Carolyn Wells was born in Rahway, New Jersey, on June 18, 1862, according to a 1919 passenger ship list at Ancestry.com, which has a family tree with the names of her parents: William Edmond Wells and Anna Potter Woodruff. Wells’ birth date was also on her headstone.
In her autobiography, The Rest of My Life (1937), Wells wrote:
When I was six and my little sister was three, an aunt came to see us, and she came right from the sickbed of another niece who had scarlet fever.
Doctors, nurses and relatives were not so careful of contagion then as now, and both my sister and myself fell ill of the dread disease.
The other niece recovered, but my sister died, and I was left with an ever-increasing deafness.
Wells said her deafness cost her a marriage proposal, invitations for overseas trips, gifts, plane rides and autograph requests.
The 1870 U.S. Federal Census recorded Wells, her younger brother, Walter, and parents in Rahway. Her father was a life insurance agent.
The 1880 census the Wells family of five resided on Elm Avenue in Rahway. Ida was the latest addition.
Wells’ first book was At the Sign of the Sphinx published by Stone and Kimball in 1896. The book was reissued in 1906. Her second and third books appeared in 1899: The Jingle Book followed by The Story of Betty.
Journalist Wells and her sister remained in the household of their parents in the 1900 census. Their address was 98 Elm Avenue.
According to American Newspaper Comics (2012), Wells’ other series for newspapers were Dolly Drake and Bobby Blake in Storyland, after Margaret G. Hayes, with art by Grace Drayton; Adventures of Lovely Lilly with art by G. F. Kaber; Oh, Winnie! with art by Penrhyn Stanlaws; and Fluffy Ruffles with art by Wallace Morgan. Fluffy Ruffles was mentioned in a brief profile of Wells published by the Havre Herald (Montana), October 18, 1907.
Wells was included in the article, “Men Who Make Laughter for the American Nation”, which was printed in the Washington Herald (Washington, DC), June 14, 1908.
Wells also wrote for the mystery genre through her detective, Fleming Stone. As far as I can tell, the first Fleming Stone story was “A Chain of Evidence”, published in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, September 1907. A book of the same title came out in 1912. The first Fleming Stone novel, The Clue, was published in 1909, the same year it appeared in the April Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine. The Clue was serialized in newspapers. A list of Fleming Stone novels is here. Wells’ book, The Technique of the Mystery Story, was published in 1913.
In the 1910 census, Wells lived with her mother, a widow, in Rahway on Elm Avenue.
In a profile in The Evening Star (Washington, DC), March 25, 1914, Wells explained how she worked:
“I work only half of each day and only three days a week. The rest of the time I play. When I do work, it is by dictating to the stenographer just as fast as I can talk. As you know, that is pretty fast. I sit and dictate my verse or my story until I am breathless and until the girl at the machine is about exhausted.”
The Evening World (New York, New York), February 8, 1918 published news of Wells engagement.
Miss Carolyn Wells to Be Easter Bride of Hadwin Houghton
Miss Carolyn Wells, the writer, has let it be known that about Easter holidays, she is to marry Hadwin Houghton of No. 327 Central park West. The engagement has just been announced.
Miss Wells and Mr. Houghton are friends of many years standing. Mr. Houghton is a son of the late Bernard Houghton go Boston, who was identified with the publishing house of Houghton-Mifflin & Co.
Some details of the marriage appeared in the New York Tribune, April 2, 1918.
According to the New York Death Index, at Ancestry.com, Wells’ husband passed away August 26, 1919.
A photograph of Wells and excerpts from letters to her were printed in the New York Sun, June 1, 1919.
Thompson Feature Service advertised Carolyn Wells’ Today in History in Editor & Publisher, July 3, 1919. It’s not known if Today in History appeared in any newspapers.
In December 1919, she visited Bermuda. Her address on the passenger list was 1 West 67th Street.
The same address was recorded in the 1920 census. Wells’ occupation was writer in the book trade. On the same sheet, but at 15 West 67 Street, were Alphonse Mucha and his family, and Penrhyn Stanlaws. A 1925 Manhattan city directory listed her address as 1 West 67th Street.
Wells’ works featured artwork by two leading illustrators, Nell Brinkley and Russell Patterson. The Adventures of Prudence Prim (1925–1926), The Fortunes of Flossie (1926–1927), and Pretty Polly (1928–1929) were drawn by Brinkley. Patterson produced The New Adventures of Flossy Frills (1941), Flossy Frills (1939–1940), and Flossy Frills Helps Out (1942).
Artwork by Peter Newell, Percy Crosby and Charles Dana Gibson, and a note from Mark Twain to Wells, from The Rest of My Life, are shown below.
Among the people Wells knew were Theodore Roosevelt, Oliver Herford, Thomas Edison, George Ade, and Kate Douglass Wiggen Riggs. Wells bequeathed her Walt Whitman collection (nearly 500 items including rare editions) to the Library of Congress.
Wells passed away March 26, 1942, in New York City at the Flower-Fifth Avenue Hospital, according to the New York Times, March 27. She was buried next to her husband at the Rahway Cemetery.