Historical Marker #1046 in Springfield commemorates “Elenores,” the home of author Elizabeth Madox Roberts.
Born in Perryville, Kentucky, on October 30, 1881, Roberts spent most of her life in nearby Springfield. She was the second of eight children born to Simpson Roberts, a Confederate soldier turned engineer, and Mary Elizabeth Brent Roberts, a schoolteacher. Elizabeth attended high school in Covington, Kentucky, before enrolling briefly at the University of Kentucky (then the State College of Kentucky). She was, however, forced to drop out after one semester because of poor health. For the next ten years, Roberts taught elementary school in the Springfield area with her mother.
In 1910, Elizabeth went to live with her sister in Colorado. There, she contributed several poems to a little book of photographs of mountain flowers which became her first published work, “In the Great Steep's Garden” (1915). In 1917, on the recommendation of a professor friend, Roberts enrolled as a freshman at the University of Chicago at the age of thirty-six. She studied literature and philosophy and fulfilled a lifelong dream of acquiring a college education. She graduated with honors in 1921 and was awarded the Fiske Prize for a group of poems she wrote which went on to be published as “Under the Tree” in 1922. After completing her education, Roberts returned to Springfield where she would spend much of the rest of her life.
Roberts' first novel, “The Time of Man” (1926), about the daughter of a Kentucky tenant farmer, garnered her an international reputation. She went on to write several more successful and critically acclaimed novels throughout the 20s and 30s, including “The Great Meadow” (1930), a historical novel about the early settling of Kentucky; “A Buried Treasure” about a rural Kentucky farm family who find a pot of gold; “He Sent Forth a Raven,” which reflects the contrasting World War I era’s ideological forces, and “Black Is My Truelove's Hair,” the story of a shamed woman's return to her home village and restoration.
Roberts was diagnosed with terminal Hodgkins’ disease in 1936. After this blow, she began spending her winters in Florida; however, she returned to Springfield for the warmer months, writing and meeting family responsibilities. Her public recognition was solidified by several major prizes, including the John Reed Memorial Prize in 1928, an O. Henry Award in 1930, and the Poetry Society of South Carolina's prize in 1931.
Roberts died in Orlando, Florida in 1941 and was returned home to Springfield for her burial.