Restless : The DAR

Although her focus during the 1930s was often directed abroad, Frances Parkinson Keyes was continuously engaged with groups and social circles closer to her home in Alexandria, Virginia. Among them, the Women’s National Press Club emerges as an organization in which Keyes remained not only an active but also a “most distinguished” member. Through annual “stunt parties,” in which the group pilloried political life in Washington, Keyes and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt came into frequent contact. Keyes and Roosevelt, who had been acquainted since the late 1920s, developed a friendship during FDR’s presidency. While Roosevelt became a fixture at events held by the Women’s National Press Club, Keyes was invited to social gatherings hosted by Roosevelt at the White House. Occasionally, the women met in more intimate settings over tea. When Roosevelt visited Keyes’s home in 1934, she took note of the ways in which the author made the most of her foreign travels. Writing to Lorena Hickock, Roosevelt remarked, “Mrs. K. has some nice collections of maps, crucifixes, fans, & dolls in foreign costume & for her lecture she has the real costumes displayed on mannikens [sic], rather clever, it makes your trips pay. We must use our brains to do what we want & make it pay for itself!”[1]

One of the ways in which Keyes and Roosevelt pursued their personal ambitions, and made such work profitable, was publishing. While Keyes moved away from journalistic endeavors with the publishing of her novels, Roosevelt expanded upon her own career in the press with “My Day,” a syndicated column introduced in 1936. The column, touted as Roosevelt’s “diary,” contains several references to Keyes, including a positive review of her book, Honor Bright. [2] It comes as little surprise that during Roosevelt’s contested bid for admittance to the Women’s National Press Club in 1938, Keyes was one of her vocal advocates.

In 1937, Keyes accepted a position as editor for the Daughters of the American Revolution’s National Historical Magazine. Although she had been a DAR member for many years and was familiar with the organization, Keyes sought to advance a new editorial approach to broaden the publication’s appeal. “The time has passed when people can be asked to subscribe to a magazine from a sense of duty,” Keyes stated. She wanted it to be important “from the standpoint of history as the National Geographic is from that of geography.” [3] By including articles from prominent writers and “authentic” works of historical fiction, Keyes aimed to promote work that was “less stiff and less glazed.” [4]

Keyes’s willingness to engage with material and individuals perceived as outside the DAR’s purview drew intense criticism from some of the organization’s members. Following the publication of the March 1938 issue, which contained articles authored by Eleanor Roosevelt, the DAR leadership admonished Keyes for her deference to a woman “who with her husband is doing her best to ruin and destroy our country and who are enemies of all the D.A.R. hold sacred.”

Keyes endured these early criticisms but by December 1939 she could no longer effectively navigate around “certain obstacles and restrictions” that inhibited her work and she elected to give up both her position as editor, as well as her DAR membership. [5] Subsequent reports suggested that Keyes was unhappy with the budget allotted to her for the magazine. Concerns over the pay of her staff were also cited as deciding factors, with Keyes alleged to have “tried time and time again to get more money for the girls who worked in [her] office.” [6] Support for women with whom she worked, and advocacy of their fair compensation, would have been a characteristic response by Keyes, who had long promoted the work of women colleagues.

However, Keyes would also allude to other grounds for severing her association with the DAR. In her December 1939 resignation letter, Keyes wrote, “I would not be sincere as an individual if I did not admit that I am not in accord with certain policies and actions which seem to be in variance with activities and aims for which I long had so much respect.” [7] Furthermore, Keyes wrote that she had first wanted to step-down in April, but remained out of loyalty to those who had treated her fairly. The timing of this consideration coincided with Marian Anderson’s performance at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, 1939. Anderson, a black woman and acclaimed American contralto singer, had been denied permission to perform at the DAR’s Constitution Hall in February. This decision prompted Eleanor Roosevelt to renounce her affiliation with the group. In her “My Day” column, Roosevelt stated that the “question is, if you belong to an organization and disapprove of an action that is typical of a policy, should you resign or is it better to work for a changed point of view from within the organization?” Ultimately, Roosevelt concluded that “to remain a member implies approval of that action, and therefore I am resigning.” [8]

Whether Keyes was similarly inspired in her decision to leave the organization remains unclear. However, an article published on December 23, 1939, in the Afro American, reveals that there were some who linked Keyes’s resignation to the unjust treatment of Marian Anderson. Under the heading, “Another Good Woman Leaves the D.A.R.,” the author suggests that Keyes was among those “democratic and liberal-minded women who find the D.A.R. atmosphere objectionable.” [9]

In 1941, Keyes published her eleventh novel, All That Glitters, which one newspaper called “almost a kind of Baedeker” for new arrivals in Washington, D.C. [10] Amidst the novels many characters are women that some readers may have recognized as being based on DAR members.


1) Eleanor Roosevelt, Empty Without You: The Intimate Letters of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickock, ed., Rodger Streitmatter (Boston: De Capo Press, 2000), 77, 101.
2) Eleanor Roosevelt, My Day, November 27, 1936, available online at the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project.
3)  Jessie Ash Arndt, “Mrs. Reyes [sic] Tells D.A.R. Paper Plans,” Washington Post, October 13, 1937.
4) Christine Sadler, “Mrs. Keyes Takes Post on Magazine,” Washington Post, September 15, 1937.
5) “Mrs. Keyes Resigns as Editor of the D.A.R.,” New York Times, December 7, 1939.
6)“Mrs. Keyes Left D.A.R. Over Funds, Writers,” Washington Post, December 8, 1939.
7) “Mrs. Keyes Resigns as Editor of the D.A.R.,” New York Times, December 7, 1939.
8) Eleanor Roosevelt, My Day, February 27, 1939, available online at the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project.
9) “Another Good Woman Leaves the D.A.R.,” The Afro American, December 23, 1939.
10),Walter G. Bara, “Washington Twilight,” Washington Post, January 18, 1942.,

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