belgium, she interviewed Albert I of Belgium, Winston Churchill and Mary of Teck, wife of King George V. Twelve years after moving to Washington, DC, she survived a murder attempt by her chef of twenty-five years at the family vacation home in Maine. She was rescued by her other servants and the following day the chef committed suicide.
Mary Roberts Rinehart suffered from breast cancer and in 1947 underwent a radical mastectomy. She went public with her story at a time when such things were seldom, if ever, discussed in public. In an interview with “Ladies Home Journal”, Rinehart strongly encouraged all women to have breast examinations.
Rinehart is credited with inventing the “Had-I-But-Known” mystery novel. This type of mystery novel is one where the principal character (frequently female) does things in connection with a crime that have the effect of prolonging the action of the novel. In her novel “The Door”, the villain and murderer is the butler and although the phrase never actually appeared in the novel, made famous the saying: “The butler did it.”
Often called the American Agatha Christie, even though she was published fourteen years before Christie, Mary Roberts Rinehart wrote six travelogues, one essay, had over fifty film and television adaptations, and currently has over two hundred books listed on Goodreads. Two of Roberts’ sons became book publishers while the third was a playwright and producer. She was a woman both ahead of her time in many instances and a woman who lived within the confines of her gender for the times.
Of all the many things this prolific writer penned, my favorite is this quote: “To be kind to all, to like many and love a few, to be needed and wanted by those we love, is certainly the nearest we can come to happiness.” Rinehart believed there was no mystery to finding happiness; it was quite simple: Treat others as you wish to be treated.