Kathleen Norris was born Kathleen Thompson on July 16, 1880, in San Francisco. Kathleen Norris’s grandparents were California
pioneers. Her maternal grandparents -- Paul Moroney and Margaret Sexton Moroney -- originally settled in Marysville in 1851,
where Kathleen’s mother, Josephine, was born in 1852. Kathleen Norris’s paternal grandparents -- Frederick Thompson and Maria
Teresa O’Keefe Thompson -- arrived in San Francisco circa 1856 after marrying in Hawaii and travelling extensively throughout
the world. Her father, James A. Thompson, born in 1845 in Honolulu, became a successful manager of the Donohoe-Kelly Bank.
Also an actor and two-time president of the Bohemian Club of San Francisco, he was acquainted with many figures of the literary
and theatrical circles then present in the Bay Area. Josephine Moroney and James Alden Thompson were married in 1876. In 1891,
the Thompson family moved to Mill Valley in Marin County and built their idyllic home “Treehaven,” which would remain in the
family for several generations.
Kathleen had one older brother, Joseph, and five younger siblings: Teresa, Francis (who died in childhood), Fred, Margaret
and James. The Thompson children received most of their education at home, as their parents eschewed formal schooling, instead
encouraging a highly domestic lifestyle that combined household duties with traditional school activities such as reading,
writing, and the study of foreign languages. Like all the Thompson children, Kathleen was an avid reader of fiction from a
young age. As a storyteller, Kathleen very early displayed the fertile imagination and sense of domestic detail found in the
short stories and novels for which she would later become famous.
In 1899 Kathleen’s parents died within weeks of one another. Mounting family financial misfortunes culminated shortly after
their deaths, leaving the orphaned Thompson children nearly destitute. The children moved to San Francisco, where the three
eldest -- Joseph, Kathleen and Teresa -- took odd jobs to support themselves and their other siblings. After working in sales
and in various clerical positions, Kathleen found work in the Mechanics’ Library which allowed her more free time to read
and write. In 1905, having become more serious about pursuing a writing career, Kathleen attended a literature class offered
by the University of California, where she was highly encouraged by her professor. She worked for the Red Cross during the
aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906. From 1907 to 1909 she worked for the San Francisco newspapers
The Evening Bulletin, The Call, and The Examiner as a reporter of society events, a job which gave her first hand access to
a lifestyle which would be the subject of much of her later fiction. During this time she continued her literary pursuits,
having some of her work published in local periodicals.
In 1908 Kathleen met Charles G. (“Cigi”) Norris (b. 1880, Chicago; d. 1945, Palo Alto), also an aspiring writer, and the younger
brother of the then late novelist Frank Norris. The two were married in early 1909 shortly after moving to New York City.
In December of that year, the Norris’s first child, Frank, was born. Years later, Kathleen would give birth to twin daughters,
both of whom died only days after birth. In 1918 the Norrises adopted William Rice (“Bill”) Norris.
Kathleen Norris’ writing career was greatly advanced in 1909 when The Atlantic Monthly published her story “What Happened
to Alanna?,” thus bringing her a long-sought-for national recognition. Thanks in part to Charles’s shrewd business sense acquired
from assisting his brother in his publication efforts, the Norris’s literary success quickly increased from this early triumph.
Kathleen Norris would eventually publish such popular works as Mother (1911), The Rich Mrs. Burgoyne (1912), Saturday’s Child
(1914), Certain People of Importance (1922), Noon, An Autobiography (1925), Little Ships (1925), and What Price Peace? (1928).
The themes characterizing much of her work were family relations, domestic life, and various contemporary social issues. Charles
Norris's published fiction -- primarily dealing with social, political and economic issues of his day -- includes Salt (1918),
Brass (1921), Seed (1930), and Flint (1944).
Kathleen Norris's social and political convictions led her to help establish such pacifist organizations as the Women's International
League for Peace and Freedom, in the late Twenties; Mothers of America, in the early Thirties; and America First, in the mid-Thirties.
The Norrises divided their time between their residences in Saratoga (the ranch “La Estancia”); Palo Alto (now the Newman
Club of Stanford University); Port Washington, New York (“Greenblinds”); and the Thompson family residence of “Treehaven"
in Mill Valley.
Kathleen and Charles G. Norris were also well-known for their expertise in the game of croquet.
Kathleen Norris died in 1966.
Kathleen Norris's brother Joseph Thompson had three children -- Joseph (“Joey”), Kathleen, and Jacqueline. Her brother Frederick
Thompson had two children -- Helen (“Babs”) and David. Her brother James Thompson had three children -- Josephine, Jane, and
Margaret. Kathleen’s sister Teresa, who married the poet William Rose Benet, had three children -- James, Rosemary and Kathleen.
(In 1919, Teresa Benet died while pregnant with her fourth child.) Her sister Margaret (“Mark”) and her husband Charles Conway
(“Hap”) Hartigan had two children -- Margaret, Jr. (“Bunga”) and Charles Conway, Jr. (“Con”). Kathleen Norris’s son Frank
married Alice McCreery and had three children -- Kathleen, Helen (Nell), and Charles Gilman, II. Novelist Frank Norris’s daughter
Billy, who spent much time with the Norris family, married Gerald Hermann circa 1922. After many struggles with mental illness,
she committed suicide in 1940.