Writer Ben Ames Williams (1889-1953) was born in Mississippi. His family moved to Ohio when he was a few months old. His father owned and edited a newspaper, served in the Ohio state senate. At age 15, the family move to Massachusetts and then, in 1905, to Cardiff, Wales where his father was appointed U S Consul. In 1906, Williams entered Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. After graduation, he became a reporter for the Boston American. Eventually mastering the formulas for writing popular fiction, Williams sold his first story in 1915 to Smith’s Magazine and then began to publish regularly in popular journals.
Williams left his newspaper job in 1916 to write fiction full time. The Saturday Evening Post serialized “The making of Susie Oakes” in 1917. By 1919 he was one of the most prolific and successful short story writers in the country. Many of his stories were set in rural Maine, where he and his family spent summers at their farm in Searsmont, a place tied to William’s writing. His Maine stories feature Chet McAusland, a character based on William’s Maine friend, Bert McCorrison. When McCorrison died in 1931, he bequeathed his Searsmont farm, Hardscrabble, to Williams, who came to use it as a retreat.
Splendor, published in 1929, was the first of Williams’ many historical novels. By the 1940s, he had moved away from short stories to longer pieces of fiction. House Divided (1947), set in the Civil War, was among the best received of his historical novels. Leave Her to Heaven (1944) is considered his most popular novel. Williams died in Brookline, Massachusetts in 1953 while competing in a curling tournament and he is buried in Maine.
A biographical sketch of Ben Ames Williams, written by his wife Florence Tapley Williams, is included in the September 1963 issue of the Colby Library Quarterly.
BEN AMES WILLIAMS AS DONOR
Williams received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Colby in 1942. His close association with the Saturday Evening Post, edited by George Horace Lorimer, was another tie with the college. Lorimer was the benefactor of Colby’s Lorimer Chapel on Mayflower Hill, completed in the early 1940s. Williams’ long time personal and professional friendship with Kenneth Roberts, honorary degree recipient in 1935, is also relevant. Roberts donated to the Treasure Room his editions of Williams’ novels, inscribed to Roberts and his wife.
In 1943, Curator Weber exhibited first editions of William’s books along with a manuscript of his novel, Time of Peace, that was given by the author. After Williams’ death, his wife Florence began sizable donations to Special Collections that continued through the 1960s.
Our extensive Ben Ames Williams collection contains letters, manuscripts and galley proofs, notebook, scrapbooks, and photographs. Published materials include clippings, first appearances and the contents of Williams’ personal reference library.
Additional works consulted:
“Ben Ames Williams.” American National Biography Online. Web. 19 March 2015.
Ben Ames Williams donor file. Colby College Special Collections.
HIGHLIGHTED DONORS FOR THIS COLLECTION
In addition to primary donors Ben Ames Williams and Florence (Mrs Ben Ames) Williams: