In a 1946 feature on Mary Roberts Rinehart, Life magazine called her “America’s bestselling lady author.” This was an understatement. According to her biographer, Jan Cohn, Rinehart dominated all best seller lists for five decades, from 1895 to 1944. Once she started writing, she quickly out earned her surgeon husband. She used the money to move her family out of the middle class into the wealthy elite. By 1946, she owned a huge Park Avenue apartment and a vacation estate in Bar Harbor, Maine. She was also the major investor in a press that employed her three sons.
A key element of Rinehart’s wealthy life was a designer wardrobe. For fancy occasions, she had gowns designed by Worth. Her working wardrobe consisted of custom made suits from Bergdorf Goodman. In an article she wrote for Ladies Home Journal in 1928, “I Buy Clothes Twice a Year,” she admitted to owning a sealskin cape, an ermine evening wrap, and a Persian lamb coat with sable cuffs and collar.
However, Rinehart had another side to her that was more adventurer than grande dame. She talked her way to the front at the start of World War One and used her reporting to encourage American sympathies for the Allied cause. She rode horseback on strenuous trips to the newly opened Glacier National Park. During a brief stint in Hollywood, she flew in an airplane as a publicity stunt. She sometimes confessed to feeling tied down by her marriage and children.
Rinehart’s Tish stories were a way for her to give voice to the other side of her character. Tish was a well off spinster who could do whatever she liked. Many of Tish’s adventures mirrored Rinehart’s own—she also went to the front in World War One, climbed through the Cascades on horseback, and went up in an airplane in Hollywood.
Perhaps Tish’s sartorial choices also expressed another side of Rinehart’s personality. Tish devised her own outfits based on comfort and need, not prescribed ideas of appropriate female clothing. And although there are no photos of her in a gym leotard, Rinehart also took off her designer duds and donned more sporty outfits when she was outside of her daily routine. Look at her in dressed to riding and for a airplane flight. One wonders what Roberts might have worn if she hadn’t aspired to a life as part of the wealthy elite.