Caroline Thomas Harnsberger


For an article from the 1988 First Community Village Up-date newsletter about Caroline, click here.

Caroline Thomas Harnsberger was born in 1902 in Columbus. Her father was James Oscar Thomas of Grandview Heights. She and her five brothers and sisters grew up on the 358 acre Thomas farm, which was located at Goodale and Northwest Blvd. After graduation from Grandview High School in 1920, she attended Northwestern University, the Julliard School of Music and the Conservatory de Paris studying violin.

Caroline Thomas (1920)

She married Audley Harnsberger (an engineer for Pure Oil Co.) from Upper Arlington while in Paris, and in 1926 moved to Winnetka, Illinois, where she lived for 50 years and raised three children (while also golfing, painting, flying, writing, running a business and travelling!) Mrs. Harnsberger helped establish and played in the Evanston Symphony for 37 years and ran a music store in Northfield, where she repaired violins and guitars and sold stringed instruments and sheet music. She also played Carnegie Hall at age 22.


"Harnsberger’s father introduced her as a child to Mark Twain’s wit and wisdom, and her avid interest in him continued throughout her life. In the early 1940s she traveled to Hollywood to meet Twain’s daughter, Clara. The two women became friends and corresponded for 20 years. Harnsberger read all of Twain’s 52 books but had trouble locating specific quotes. She therefore began the task of indexing his bon mots, a project that led to the compilation of her first book, Mark Twain at Your Fingertips, published in 1947. During the next three decades she wrote six other books about Twain and was a script consultant for television and stage productions about the humorist. Excelling at indexing, she once said, 'A book without an index is like soup without salt—no good.'

Caroline Harnsberger and Clara Clemens (left)

One project often led her to another. After the success of her first book, Harnsberger’s publisher urged her to put together a book of Abraham Lincoln quotations. She also wrote the first biography of Ohio Senator Robert A. Taft, published the year he vied with Dwight D. Eisenhower for the presidential nomination. She later spent weeks at the Library of Congress researching American presidents for her Treasury of Presidential Quotations, which became a Literary Guild bonus book. Harnsberger also managed to meet George Bernard Shaw, the reclusive 92-year-old playwright, at his English country home, proclaiming him 'the wit of our generation.' After Shaw’s death, Harnsberger obtained the rights for a book in which she compiled his quotations. Advocating that humor was vital to one’s well being, she once said, 'A sense of humor is a sense of proportion.' " (Jane Lord, Winnetka (Illinois) Historical Society)

Caroline Harnsberger and George Bernard Shaw

In total Mrs. Harnsberger wrote thirteen books, including 9 books on Mark Twain (including Mark Twain's Clara, based on her relationship with Clara Clemens andpublished in 1982) and books on Abraham Lincoln, Bernard Shaw, Robert A. Taft, Greek and Roman mythology, The Life and Times of James Oscar Thomas, and a book on the history of Winnetka, Illinois. She was also a private pilot (one of the first women to get a pilot's license) and authored the reference book A Pilot's Ready Reference, which sold over 30,000 copies and was the definitive source for over 20 years and spanning 12 editions. Mrs. Harnsberger originally published the book under the name C.T. Harnsberger, because the publisher didn't feel that a reference book on flying by a woman would be taken seriously by pilots. 

Caroline Harnsberger just prior to moving back to Ohio

Caroline Harnsberger lived the last 7 years of her life at First Community Village, which was somewhat of a homecoming, since her father helped establish the First Community Church in Grandview and her mother was a resident of Hillside House at the Village when it first opened. She passed away in 1991 at 89 years old.


Selected Books by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger

1. Winnetka: The biography of a village : including a chronology, 1800 through 1976
2. Everyone's Mark Twain
3. Bernard Shaw: Selections of His Wit and Wisdom
4. Mark Twain, family man
5. A man of courage, Robert A. Taft (Living American statesmen series)
6. Mark Twain's Clara, or, What became of the Clemens family: Completing the story of the family as begun in Mark Twain, family man
7. Mark Twain loved cats
8. Pilot's ready reference: Flying data every pilot must know and use
9. Mark Twain on horseback
10. Pilot's ready reference
11. The life and times of James Oscar Thomas
12. Mark Twain's views of religion
13. A friendly chat with G.B. Shaw