Rose spent her first ten years in Mishawaka, and her reading and writing talents were developed at the Mishawaka Academic and Normal Institute, which was located south of the intersection of Main and Fourth Streets. Years later, Rose wrote a poem dedicated to the schoolchildren of Mishawaka in which she fondly remembered her neighborhood with its hickory trees and “spearmint bordered stream” (Barbee Creek), which inspired her imagination and love of nature.
The Hartwicks moved to Kansas in 1860 and, shortly after, to Litchfield, Michigan. As a sixteen year old, Rose read a magazine article based on a historical incident, inspiring her to compose a poem entitled “Curfew Must Not Ring To-night.” Rose had been writing a poem each week for a Detroit newspaper in return for a free subscription. One week in 1870, Rose was sick with typhoid and could not make her usual contribution. Instead, she submitted “Curfew” for publication.
The poem is set in 16th century England. Bessie’s lover, Basil Underwood, is to be executed at sunset when the church bell rings to signal curfew. To save him, Bessie tries unsuccessfully to convince the sexton not to ring the bell. Desperate, Bessie then climbs the ladder of the tower, repeating to herself, “Curfew shall not ring to-night.” She clings to the bell’s clapper so it cannot ring when the sexton dutifully pulls the rope, swinging the bell and Bessie soundlessly. Bessie comes down from the tower just as the Puritan general Oliver Cromwell rides into town. Touched with pity by Bessie’s act of sacrificial love, Cromwell pardons Basil to complete the happy ending.
Newspapers around the country reprinted Rose’s work, and it quickly became one of the most popular poems of the 19th century. “Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight” spread throughout the English-speaking world and was translated into at least 17 languages. School children recited it, orators used it in dramatic readings, and it even became a favorite of Queen Victoria. Rose became an international literary star, and proud Mishawakans later saw her as an equal of James Whitcomb Riley.
Rose married Edmund Thorpe in 1871 and remained in Litchfield until 1881. They moved to Chicago, and she briefly served as the editor of publications devoted to temperance, home life, and Sunday School. Rose and her husband moved to San Antonio in 1883 and then to San Diego in 1887. Rose continued writing poetry and fiction. She published several more books, most notably Ringing Ballads in 1887 and The Poetical Works of Rose Hartwick Thorpe in 1912. Her work is noted for its optimism, Christian faith, and exploration of such topics as love, death, nature, and virtue.
Rose Hartwick Thorpe enjoyed great celebrity status, being known as the poet of one of the most beloved ballads of the 19th century. She was honored at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 and world’s fairs held in San Diego in 1915-16 and 1935. On the 69th anniversary of writing “Curfew,” Rose even received congratulatory telegrams from First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and former First Lady Lou Hoover.
During Rose’s lifetime and in the decades since her death in 1939, “Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight” has often been alluded to or parodied in various forms of media, including songs, magazine covers and postcard illustrations, the novel Anne of Green Gables, and the movie Desk Set. It was one of the most anthologized poems of the period 1870-1950, and today it continues to be recited in speech contests and literary festivals around the world.
The Hannah Lindahl Children’s Museum celebrates Mishawaka’s honor of being the birthplace and first childhood hometown of Rose Hartwick Thorpe, whose talent, first nurtured here, created a poem that touched countless lives around the world.
By Pete DeKever, Museum Advisory Board Member