Anna Hanson Dorsey, Novelist and Laetare Medal Receipient

Today marks the death of Anna Hanson Dorsey (1815-1896), one of the first recipients of Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal, since 1883 awarded to lay people “whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the church and enriched the heritage of humanity.” (This year’s recipient was Martin Sheen.) Descended from a prominent Maryland family, Dorsey’s distant relatives included three presidents and two senators. In 1840, she converted to Catholicism and soon began a writing career that led to her becoming America’s leading Catholic novelist. Over fifty years she wrote nearly forty novels dealing with topics such as Catholics in early Maryland, Irish Americans, and Protestants converting to Catholicism. Some of the book titles included The Irish Emigrants, The Old Gray Rosary, The Old House at Glenaran, and The Sister of Charity. The joy of converting to Catholicism is a common theme in many of her books, which have been described as “sentimental and nostalgic as well as edifying,” which is a nice way of saying they haven’t held up very well over the years.
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