Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Reina Melcher Marquis

Reina Melcher (b. Lousville, Kentucky, 12 August 1881; d. New York, 2 December 1923)

Reina Melcher Marquis and Don Marquis, 1912
According to a brief account in the October 1907 issue of The Writer, Reina Melcher was an only child who lived much of her early life in the extreme south, traveling extensively with her parents. Thus her education was irregular and "carried forward largely under private tutors."

Her first marriage, in Louisville on 20 September 1902, was to Shirley M. Crawford. It was brief, and by 1904 she was living in Atlanta.  Her first story was published in the July 1907 issue of Uncle Remus's Magazine, then edited by Don Marquis (1878-1937). She contributed two further stories to the magazine in the same year, and a poem to Appleton's Magazine. Marquis asked her out for an ice cream soda, and a romance developed.  They were married in Atlanta on 8 June 1909. By the end of 1909 they had moved to New York, where Don Marquis slowly became famous as a writer and newspaper humor columnist. His creations of archy the cockroach and mehitabel the cat, as well as the bibulous "Old Soak" became household names in the 1920s and 1930s.

As Reina Melcher Marquis (the surname is pronounced  Mark' wis), she contributed to Woman's Home Companion and published her first and only book, the novel The Torch Bearer, which came out from D. Appleton and Company in June 1914. (Appleton became her husband's publisher, too, for several years beginning in 1916.)  The novel explores the question of how a woman can be a wife and mother and at the same time be true to her art. The Bookman found it "a welcome variant on the recently much overworked theme of the modern woman" (September 1914), while the New York Times wondered "Can a woman serve two masters, one being her husband and the other her pen? Mrs. Marquis has written a pretty, appealing story about it, but, although her solution of the question is far-visioned and exalting, her treatment fails to carry conviction" (5 July 1914).

The Marquis family suffered tragically in their personal lives. Their son, born in 1915, died at the age of five. Reina died suddenly of heart failure in December 1923. Don Marquis believed that her heart had been weakened by the birth of their only other child, daughter Barbara, who in turn died young in 1931. Don Marquis married a second time, but he had the first of a series of heart attacks in 1929. His second wife died in 1936, followed by Marquis himself in 1937.

An obituary for Reina Melcher Marquis notes that she was well-known in the literary world, and "a contributor to many magazines." After a simple service of the Christian Science Church, her remains were cremated. 

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