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Last edited by Sean Furniss
October 21, 2012 | History

Grace Livingston Furniss

15 March 1864 - 20 April 1938

Grace was born on 15 March 1864 at Bayonne, New Jersey, the daughter of William Furniss (1821-1882) and Louise Evelyn Chollet (1837-1904).

By the time she was six years old, her parents had separated. Her father can be found living at his parents home during the 1870 census but Grace, her mother and brother, William Ponsonby Furniss 2nd (1858-1929) [named after his grandfather] could not be located in the records of New York or New Jersey during 1870-1879.

During the 1880 census Grace, her mother and brother re-appear in the records in Bayonne, New Jersey. Grace later lived at several location in New York City: 478 Central Park West (1901-1902), the Hotel Carlton, 203 W. 54th St. (1905-1911) and 611 W. 111th St. (1916). She lived at 64 Orchard Ave., Rye, New York, the last 15 years of her life. She also had a summer home on Nantucket Island.

During the last two years of her life, she suffered from deforming arthritis. She died of rheumatic fever on 20 April 1938 at the Crolley Sanitarium at 682 Forest Ave, Rye, New York, after an illness of seven days. She is buried in the Furniss family plot in the Kensisco Cemetery, Westchester County, New York, with her mother and brother. She never married.

While there are numerous articles related to interviews and productions of her plays, Grace's first appearance in the newspapers had nothing to do with her future life as a writer and playwright. Her September 1884 encounter with a burglar and being shot in the arm while in her New Jersey home made for widespread news. (Miss Furniss and the Burglar,” New York Times, 9 September 1884, p. 8, col. 2; The Piqua Daily Call (Piqua, Ohio), 11 September 1884, p. 1, col. 5; and Freeborn County Standard (Albert Lea, Minnesota), 17 September 1884, p. 11, col. 3.)

She enjoyed the theater and began writing at an early age. She wrote over fifty stories and plays during her life. The majority of her works were written between 1888 and 1916. Many of her plays and articles were published in Harper's Bazar, others exist only as typesripts. The script for the movie version of The Man on the Case is at the Margaret Herrick Library (http://collections.oscars.org).

The first known presentation of one of her works took place on 3 May 1891 with the presentation of her farce The Corner Lot Chorus at the Twelfth Night Club. Her first opening on Broadway took place on 31 October 1898 with the production of A Colonial Girl at the Lyceum Theatre, the play was written in collaboration with Abby Sage Richardson.

Between 1898 and 1907, seven of her works (A Colonial Girl, Americans at Home, The Pride of Jennico, Mrs. Jack, Gretna Green, The Man on the Box and The Man on the Case) had opening nights on Broadway. Four of her plays, The Pride of Jennico, Gretna Green, The Man on the Case and On with the Dance were made into silent films.

During a 1902 interview Grace Livingston Furniss related how she got started. “We were living out at Bergen Point, N. J. ... We were quite a dramatic colony. There was a lot of us who pursued amateur theatricals eagerly. I wanted a certain kind of play to play in myself, which I couldn’t find anywhere. I wanted certain larky business in it – a pillow fight on the stage and a burlesque melodrama. I wrote the ‘Box on Monkeys,’ which we produced with great eclat for the benefit of our admiring friends and relatives. Then I sold it to a New York publication for a story. I had no idea what was in it, but the entire edition sold out on the strength of it, and then it was snapped up and put on the stage, and has been played ever since, and that was seven years ago. Of course, I never got a cent out it as a play; but just then I joined the Twelfth Night Club, and met Martha Morton, who was the first of our American women playwrights, I think. She said to me, ‘Why don’t you write for the real stage?’ I replied that I didn’t know enough. She encouraged me, and that, together with the success of the ‘Box of Monkeys,’ was what made me think seriously of writing for the stage.” As the interview continued she addressed the issue of the advantage of men over women in writing plays and chastised men for their attitudes toward women playwrights. (“Women and the Theatre. Miss Furniss Talks on Their Success as Playwrights and Managers,” New York Daily Tribune, 27 September 1902, in Grace Livingston Furniss’ scrapbook, ca 1900–1903; Billy Rose Theatre Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, New York.)

In a 1907 interview with Ada Peterson, Grace Furniss said that her mother had encouraged her to write and then submit her work for publication. She received $45 for her first two act play, A Box of Monkeys, which was sent to Harper’s. Her playlet The Angel was written for a Chicago competition and almost won her the prize. She felt that her early attempts at writing were not successful because of her inexperience, ignorance of technique and her lack of knowledge of the practical side of the stage. Abby Sage Richardson aided her in developing her skill in writing plays for production. She felt her success was due to learning about what went on behind the scenes. She climbed the gridiron to see what went on below and watched plays from the wings and front to she why they were a success or failure. (Ada Patterson, “The Story of a Successful Woman Playwright,” The Theatre Magazine, New York (Nov. 1907), pp. 301-304)

Grace Livingston Furniss was an early believer in women’s rights. She felt that “There is no reason why women should not be as successful in writing plays as men are ... but they lack what men have had, opportunity. ...We have all heard the argument that women are incapable of writing a big play. ... I do not believe this. ... Playwriting is not evidence of genius. It is a knack, a gift. Persons, men and women alike, are born with it. ... There is only one reason, in our time when women are able to make homes for themselves, why a woman should marry, that is love. ... The secret of success in playwriting is the secret of success in anything: concentration. I learned to lay aside sex in my transactions with managers. I expected no concession from them because I was a woman. ... I don’t think there is any objection to women as playwrights. the objection is to incompetent playwrights of either sex. ... Men and women are growing more and more alike, even in playwriting.” (Ada Patterson, “The Story of a Successful Woman Playwright,” The Theatre Magazine, New York (Nov. 1907), pp. 301-304).

She felt strongly about the roles that women played in marriage. After Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, the president's wife, wrote an article about American wives, Grace prepared a response in her article "Marriage is What a Man Makes It" (The Washington Post, 21 July 1912, p. 4).

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History Created April 1, 2008 · 15 revisions Download catalog record: RDF / JSON

October 21, 2012 Edited by Sean Furniss Edited without comment.
October 21, 2012 Edited by Sean Furniss Edited without comment.
October 21, 2012 Edited by Sean Furniss Edited without comment.
October 21, 2012 Edited by Sean Furniss Edited without comment.
April 1, 2008 Created by an anonymous user initial import