Josephine Lawrence--Early Years
Childhood and Adolescence
The scanty information available about Lawrence's early years
nonetheless suggests the formation of character traits that persisted through her
later life, as well as some elements reflected in her girls' series.
She was born March 13, 1889,in Newark, New Jersey,
the daughter of Dr. Elijah W. Lawrence and Mary Barker Lawrence.
One interviewer described her as the child of "[a] dignified
medico-father [and] a retiring mother," noting that her parents'
influence and her "Quaker ancestry combined to give the young
Josephine independence of spirit"; this independence is often echoed by her
female protagonists, most notably in the character of Linda Lane.
In an autobiographical
sketch, Lawrence noted that "As a child, I spent considerable time with a
Quaker aunt who spoke the plain language and saw to it that I attended First Day
Sabbath regularly. Perhaps this taught me to love silence."
During her childhood, the family
lived at 45 Halsey Street, Newark. Lawrence later recalled
that "It was a residential street until Hahne's built there. I can
remember the workmen tearing down the quiet respectable boarding
house just opposite our house....The popular recreation was sitting
on the stoops in the late afternoon and evening when the weather was
mild. There was a branch (or perhaps it was the main) of the Public
Library on West Park Street and my brother and
I used to get books
there to read on the stoop.
We also had a back yard and my father
planted two or three peach trees which bore delicious fruit.
weekly wash was always dried in the sun in the back yard."
Lawrence's earliest publication may have appeared when she was still
a child, for in September 1903, "The Good-Time Garden," the children's page in
The Ladies Home Journal, carried
the following poem by thirteen-year-old Josephine Lawrence:
The Lost Kitten
My little kitty has strayed away,
She's been gone since yesterday.
I have hunted light and low;
Where she is I do not know.
Aunty says to never mind;
Seems to me she's most unkind.
Did she never lose a cat?
Wish some one would tell me that!
Lawrence attended Barringer High School, where
for writing and her inclination towards shyness, already marked
person she would be throughout her life." One of her articles for the
school publication, the Acropolis, won a $5 prize, but
Lawrence was "[t]oo self-conscious to appear in person for the prize
money ... [and] did not receive it until a
schoolmate collected it for her." 
Nonetheless, "she resolved then
and there to become an
While Lawrence was in her teens,
the family moved to Hopewell and her father took up farming. Lawrence had
initially planned to attend college, but found herself 'completely floored'
school math, which decided her against continuing her formal education.
Instead, she tried writing, penning some stories for children's
and -- although she disliked farming -- writing brief
pieces for a farm journal.
Later, she further
developed her talent by taking writing courses at
New York University.
Lawrence became editor of the children's page
of the Newark
Sunday Call, writing some of the
short pieces that graced the
In 1918, she also assumed responsibility for the Call's
in addition to writing and editing articles for the page,
she also ran its question-and-answer column,
devoted to a
different topic each week, thus gaining insights into women's
attitudes and concerns -- information which would
serve her well in her later
[1a] Lawrence's birth date has apparently puzzled biographers for some time,
and she was apparently reluctant to reveal it. Even the fact sheet she filled
out when employed by the Newark News has a blank next to the question about
date of birth. During her lifetime, most sources listed it as 1897; when she died,
the New York Times obituary claimed she was 88, so some sources began using
an 1890 date. An online search of the SSDI shows that a Josephine Platz
(Lawrence's married name),
born March 12, 1889, died February 1978 in the 10011
zip code area; that
death date and location match Lawrence's.
Her Social Security Card application, however, gives her birthdate as March 13, 1899;
the reason for the discrepancy is not known. I am indebted to James Keeline for his help with negotiating the SSDI
and acquiring Social Security
More recent research in the census records establishes that the earlier date is
the correct one. The entry for the Lawrence family in 1900 shows Josephine's age
Special thanks are due to Jack French for his queries and his information about Josephine Lawrence,
prompting a search of the census records. (Mr. French's additional research and discoveries will
appear in his article on Josephine Lawrence, scheduled for a 2011 issue of Whispered Watchword.)
 Draft of obituary. Newark News files.
 "Household Editor of Sunday Call Writes First Novel in Spare Time,"
Call, 27 March 1932
 American Women Writers. Ed. Lisa Mainero. Vol. 2. Ungar, 1980.
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Text copyright 2011 by Deidre