Edith Rosalind Kiralfy
(Some of this was written by my mother, Marianna Norris, daughter of Edith)
Edith was born in 1887 in San Francisco, where the family had traveled for one of Bolossy’s shows. The family had a townhouse on Washington Square in Manhattan, but traveled often. By the time Edith was 13, she had crossed the ocean 13 times. The voyages were memorable; when she was five, they returned on a liner with a troupe of midgets, The Lilliputians, coming to the US for a theatrical tour. They were just Edith’s size and it was a thrilling trip for her. She also remembered an ocean voyage with a circus, where every morning the animal trainer would walk his lion around the deck.
While she was still small (in 1891)1, they took a show to Atlanta, Georgia. After the first meal in the hotel, the children’s nurse came to Mrs. Kiralfy in tears. She had eaten in the servants’ dining room. All the servants were black. They had never seen a white woman taking care of children before and were outraged that she was “taking the bread out of the black folks’ mouths.” To avoid the mammies’ resentment, the nurse ate with the family as long as they were in Georgia.
All three children took piano lessons. Edith began to emerge as a remarkable pianist. At 13, she could play everything Chopin ever wrote. A Kiralfy musical assistant insisted that she must be a concert pianist. After one recital, he was inviting impresarios to plan a concert tour. The shy child loved to play, but hated playing for an audience. Since no one took this seriously, she finally put her finger on the radiator and deliberately raised a blister so she couldn’t play. Her mother grasped the depth of her feelings and decreed that she didn’t have to perform.
Edith loved to embroider and paint. Her delicate watercolors still hang on the family walls and we enjoy her hand-painted china.
When Edith finished high school, she attended the Eliman Training School to become a teacher. Just at this time, the New York Board of Education was looking for a particular teacher. The Hospital for Ruptured and Crippled came to them to ask about starting the first kindergarten for crippled children. HRC was a world capital of orthopedic surgery. Many children were there for a year or more for repeated operations. It was a bleak, wasted period for small children and they were looking for an innovative teacher who could create games and activities for a group in wheelchairs, on crutches and, the majority, flat on their backs on gurney tables. The Board of Education chose Edith and she went to work. The job was very moving and rewarding, full of both sorrow and humor. She stayed on there, setting procedures and activities that became standard in working with the handicapped.
In about 1908 Edith met a tall young man from Kentucky who was visiting New York – George Norris. They fell in love. He worked in Philadelphia so they corresponded, visited, and eventually became engaged. They married in 1914. Edith continued working until their first child was born in 1917, named Grace Elizabeth for Edith’s sister Grace and George’s mother, Elizabeth. In 1920 another daughter was born, named Marianna Elise for George’s sisters Mary and Anne and Edith’s mother Elise.
Edith was busy with the children, but her mind was always active while she did housework. One day she enrolled in a correspondence course for short story writing. The course was so good that she never finished it because the stories she wrote were already selling to magazines. She wrote Westerns, Aviation stories, African adventures, and articles on some of her kindergarten skills. For a modest housewife, she had advanced ideas on the role of women – her heroines included a pilot, a lion-tamer, a ranch owner and a trick rider in the rodeo. For True Story Magazine she wrote up the dramatic experience of a cousin2, wife of a British army officer in India, who saved a child from a cobra. That story was dramatized and broadcast “coast to coast” on radio.
In 1928 the family moved to Westchester – a beautiful apartment overlooking the river. Everything was going well. In 1929, the stock market crashed. The banks failed. Most of the money of George’s company was lost. All Edith’s money from writing was lost, too. They had to start from scratch and went through difficult times.
In 1938, Edith and George decided to separate. Edith got a job with Hearst Magazine, but in order to get the job (at age 51, and after 20 years out of the “job market”) she lied 10 years off her age. She stayed with Hearst Magazine until 1956, so when she retired at "59," she was really 69!
Edith lived with Marianna and baby Allegra until 1968, when she went to visit her daughter Grace and grandson Jose in Spain. She stayed there for 8 years until a pharmacist’s mistake made her ill. She returned to New York in 1976, improved, but never fully recovered, and died in 1981, age 94.
Go to Edith photo page
Notes for Edith Rosalind Kiralfy:
Edith Rosalind Kiralfy, b. January 15, 1887, d. January 8, 1981, married George Lawson Norris in 1914, b. June 2, 1885, Kentucky, d. March 2, 1952, in Henderson, Kentucky.
Children of Edith Kiralfy and George
Grace Elizabeth Norris, b. February 2, 1917, d. May 16, 1996
Marianna Elise Norris, b. June 10, 1920, d. October 13, 1991
12 November 1891, Atlanta Constitution, pg. 4:
"Atlanta is a grand city. It is the New York of the south, and henceforth it can get the finest attractions produced, for its patronage is sufficient to make the very best and most expensive show a financial success."
(Bolossy Kiralfy - ed.)
2Anyone know which cousin this might be? I don't have the text of this story.