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Grace Harlowe

October 26, 2007

I’m kind of surprised to realize that I haven’t posted anything in nearly a month. But although I haven’t been writing, I’ve definitely still been reading. Last week, for example, I raced through The High School Girls Series and The College Girls Series, which were published under the name Jessie Graham Flower, the pseudonym of a woman named Josephine Chase. These are the first two of four series about a girl called Grace Harlowe. In the first series she’s the ideal type of high school girl, and in the second she’s the ideal type of college girl. I can only assume that in the third she’s the ideal type of girl who hangs out with the American army in Europe during World War I — it’s called Grace Harlowe Overseas — and in the fourth, well, I’m not quite sure. What is an Overland Rider?

The Grace Harlowe books are pretty formulaic, more so than one might expect from a single-author series, but they’re fun in their predictability. Also, the way the author deals with the cast of characters is kind of nice — the same bunch of people rotate in and out of the stories, and the girls Grace makes friends with in one book are not forgotten in the next. On the other hand, Grace makes most of her new friends by saving the life or reputation or something of a girl who previously hated her. This generally takes from one to two years.

And when I say these girls start out hating her, I’m serious. Eleanor Savelli, who is Grace’s antagonist though most of the third and fourth High School books, tries at one point to run over Grace’s best friend Anne in her car. Grace’s freshman math teacher, Mrs. Leece, tries to get Anne expelled because she — Mrs. Leece, that is — is in cahoots with Grace’s enemy Miriam Nesbit. Kathleen West sends an anonymous letter to a college official trying to get Grace and her friends into trouble, and later promises Grace not to put her name in a newspaper article and does it anyway. And one by one, these girls come to see that Grace is the ideal type of whatever she happens to be at the moment, and they pretty much kneel at her feet and worship her on a regular basis, not only for helping them out of whatever trouble they were in, but for showing them the errors of their ways.

We start with Grace and her two best friends, Jessica Bright (quiet, plays the piano, lives with her widowed father) and Nora O’Malley (Irish, funny, blunt-mannered, likes to sing). In their freshman year of high school they make friends with Anne Pierson (small, poor, smart, great actress). This offends Miriam Nesbit (rich, stuck up, smart, beautiful), who does everything she can to discredit Anne. Miriam is assisted by spiteful math teacher Mrs. Leece and mischievous sophomore Julia Crosby.

We also meet Mrs. Gray, a sweet, wealthy old lady who practically adopts Anne, and four boys, who with Grace and her three friends, make up the Eight Originals (if you couldn’t tell from the book and series titles that Miss Flower lacks imagination when it comes to naming things, you know now). These are: David Nesbit (Miriam’s brother, inventing an aeroplane), Reddy Brooks (red hair, plays football), Hippy Wingate (fat, funny), and Mrs. Gray’s nephew Tom (stalwart, likes forests).

Mrs. Leece gets fired after their freshman year, but Miriam and Julia continue tormenting Grace and her friends through most of the next year. Then Grace and Tom rescue Julia from drowning in a frozen pond, and Grace and Julia swear eternal friendship. Miriam gets rescued from something, too — I forget what — by Grace and Anne, and they become close friends too.

In the next two years, Grace and her friends become a sorority, and are plagued by Eleanor Savelli (self-centered, bored) who turns out to be the daughter of a famous violinist, and who becomes friends with Grace when they recover a large sum of money that was stolen from their class fundraising event. Grace and her friends also aquire a sort of pet named Mabel Allison, who is supposed to be an orphan, but whose mother the girls discover in book four. Oh, and Anne becomes friends with a famous actor named Everett Southard, and spends several weeks in New York playing Rosalind in As You Like It.

After high school, Grace, Anne, and Miriam go off to Overton College, while Nora and Jessica go to some conservatory. The story of Grace’s college years is crazily complicated.

Characters Grace becomes friendly with without having them hate her first:

Mabel Ashe (two years older, very popular)
Emma Dean (nearsighted, forgetful, funny)
Patience Eliot (straightforward, from New England)
Arline Thayer (small, dainty, rich)
Ruth Denton (Arline’s best friend, poor, hard-working)
Gertrude Wells, Elsie Wilton, Elizabeth Wade, Marion Cummings, and the Emerson twins, one of whom is named Sara. The other is either Julia or Sue — the author is clearly no more sure than I am.

Characters who hate Grace before they come to love her:

J. Elfreda Briggs (stout, slangy, nouveau riche), who fancies she’s been slighted somehow, but becomes friends with Grace and her chums after they rescue her from a supposedly haunted house. She’s also Miriam’s roommate.

Mary Hampton and Alberta Wicks (pretty much no character traits) dislike Grace after she rescues Elfreda from them a couple of times. It takes them an unheard of three years to warm up to Grace, but she finally manages to instill in them the Overton spirit right before they graduate.

Laura Atkins, AKA The Anarchist (heavy dark eyebrows, no social skills) tries to steal Grace and Anne’s room before they arrive for their sophomore year. She fails of course, and she’s pretty peeved at them for a while, but eventually Elfreda makes friends with her. Also, her roommate copies Grace’s homework.

Kathleen West (unscrupulous reporter) has taken time off from her newspaper job to go to college, but she doesn’t understand that if she behaves as she does on the job, she’ll have no friends. She makes lots of trouble for Grace and her friends, but eventually reveals a change of heart by winning the college-wide play-writing contest with a thinly veiled allegory about Grace’s college career, which she calls “Loyalheart”.

When Grace graduates, she decides to return to Overton the next year to become the house mother of Harlowe House, a new dorm given to the school by Mrs. Gray in honor of Grace, Miriam, and Anne. It’s meant for girls who are working their way through college, so room and board is free. In each of the two years Grave is in charge of Harlowe House, she has trouble with a girl who doesn’t seem like a real poor girl (Evelyn Ward kind of steals. Jean Brent has run away from home). The second year, she also has a problem with the new Dean, who is determined to get her fired.

Meanwhile, her friends from home are all getting married: Jessica and Reddy, Nora and Hippy, and Anne and David all pair of neatly, leaving Tom for Grace. He keeps asking her to marry him, but she doesn’t realize she’s in love with him for a long while. Finally they get engaged, as do Miriam and Everett Southard, but then Tom has to spend a whole book lost in the woods before he and Grace can finally get married.

A lot of the fun of these books comes from them being part of one coherent story much more than most other series books. There are a few of the Overland Riders books on Project Gutenberg, but because there are only a few, and because there’s a whole series missing in between, I’m going to hold off on reading them.

Links:

High School Girls

College Girls

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6 comments

  1. I am an older man and I started out collecting early and mid 20th century boys books, mostly aviation related. I stumbled across a Motor Girls book, and became hooked on girls literature from the same period, The Campfire Girls and many others, but The Grace Harlowe Series is by far the best.no I have read all of the High School and College series some of the Overland Riders. The stories are not extremely exciting, but they are not boring, but they are enjoyable in an innocent way that is hard to explain in this day and age.


  2. There’s just one thing that has me puzzled — why are Grace and her friends all two years older than they should be? Grace is eighteen already at the beginning of the third book, about her junior year. Was this the norm back in the 1910s?


  3. I’m not sure whether that was normal, but it has always confused me, too. Grace is sixteen as a freshman in high school, and I think that either the school system was set up a little differently — people certainly didn’t think early childhood education was as important as they do today — or things were a little less standardized.


  4. Hello, I’m a part time online bookseller and have stumbled across an edition of the Harlowe series called ‘Grace Harlowe’s Problem’. Not the 1916 version but rather the reprint by Donahue which I think may have been 1931. I have searched online and cannot find this edition nowhere, even the Library of Congress does not have it. If anyone has any info that they could share on the Donahue edition, I’d sure be glad to hear from you and can be reached by email. Thanks for your time. Terry


  5. Do you have any idea what the value of Grace Harlowe’s series may be worth?


    • Don’t know; don’t care. I just like reading it.



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