Frances Parkinson Wheeler was born on July 21, 1885, in Charlottesville, where her father, John Henry Wheeler, was the chairman of the Greek department at the University of Virginia. After her father's death, her mother, Louise Fuller Johnson Wheeler, remarried and moved the family to New England, where Keyes split her time between Boston, Massachusetts, and Newberry, Vermont. She was educated privately in Boston, Geneva, Switzerland, and Berlin, Germany, and traveled widely throughout Europe. On June 8, 1904, at the age of eighteen, she married Henry Wilder Keyes (which rhymes with "prize"), and the couple lived on Henry's family estate, Pine Grove Farm, near Haverhill, New Hampshire. The couple had three sons: Henry, John, and Francis.
Her husband Henry Keyes was involved in politics, serving in the New Hampshire House of Representatives (1891–1895 and 1915–1917), State Senate (1903–1905), and later as governor (1917–1919). The couple moved to Washington, D.C., when Henry was elected to the United States Senate, where he served from 1919 to 1937. After her husband's death in 1938, Frances Keyes spent time traveling in Europe and the United States before eventually settling in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana.
Keyes's professional career as a writer began with the publication of her first novel, Old Gray Homestead, in 1919. During the 1920s, she wrote the series "Letters from a Senator's Wife," for Good Housekeeping (where she served as a contributing editor from 1923 until 1935), which were later published in book form. Keyes also wrote about her experiences as a political wife in two memoirs, Capital Kaleidoscope: The Story of a Washington Hostess (1937) and All Flags Flying (published posthumously in 1972), as well as a novel, All That Glitters (1941).
The author of more than fifty novels, Keyes demonstrated versatility in her settings and subject matter, reflecting the varied geographies of her childhood and early adult life. The River Road (1945), Came a Cavalier (1947), and Dinner at Antoine's (1948) each sold more than one million copies. Dinner at Antoine's, a murder mystery surrounding the iconic New Orleans restaurant, was her most well-known work. In addition to its popular acclaim, Keyes's fiction was distinguished by her immersion in cultural and geographical background research. She repeatedly moved to and sometimes purchased property in the regions where she set her novels. For example, the Confederate general Pierre G. T. Beauregard, a native of Louisiana, appears in many of her Louisiana novels, and during the last decades of her life, Keyes purchased and lived in the former Beauregard home in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Today the Beauregard-Keyes House hosts an extensive collection of Keyes's work, memorabilia, and correspondence.
Toward the end of her career, Keyes expanded her writing interests, editing a poetry anthology and writing short stories, as well as penning inspirational holiday volumes. Keyes converted to Catholicism after her husband's death, and this experience fueled much of her writing on religious subjects, both fiction and nonfiction. The University of Virginia Special Collections Library holds papers and manuscripts relevant to Keyes's books on religion and Christian missions, as well as manuscript copies of her novels and correspondence about research for Steamboat Gothic, for which she employed two University of Virginia students.
Frances Parkinson Keyes died on July 3, 1970, at her home in New Orleans. She is buried at The Oxbow, a home built by her great-grandfather in Newbury, Vermont.
Frances Parkinson Keyes's Books on Amazon: Frances Parkinson Keyes