Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Edith Hurley (1903-1997)

Poet, Playwright, and Scholar
Born December 23, 1903, Roanoke, Virginia
Died April 16, 1997, Welch, West Virginia

Edith Hurley's life encompassed almost the entire twentieth century and in that time she accomplished more than most. Despite her talents, she was content to remain in her own community, caring for her cats, feeding wild birds, writing poetry and plays, and adhering to her strong Christian faith. She was the kind of figure that is becoming increasingly rare in our own century, for Edith Hurley was a pillar of her community and active in every aspect, in business, her church, the arts, and society.

Edith Elizabeth Selwyn Hurley was born on December 23, 1903, in Roanoke, Virginia, but she spent most of her life in West Virginia. She graduated from Bramwell High School in Bramwell, West Virginia, and picked up her business training at the Nashville Business College in Nashville, Tennessee. She graduated in 1921 and worked for a number of law firms in Welch, West Virginia, finally to retire in 1981.

According to Margaret Stacks, Edith's writing career flourished during the 1930s and '40s. She was among six West Virginians included in the collection American Women Poets of 1937. Her verse was published in newspapers in Welch, Bluefield, Huntington, Charleston, and Wheeling, all in her home state of West Virginia. About thirty of her poems saw print in the West Virginia Review. Others were published in small poetry magazines. More prominently, Edith's verse appeared in Contemporary American Women Poets, The Rotarian, and the New York Times. She continued writing poetry even in the nursing home.

Edith Hurley wrote five poems for Weird Tales, all published between 1929 and 1940, placing her in the top tiers of poets in terms of number of contributions. Despite her standing in her community and her strong religious faith (and despite the morbid titles of her poems), she was unashamed of her work for Weird Tales. The forward of her collection of poems, Faint Echo, published in 1977, lists a number of publications that printed her poetry. Weird Tales was one of them. I take that as evidence of the literary and cultural standing of Weird Tales among writers who might not otherwise have contributed to a magazine of fantasy.

Edith Hurley's plays, "A More Perfect Union" (1964) and "We the People" (1965), won her awards from the Freedoms Foundation of Valley Forge. She also won the West Virginia D.A.R. Society Certificate of Award in 1964 for "A More Perfect Union." Her play, "The Sequel on Ratification," won her first place in the Fine Arts Department of the West Virginia Federation of Women's Clubs. She also wrote a play entitled "Liberty and Justice for All."

In her forward to Edith's 1977 collection of poems, Faint Echo, Margaret Stacks wrote:
A candid, courageous woman with an independence of spirit and a keen intellect, she set her own pattern of life, shaped her principles, and became an articulate champion of the eternal verities she honored and the causes she espoused.
A largely self-taught scholar, Edith was knowledgeable in art, music (especially opera), history, language, literature, and nature. She was very active in her church, serving as secretary, historian, and Bible moderator. She was also active in clubs and other social and civic groups. She was named Welch Chamber of Commerce Woman of the Year in 1966 and was an honorary member of Phi Chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma Society International for women educators. Everyone who knew her remarks upon her love of cats, birds, and other of God's creatures.

After a very long, active, and remarkable life, Edith S. Hurley died on April 16, 1997, in Welch, West Virginia. She was 93 years old.

Edith Hurley's Poems  and Letter in Weird Tales
"The Haunted Forest" (July 1929)
"Sonnet of Death" (June 1930)
Letter to "The Eyrie" (Oct. 1934)
"The City of Death" (Feb. 1939)
"The Dream" (Oct. 1939)
"The Great God Death" (Nov. 1940)

Further Reading
The best chance anyone has of reading about Edith Hurley or reading her works is probably to find a copy of her book, Faint Echo (1977).

Edith Elizabeth Selwyn Hurley in a snapshot from the 1940s, from the collection of Randal Everts.
Poet and playwright Edith S. Hurley (1903-1997).
Thanks to Eleanor Beckner at the McDowell Public Library in Welch, West Virginia, for her invaluable information on Edith Hurley.

Thanks to Randal Everts for providing Edith's middle name and a snapshot photo.
Text and captions copyright 2011 Terence E. Hanley

No comments:

Post a Comment