Book Cover of Jesse Lynch Williams


Lifetime: 1871 - 1929 Passed: ≈ 93 years ago


Journalist, Novelist, Playwright


United States

Jesse Lynch Williams

Jesse Lynch Williams was an American author and dramatist. He won the first Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play Why Marry? (1917). He was a journalist for three New York publications and co-founded the Princeton Alumni Weekly and the Princeton Triangle Club.

Born in Sterling, Illinois on August 17, 1871 to Elizabeth Brown (Riddle) and Rev. Meade Creighton Williams, pastor of a Presbyterian church in St. Louis, Missouri. His father wrote Early Mackinac and was the editor of a Presbyterian journal. Jesse's brothers were David. R. Williams, of St. Louis, and Terrell Williams, a law school professor of Washington University in St. Louis.

His grandfather, also Jesse Lynch Williams, was appointed by President Abraham Lincoln as the government director of the roads. He was an engineer and constructor for the Union Pacific Railroad.

Williams studied at Beloit Academy. He began his literary career in college. He won the Nassau Literary Magazine short story contest in his junior year. He received his Bachelor's degree in 1892. As a graduate student at Princeton University, he wrote Princeton Stories (1895) which often featured the daily life of an undergraduate football player. He graduated from Princeton with a Master's degree in 1895. In 1898, he wrote The History of Princeton University with John de Witt. He and Booth Tarkington co-founded the Triangle Club at Princeton and edited The Lit. For three years, beginning in 1900, he co-founded and was the first editor of the Princeton Alumni Weekly.

He was a member of the Authors League of America, the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and other organizations, in which he sometimes had a leadership role.

He was married to Alice Laidlaw (1872–1960, daughter of Elizabeth C. Onderdonk and Henry Bell Laidlaw, on June 1, 1898 in New York. They had three children, Henry Meade, Jesse Lynch, and Laidlaw Onderdonk Williams. They lived in Princeton, New Jersey. Alice graduated from Veltin School for Girls in 1892. She was a member of the Audubon Society and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and a number of organizations, including sitting on the executive board of the New Jersey Equal Franchise Society. She wrote a book entitled Sunday Suppers (1912).

Williams died of a heart attack on September 14, 1929 at the home of Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Douglas Robinson in Jordanville, New York or Herkimer, New York.

Books by Jesse Lynch Williams

Why Marry? Cover image

Why Marry?

Comedy Fiction Drama
Family Marriage Play

Why Marry? is a 1917 play written by American playwright Jesse Lynch Williams. It won the first Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1918.