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Grace Livingston Hill (1865–1947) was the foremost trailblazer of Christian Romance novels. She almost single-handedly built the platform for today’s Christian Romance genre almost 130 years ago. Despite the passage of time and all of the changes that come with it, her novels endure and are read and loved by women everywhere. Her stories were filled with tales of good vs. evil and Christian redemption and almost always worked in a classic romantic relationship. Not only was she an influential Christian author, though, she was a person of great integrity, kindness and charity. She spent her life trying to help others both through her work as a writer and through her work with the Presbyterian Church. Until the day she died, she never stopped caring for people, always putting others ahead of herself.
On April 16, 1865, the second Livingston baby was almost lost at birth in Wellsville, New York, but after hours of hard work on the part of the doctors and hard prayer on the part of the family, she survived against all odds. Several years before, the Livingstons’ first child, Percy, had died in infancy only one day after his birth and the family was grateful not to have to endure the sorrow of another death. They named their second child Grace as a constant reminder of what the Lord had done for them in sparing her life. Born to Presbyterian minister Charles Montgomery Livingston and his wife, Marcia Macdonald Livingston, both of whom were writers, Grace was destined to become a writer herself. It was in her blood. Grace was always bright and eager to learn. She was homeschooled before attending public school and always learned very quickly, earning high marks in class. While she wasn’t in school, she would entertain herself at home for hours with nothing but pencil, paper and crayons. Grace soon developed a talent for painting, which was one of her favorite hobbies as a young girl and she sometimes sold her works of art to people in the church and in the community.
Grace began writing short stories at a very young age. She loved spending time with her aunt, watching her type out her stories on the typewriter and reading them fresh from the print. Having such a talented and intelligent role model in her life inspired Grace to start writing for herself. The Livingston family was delighted to see that she had inherited their love of the written word and would spend their evenings, after an hour of worship, listening to Grace read her stories aloud, along with other classic stories from Dickens, Bronte and other well-known writers. On her twelfth birthday her Aunt Isabella, the author, gave her a bound and illustrated copy of a story that Grace had written, The Esselstynes. As a favor to her “Auntie Bell”, D. Lothrop Company, the same company which went on to formally publish many of Grace’s novels, informally published the book as a gift. Grace was so enthused at seeing her work in such a professional presentation, it set off her determination to begin the journey as a published author.
As Grace’s father grew older and suffered from vision problems, Grace began reading to him as well as helping him with Pastoral duties, playing the organ on Sunday mornings, helping with Sunday school and singing during the services in all of the nine parsonages that the family lived in between 1867 and 1892. Each of the places that Grace lived with her parents was small and cramped, even for the small family. After graduating high school, she managed to get out for awhile, attending Elmira College for one semester, but by Christmas break she was homesick. She determined that she missed her parents too much to continue and she moved back home to live with them. Grace later found herself enrolling in college again, at Cincinnati Art School. As before, it only took two terms for her to realize that she did not want to be away from her family for such a length of time and she returned home.
In November of 1886, while living with her parents in Winter Park, Florida and volunteering as a secretary at her father’s church, Grace began working on her first full length novel, A Chautauqua Idyl. Her family was not able to afford a real summer vacation away from home as they always had in the past and her intention was to use the money from sales to fund the vacation to Chautauqua, New York. She finished the book in December and sent it to D. Lothrop Company to be published. It was welcomed by the publisher and received excellent reviews, followed by surprisingly high sales figures for a first novel. Grace was delighted at having succeeded in raising enough money to take the family to New York.
After her beloved Aunt Isabella past away in 1888, Grace compiled quotes and passages from many of her aunt’s books and paired them with scriptures. Unlike many of the fiction novels Grace wrote in her lifetime, this was a daily devotional book dedicated to “Auntie Bell”, called Pansies for Thoughts. Grace later claimed that even after her monumental career in Christian Romantic Fiction, Pansies for Thoughts was the one accomplishment in writing that was dearest to her heart. She realized that she did not just want to write, she wanted to spread the Word of God to her readers. Soon after publishing the devotional book and her stories began gaining popularity, she started including the message of salvation through Jesus Christ in the plot lines. Her tales became focused on the struggles of a Christian heroine, or in some cases a character who becomes a Christian during a crisis moment in the novel. Though her publishers removed much of the religious content in her earlier novels, they allowed it to pass in later works once they realized the level of popularity that her books were gaining. Grace knew that she had been blessed with the talent for writing and she was determined to make her faith the biggest influence on her work.
Grace Livingston married Frank Hill in 1892. Like her father, Frank was a God-fearing Presbyterian minister and helped to carry on the tradition of church in Grace’s life. She had met Frank in Chautauqua, though he was a minister at a church near Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. She wrote to him from Chautauqua for nearly a year before seeing him again. Grace moved to Hyattsville, Maryland with her family for almost a year and finished a novel called The Parkerstown Delegate: A Christian Endeavor Story. All the while, Frank and Grace exchanged letters and two weeks after The Parkerstown Delegates was published, Frank proposed. They announced their formal engagement at Chautauqua where he presented Grace with an engagement ring. Grace Livingston became Grace Livingston Hill at Hyattsville Presbyterian Church on December 2, 1892, where her father served as the pastor.
Only a few days after her wedding to Frank, Grace became concerned about her husband’s erratic behavior and mood swings. He confessed to her that when he was in Scotland, attending University, that he was diagnosed with severe headaches. The doctors had given him a prescription to manage the pain and side effects, but he had become addicted to the medication. As Grace tried to help Frank manage his addiction, they prayed about it together but kept the problem discreet. Aside from Frank and Grace, Frank’s parents were the only ones who ever knew he had a problem with addiction until almost twenty-five years after his death.
Within the first year of marriage, Grace had given birth to their first daughter, Margaret Livingston Hill. Margaret was cherished and adored by both of her parents and the Hills were blessed with a second daughter in 1898. They named the baby Ruth Glover Hill (also known as Ruth Livingston Hill). Shortly after the birth of Ruth, Frank fell ill with appendicitis. There were serious risks involved in performing surgery so the doctors tried in other ways to restore his health but were unsuccessful. When his condition worsened rather than improving, his doctor advised emergency surgery but the decision was made too late and Frank died of appendicitis on November 22, 1899.
The loss was extremely difficult on Grace who not only had to raise two daughters by herself, but also had to find a place for them to live since she was residing in the parsonage of the church where Frank had been the pastor. Her mother, Marcia, came to stay with her through Frank’s death and until she found a permanent place to live in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. Despite her personal tragedy, Grace continued to write. She knew she had to write, had to make money, in order to keep food on the table for her children and a roof over their heads. Although she had made a decent amount of money on the novels she published in the first six years of her marriage, she knew she would need an ongoing source of income and in February of 1900, she published A Daily Rate. The novel earned her barely enough money to get by until she could pick up jobs writing articles for local magazines and newspapers, but she muddled through and went without food when she had to in order to give her children what they needed.
On July 6, 1900, tragedy struck again for Grace when her beloved father passed away due to old age and failing health. Grace’s mother, Marcia, moved to Swarthmore to live with Grace and help in raising the girls. Marcia helped to educate Ruth and Margaret in their home while Grace wrote short stories for Christian publications such as “Christian Endeavor World”, “The Golden Rule Press”, “The American Sunday School Union” and “The Washington Star”. Grace volunteered much of her free time to the women’s groups at Swarthmore Presbyterian Church but was involved in four different churches, in various cities, while she lived in Swarthmore. Grace taught Sunday school to elementary aged children and help to direct church organizations. As a result of her devotion to the church, Ruth and Margaret became extremely involved in church activities as well and helped their mother with Sunday school when they could.
Between 1901 and 1904, Grace published six new novels. With the money she had earned, she built a house on a large lot she had purchased in Swarthmore. It started as a small, stone house, but over time, as Grace brought in more and more money with her novels, the house grew to the fourteen room dream-house that Grace had always pictured for herself and her family. She included a private study room where she could work on her novels, though she typically kept the doors open in a silent invitation to her family to enter without the fear of disturbing her
In 1904, Flavius Josephus Lutz began showing a romantic interest in Grace. She had developed a friendship with him a year earlier when he became the music minister of music at Swarthmore Presbyterian Church. Margaret and Ruth had both been introduced to the piano at the age of five and as they practiced and studied at the church, Lutz frequently gave them advice and pointers about their musical abilities and complimented them on their talents. One day, after sharing a meal in the evening after church, Lutz asked Grace to marry him. She was hesitant to agree after friends and family advised against the union, but after giving it some thought she decided that it would be good for her daughters to have a father figure as well as a live-in music teacher. After a few weeks of deliberation, she accepted his proposal and they were married on October 31, 1904.
It was not long after the two were married that a tension developed between Grace and Flavius Lutz. According to Grace, Flavius refused to take a leadership role within the home and did nothing to help with raising the girls or doing work around the house. Whenever Grace would ask something of him he would either ignore the request or become belligerent. Even after Grace set up and in-house music school for him to teach music to children and spread the word that he was giving lessons, he never contributed his earnings to the family or household expenses and left everything up to Grace and her mother. He became unpleasant to be around and was argumentative and harsh with every other member of the family as well as some of his music students.
Grace continued writing and published another ten novels between 1906 and 1914. In May of 1914, Flavius Josephus Lutz left the family. After years of enduring his abrasive moods, constant criticism and refusal to work, he had begun disappearing from the house to be gone for a night or two before Grace would finally locate him at his parents’ home or sometimes in the church. He would always return when she came for him, but eventually, he began missing Sunday Morning services in which he was supposed to play the Organ, forcing Margaret to take his place as an impromptu organist. Grace knew that she had made a mistake in marrying Lutz but divorce was never something she believed in or accepted as a possibility. She had made a commitment to a man before God and would hold fast to her beliefs, even if his behavior was hurtful and the relationship was complicated. Eventually, however, Grace determined, after much thought and prayer, that she could no longer live with him. He left again for several days and Grace asked him not to come back, thinking that he would apologize or promise to change but he was apathetic about her request and agreed to move back in with his parents. After several years, the marriage was annulled.
Grace published another four books between 1914 and 1917 under Lippincott Publishing Company. Though she was never unhappy with the services of D. Lothrop Company, Lippincott was nearer to her home in Pennsylvania and more easily accessible. However, The Witness was published in 1917 by yet another publishing company, Harper and Brothers. Grace decided to take her business to the new publisher because Lippincott was not receptive to the overt religious tones in her work and frequently made suggestions for alterations in her story lines. The Witness became her most popular and widely read novel causing Lippincott to see the error of their ways and eventually the company agreed to give Grace complete editorial power and publish whatever she wrote, regardless of content, without making suggestions for changes.
By the 1920’s, Grace had written four more books (3 novels and one nonfiction book co-authored by Evangeline Booth). Two of her novels were made into films, sending her fame as a novelist skyrocketing. She decided to make some renovations on her home and build on some additions that she had been wanting for years, since she had the extra money. While her house was being worked on one of the men in the work crew, an Italian stonemason asked Grace if her family would come and play some music for the Italian community that he was from in Avondale. Her daughters had taken over the music school that Grace started for Flavius and had been so successful that they were able to move the business out of their home and into a studio making them a well-known entity in the community and the surrounding areas. Grace, Ruth and Margaret accepted gladly and after the concert, Grace asked some of the people of Avondale if she could come and teach a Sunday school class for children each week. She began holding weekly classes on the second floor of a vacant shop in Avondale but there were so many people attending her lessons that she was asked to start having the classes in an old Presbyterian church in Leiperville that had closed down many years before. For over twenty-five years, until her death, Grace ministered to the Italian community. She continued her Sunday school classes and Bible studies and even started English classes for the Italian immigrants who were having difficulty assimilating. Whenever the church had difficulty meeting monthly bills, Grace was always there to lend financial support.
Between 1920 and 1940, Grace wrote fifty-one novels. Many of her short stories were published by Lippincott in book format and were later compiled into collections and published again. Grace was diagnosed with cancer in the early 1940’s, but continued to write, though her strength was waning. She sometimes had to have someone type for her as she dictated her novels. Still, she managed to have eighteen more novels written and published by 1947. On February 23, 1947, the incredible writing career of Grace Livingston Hill ended when she passed away at the age of eighty-two. Her last novel, Mary Arden was finished by her daughter, Ruth and published in 1948.
In a testament to how much Grace Livingston Hill was admired and loved, not only for her writing but her gracious spirit and generosity, there have been three full-length biographies written about her life and work. Writing simply to entertain readers was never enough for Grace. Being raised in a Christian home, surrounded by ministers and brought up with the convictions of Biblical teachings, she always wanted to reach out to people on a spiritual level. She managed to do just that through her books, but also through the way she lived her life. By all accounts, Hill was a kind, generous woman who worked her entire life to help others. She taught the gospel of Jesus Christ, she taught English to Italian immigrants, she taught music; she donated much of her earnings as a novelist to various churches and charitable organizations and never accepted money from the congregations she was invited to as a guest speaker. Hill wrote over a hundred books in all, many of which are still in print today and have sold thousands of copies and changed the lives of readers everywhere. They taught that love and forgiveness, along with a relationship with God, was the way to a fulfilling life and lasting happiness. Even on her deathbed, Grace would not take credit for her own writings, claiming that whatever she had accomplished during her life was merely the Lord’s work done through her.