EDITH WHARTON'S PULITZER PRIZE In June 1921 Edith Wharton’s "The Age of Innocence" won the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel. The Columbia trustees praised Wharton’s twelfth novel for its “wholesome atmosphere of American life and the highest standard of American manners and manhood.” Wharton wondered whether they had really understood it.
Edith Wharton became the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize. It was the fourth year of the prizes’ existence. "The Age of Innocence," Wharton’s book about New York high society during the 1870s, captured the Novel prize, as the Fiction award was known for the first three decades of its existence. The choice, though not Wharton’s gender, ignited public controversy even before it was formally announced. In the June 22 edition of The New Republic, Robert Morse Lovett, a juror for the Novel prize, wrote that "The Age of Innocence" had not, in fact, been the jury’s choice. The jury favored "Main Street," by Sinclair Lewis. The Pulitzer board overturned its decision. Lovett did not say so, but the man behind the switch was most likely Nicholas Murray Butler, president of Columbia University. Joseph Pulitzer’s will had specified a $1,000 annual prize “for the American novel published during the year which shall best present the whole atmosphere of American life, and the highest standard of American manners and manhood.” By 1921, “wholesome” had replaced “whole.”The change did not go unnoticed. Angry as Lewis was at being passed over for the prize, he wrote a note congratulating Wharton. She responded:
"When I discovered that I was being rewarded — by one of our leading Universities — for uplifting American morals, I confess I did despair. Subsequently, when I found the prize shd really have been yours, but was withdrawn because your book (I quote from memory) had ‘offended a number of prominent persons in the Middle West,’ disgust was added to despair.” #EdithWharton #AgeofInnocence #PulitzerPrize #AmericanLiterature #ColumbiaUniversity #SinclairLewis #NewRepublic #Letters #Manuscript #FirstWoman #GlassCeiling @columbia @themountlenox