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Marvin Kent Curtis papers

Identifier: MSS 15719

Scope and Contents

Marvin Kent Curtis papers (1910-1959; 6 cubic feet) consist of materials relating to his service in World War I, his work as a counselor and co-owner of Camp Mishawaka, in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, as an author of boy's adventure stories, and plays, and his competitive sailing in the Florida Keys. Included are his novels including extracts from them in periodicals such as the American Boy, Outers Recreation, and correspondence from F. Scott Fitzgerald. There are four series Correspondence, Teaching and Counseling, Illustrations and Writings, and Personal and Miscellaneous.


  • Creation: 1910-1959

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research use.

Biographical Note

Marvin Kent Curtis was an American novelist, teacher, illustrator, composer, and yachtsman. He served in World War I as an aviator with the Royal Air Force, was shot down, reported dead, and held prisoner of war until the war's end. He was born in Wichita, Kansas in 1890 to Charles E. Curtis and Grace Emily Kent. He was named for his famous great-grandfather Marvin Kent, for whom Kent, Ohio was named. Also Kent State University was founded on land donated by William S. Kent, the brother of Curtis’ grandfather.

Kent Curtis graduated in 1909 from Lake View High School (Chicago, Illinois), and completed his college preparatory work at Tome School for Boys in Port Deposit, Maryland. He entered Amherst College in 1910 as a member of the Class of 1914. There he contributed to the Amherst Olio and served as Editor-in-Chief of the Amherst Four Leaf Clover. He left the college without graduating. Kent enlisted as a private in the Aviation Section, Enlisted Reserve Corps of the Army at Fort Omaha, Nebraska, on June 7, 1917. After graduation from the School of Military Aeronautics at the University of Illinois on August 25, 1917, he was ordered to Oxford, England, where he completed flight training with the British Royal Flying Corps. Curtis’ unusual behavior in machine gun class was described in “War Birds: Diary of an Unknown Aviator”. Commissioned 1st Lieutenant on May 30, 1918, he was assigned to the American 148th Aero Squadron and reported for duty on the British front in France July 4, 1918. Curtis’ first attack on enemy targets was a bombing that took place over Croisilles, France, on August 22, 1918. From his open cockpit biplane, he dropped 4 bombs and fired 200 rounds at enemy targets. During the Second Battle of Bapaume, he undertook a similar mission over Bapaume, France, dropping 4 bombs and returning safely to base on August 23. On Saturday, August 24, 1918, Curtis piloted his Sopwith Camel #B7869 on his third mission in three days, for another bombing over Bapaume. He would not return. The Adjutant General, War Department, wired the family that Curtis had been killed in action. Cleveland newspapers carried reports of his death. In fact Curtis’ plane was shot down behind enemy lines but he survived the crash and was taken prisoner by the Germans. He remained in German prison camps until December 1, 1918, nearly a month after the November 11 Armistice ending the war.

Curtis was part of the "Lost Generation," of Americans who were born in the 1890s and came of age during World War I. He lived intermittently in Paris during the 1920s. Curtis published primarily boys’ adventure stories set in the places where he lived: the North Woods of Minnesota and the islands off the Florida coast.

It was while teaching at the Snyder Outdoor School for Boys in 1922, Curtis won second place and $1,000 in a national writing competition for his scenario "The Quinn Millions for Millions of Quinns." Curtis went on to publish boys’ adventure stories, including “The Blushing Camel”, “Drumbeaters Island”, and “The Cameleers”. These three stories were later published together as “Cruises in the Sun”. He also wrote one historical novel, “The Tired Captains” based on pilots in World War I.

Curtis was an avid sailor. He introduced sailing to Mishawaka Camp and led Canadian canoe trips through the Minnesota boundary waters. He often wintered on Captiva Island, Florida, the subject of his boys’ adventure stories. He sailed the length of the Mississippi River and in 1932, he captained his sailboat Marelen II to victory in the St. Petersburg, Florida to Havana, Cuba race.



6 Cubic Feet (11 document boxes, 3 oversize boxes, and 4 additional oversize folders.)

Language of Materials



This collection is arranged into five series: Series 1. Correspondence, Series 2. World War I, Series 3. Teaching and Counseling, Series 4. Illustrations and Writing, Series 5. Miscellaneous and Personal.


Gift from Mary Johnston, 7 March 2014 and November 2015.

Marvin Kent Curtis papers
Ellen Welch
18 December 2017
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library Repository

Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library
P.O. Box 400110
University of Virginia
Charlottesville Virginia 22904-4110 United States