Helen Hooven Santmyer

Helen Hooven Santmyer (Photo courtesy of Goodreads)

Helen Hooven Santmyer

(November 25, 1895 – February 21, 1986)

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Santmyer’s father moved the family to Xenia to start work at the R.A. Kelly Company, which manufactured rope. Inspired by her favorite childhood author Louisa May Alcott, Santmyer began to write and start a diary by age 10. She was greatly influenced by her relatives’ roles in the Civil War, and she often recorded their stories and exploits. As a child, she contracted undulant fever, which left her health permanently weakened. She struggled to write and work a job at the same time due to fevers, muscle weakness, body aches, and a host of other issues. From 1914 to 1917, Santmyer attended Wellesley College, where she was active in the women’s rights movement and began publishing her poetry. She was also published in The Wellesley College Magazine.

Following college graduation, she worked as an editorial secretary for Scribner’s in New York, but moved back to Xenia to teach; she also taught classes at Wellesley College. At this time, Santmyer wrote her first novel, Herbs and Apples, which she based on her life. She attended Oxford University in England from 1924-1927. There she met and befriended fellow Xenia resident Ridgely Torrence.

After graduating from Oxford, she returned to Xenia and composed her second book, The Fierce Dispute, which was published in 1929. At this time, Santmyer also met librarian Mildred Sandoe, the woman who would be her life partner for the next 50 years. In the summer of 1930, she became a MacDowell colonist; there, she befriended fellow writers and wrote a third novel, Farwell, Summer, which did not publish until after her death.  During the years of the Depression, the Santmyer family moved to the West Coast for employment. Whilst living out West, she began work on two future novels – Ohio Town and “…And Ladies of the Club.”  

Santmyer and her family returned to Xenia following her father’s retirement, and in 1935, she accepted a position as Dean of Women and Head of English Department at Cedarville College. She resigned from Cedarville in 1953. Sandoe was able to procure a position as a research librarian for her at Dayton Metro Library. After retiring from the library, she wrote and published Ohio Town, a history of Xenia, Ohio in 1962. Her novel "Ladies" was published in 1982, with few copies sold outside of Ohio libraries. Nearly blind and suffering from a multitude of issues, she was placed in a nursing home in 1983.  The following year saw Santmyer becoming a bestselling author when Ladies became a hit in Hollywood. The book was republished by Putnam and became a popular pick for book clubs across America.  

Santmyer passed away on February 21, 1986 at the age of 90. She is buried in Woodland Cemetery, Xenia, Ohio at Section G, Lot 34, Grave 12. She has an Ohio Historical Marker for her contribution to literature located outside the Hooven Family Home, West 2nd Street, Xenia.  Helen Hooven Santmyer


  • Herbs and Apples (1925)
  • The Fierce Dispute (1929)
  • Ohio Town (1962)
  • "...And Ladies of the Club" (1982)
  • Farewell, Summer (1988)

Posthumously Published Work

  • The Life and Works of Clara Reeve (1927 thesis)
  • The Hall with Eight Doors 

For More Information




Source URL: https://wrightlibrary.org/daytonliterarytrail/writers/santmyer