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RG2229.AM:  Martha Groves McKelvie, 1886-1976

Papers:  ca. 1914-1969

Valentine, Cherry County, Neb.:  Author

Size:  2.0 cu.ft.; 2 boxes


Martha Groves De Arnold was born in Smithville, Missouri, in 1886. At the age of 5 years, she and her parents moved to Nebraska. She graduated from the Lincoln Conservatory of Music in 1903, and the following year married Samuel Roy McKelvie, writer, lawyer and stock breeder. McKelvie later became Governor of Nebraska, 1919-1923, and after declining a third term in the office, he began publication of the Nebraska Farmer.

After her marriage, Martha McKelvie taught music at the Lincoln Conservatory of Music. With the growing popularity of motion pictures, Martha Groves McKelvie became one of Hollywood’s first movie columnists, writing profiles of and interviewing Mary Pickford, William S. Hart, Douglas Fairbanks and others. She also wrote scripts for movies and plays. In 1931 the McKelvies bought a ranch in the Nebraska sandhills, south of Valentine, Cherry County. They settled there in 1935, naming their homestead the “By the Way Ranch.” For some 20 years, they published “By the Way,” a magazine providing articles about ranching, the Nebraska sandhills and famous people the McKelvies had known.

They sold the ranch in 1953 and took up residence in Arizona. Samuel R. McKelvie died in 1956. Three years later, at the age of 72, Martha Groves McKelvie published the first of her twenty-four books. Several of her fictional works, such as Sandhills Essie, the Hills of Yesterday, and the Fenceless Range, were about the sandhills region. One non-fiction work, Presidents, Politicians and People I Have Known, discussed many of the prominent people Martha Groves McKelvie had known while the wife of a Governor and as a Hollywood columnist.

Mrs. McKelvie was also a well-known benefactor of the University of Nebraska. She financed the publishing of the University’s Centennial History in 1969 and that same year, she was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters degree. Martha Groves McKelvie died in Scottsdale, Arizona on January 7, 1976, at the age of 89. She was survived by a daughter, Mrs. Josephine Burks of Denver, Colorado.


This collection consists of two boxes of manuscript material arranged in three series: 1) Scrapbooks, 1914-1969; 2) Correspondence, 1921-1941; and 3) By the Way magazines, 1938-1955. The collection relates to the writing and ranching career of Samuel R. and Martha Groves McKelvie, as well as the political life led by them. Famous people Martha Groves McKelvie met are featured in the collection.

Series 1 consists of 13 volumes of scrapbooks, 1914-1969, which document various aspects of Martha Groves McKelvie’s life as a writer, interviewer, ranch owner, and governor’s wife. Topics included in the scrapbooks are motion picture actor and actress sketches and interviews, John J. Pershing, World War I, Samuel R. McKelvie as Governor, White House letters, Thomas E. Dewey, Herbert Hoover and biographical articles about Samuel R. and Martha Groves McKelvie. The correspondence, 1921-1941, of Series 2 consists of 11 letters written to Martha Groves McKelvie from Hollywood cowboy star, William S. Hart. These letters primarily discuss Hart’s attempts to make realistic films about the western frontier. Included also is a poem that Hart wrote for “Jane.” Series 3 is comprised of By the Way magazines, 1938-1955, written and published by Samuel R. and Martha Groves McKelvie. Articles appearing in this magazine discuss events at the McKelvie’s “By the Way Ranch,” the Nebraska sandhills, ranching and famous people the McKelvie’s have known, such as John J. Pershing and William Howard Taft.

Note:  See the photo component [RG2229.PH] for related images. See the NSHS Library Catalog and the Nebraska History index for published materials by and about the McKelvies. See RG1, SG27 for Samuel McKelvie’s official papers as Governor.


Series 1 – Scrapbooks, 1914-1969

Box 1


  1. Motion Picture Materials: Interviews and articles written by Martha Groves McKelvie (see oversize)

  2. John J. Pershing; World War I

  3. John J. Pershing and other military figures; Prince Gaikwad; death of Samuel R. McKelvie

  4. Samuel R. McKelvie as Governor; political items

  5. Samuel R. McKelvie as Governor; political items

  6. Letters to the McKelvies from the White House, 1921-1931, 1951

  7. Thomas E. Dewey as guest at the McKelvie Ranch; includes photos

Box 2


  1. Thomas E. Dewey as guest at the McKelvie Ranch; political items; Samuel R. McKelvie as rancher

  2. Letters from Herbert Hoover, 1931-1963; (mostly Christmas greetings)

  3. J.C. Penney; Samuel R. McKelvie and Martha Groves McKelvie

  4. Martha Groves McKelvie and University of Nebraska

  5. Martha Groves McKelvie’s careers

  6. Samuel R. McKelvie

Series 2 – Correspondence, 1921-1941

Box 2 (cont.)


  1. 1921-1941 (11 letters written by Hollywood cowboy star, William S. Hart)

Series 3 – By the Way magazines, 1938-1955

Box 2 (cont.)

9 volumes, 1938-1955: Topics include events at the “By the Way Ranch,” the Nebraska sandhills, ranching and famous people the McKelvie’s have known



Coolidge, Calvin, 1872-1933

Dewey, Thomas Edward, 1902-1971

Hart, William S., 1864-1946

Hoover, Herbert Clark, 1874-1964

McKelvie, Martha Groves, 1886-1976

McKelvie, (Governor) Samuel R., 1881-1956

Moving picture industry

Moving pictures

Pershing, John Joseph, 1860-1948

Ranch life — Nebraska — Cherry County

Ranches and ranching — Nebraska — Cherry County

Sandhills (Neb.)

Taft, William Howard, 1857-1930


AIF/pjm   04-12-1979

Encoded TMM   09-23-2010