For decades American newspapers routinely published fiction -- not fact embellished with untruth -- but serialized novels of adventure and romance. For example, such famous early 20th Century novels as Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “Tarzan of the Apes” and “Riders of the Purple Sage” by Zane Grey appeared in newspapers across the country.
Less famous but equally entertaining, fiction writers were also published during the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. One of these authors was a
Born in Friars Point, Miss., Mary Raymond attended Miss Higbee’s School in Memphis and Mississippi Synodical College before working for the War Department during the First World War.
After government service, Raymond began her writing career by completing a fiction-writing course at Columbia University.
Returning to Memphis in 1920, she submitted a Christmas story entitled “Dreams do Come True” to the News-Scimitar newspaper that offered her a job along with her first publication.
A few months later, she was hired as a reporter for a Tampa, Fla., newspaper where she wrote news and feature stories along with the occasional piece of fiction. While in Tampa, she was assigned to interview the fiancé of President Calvin Coolidge’s son.
When the young woman refused to talk, Raymond filed a story which began, “The policies of Calvin Coolidge are safe in the hands of his future daughter-in-law. She has nothing to say.”
In 1932, Raymond returned to Memphis to become society editor of the Press-Scimitar.
Despite her success as a reporter, fiction was Mary Raymond’s first love and in her spare time, she began writing a novel. Completed in 1933, “Forgotten Sweetheart” was the story of Joan Waring who returns to Memphis from college to help her financially destitute family and while on a southbound train meets the son of a millionaire who is scouting locations for a cotton mill.
It did not take long for the two young people to fall in love, but first they had to overcome Waring’s dark past.
“Joan could scarcely remember the time when they had not lived in the old house. And she had only a dim recollection of the tragic, terrible time when father was brought home to them dead. He had shot himself, but it was not until later that mother had learned about the money he had taken and the other woman.”
The novel was not only serialized in the Press-Scimitar, it also appeared nationwide in over 600 newspapers through the NEA features syndicate. The book proved so popular the New York-based company A. L. Burt published it in 1934.
Between 1935 and 1942, Raymond published “Rich and Reckless,” “Jill,” and “Banners Flying,” which were serialized in hundreds of newspapers. In addition, her longer serialized novels, “Lovable” and “With All My Love” were published in book form. In 1937, she was the guest of honor at the Tennessee Woman’s Press and Authors Association annual conference in Chattanooga and spoke over WMPS radio about her literary work.
Soon after the end of the Second World War, American Newspapers ceased publishing fiction, leaving Raymond without an outlet for her romances.
She remained society editor of the Press-Scimitar until her retirement in 1970 and then wrote a weekly column for the newspaper until it ceased publication in 1983.
Mary Yerger Raymond died the following year at the age of 93. At the time of her death, she was believed to have been the oldest newspaper columnist in the United States.
G. Wayne Dowdy is senior manager of the History Department, Memphis and Shelby County Room, Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library