The youngest of writer Nathaniel Hawthorne’s three children, Rose Hawthorne Lathrop was born on May 20, 1851, in Lenox, Massachusetts. She first encountered Catholicism at age seven when her family lived in Italy. Around age ten, she expressed an interest in writing, but her father forbade her from pursuing this interest partly because he himself had struggled to establish a literary career, and partly because he believed most women writers at the time produced “trash” (quoted in Valenti, p. 24).
Nathaniel Hawthorne died the day before Rose’s thirteenth birthday, in 1864. In 1868, his widow Sophia and her children moved to Germany, where Rose fell in love with fellow American George Parsons Lathrop. Rose and George married in England on September 11, 1871. Once they married, they both embarked on literary careers. She wrote poetry and short fiction; he wrote poetry and literary criticism (including a book on his famous father-in-law) and eventually became an associate editor of Atlantic Monthly.
The Lathrops’ only child, Francis Hawthorne Lathrop, was born on November 10, 1876. Rose suffered from postpartum psychosis and was briefly institutionalized. Francie, as he was called by the Lathrops, died suddenly of diptheria on February 6, 1881. His death evidently marked the beginning of the end of their marriage. As early as 1883, Rose was considering a legal separation from George, who was reputedly alcoholic and abusive. 1
On March 19, 1891, the Lathrops shocked the nation by entering the Catholic Church. Their conversion was disconcerting to many Americans because, in the late nineteenth century, most Catholics in the United States were lower-class immigrants. By contrast, the Lathrops were “a conspicuous and an established New England couple” (Valenti, p. 100). Their writings indicate that George was attracted intellectually to Catholic authority, and Rose emotionally to Catholic worship (pp. 101, 102).