Constance Rourke

 

 

Constance Rourke

 

Constance Rourke (11/14/85-3/23/41)

American author and cultural historian Constance Rourke was born in Cleveland in 1885 and graduated from Vassar College in 1907.  A dedicated student of American culture she had little emphasis on her own roots because of, as she put it, "a parental revolt against a grandfather who made too much of these matters".  After graduating from Vassar Miss Rourke was the lucky recipient of the Borden Fund for Foreign Travel and Study and spent 1908 and 1909 at the Sorbonne in Paris.  She would teach at Vassar for five years from 1910 to 1915 and would have her first piece ('Paul Bunyan,l) published in the New Rbpublic in 1918.

For the rest of her life she'd remain rooted in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the city her mother (herself a teacher and principal) had moved them to in 1892.

Her first book appeared in 1927, Trumpets of Jubilee , a compilation of biographies of five mid 19th century American icons  A year later she came out with a study of 19th century actors,in Troopers of the Gold Coast and in 1931 completed one of her most important works, American Humour: A Study of the National Character, which was hailed by crities,as a classic of American literary scholarship.

Rourke would put out two other best sellers in the mid-1930's "Davy Crockett (1934) and Audubon (1936) but would now spend much of her energy pusuing her living research" for a projected multi-volume American cultural history series.  Her continued research covered early American theatricals, Shaker houses and art work, as well as deeper study of Negro culture, particularly old Negro songs.  In 1934 she was the organizer of the National Folk Festival in St. Louis and for a brief period in 1937 she worked as the editor of the Federal Art Project's Index of American Design.

Constance Rourke’s life would end prematurely'in March of 1941 at the age of 55, the result of a fall on an icy porch.  Van Wyck Brooks, one of Rourke's colleagues, would edit her unfinished manuscript and it would be published in 1942 as The Roots of American

Culture.    

Back to O’Rourke Historical Profiles

 

 

 

1