Caroline Thomas Harnsberger

Caroline Harnsberger pictured on the back cover of her popular book Everyone’s Mark Twain, 1972.

Gazette Article by Jane Lord, Summer 1997
Updated July 2022

A Winnetka resident for more than 50 years, Caroline Thomas Harnsberger wore numerous hats—musician, anthologist, writer, lecturer, Mark Twain authority, painter, golfer, and music shop owner.

Harnsberger was born in 1902 and grew up in Broadview, Ohio, on the outskirts of Columbus. A talented violinist, she studied at the Julliard School of Music in New York for three years, then spent a year at the Conservatoire de Paris. While abroad she married Audley Harnsberger, an engineer with Pure Oil Company. In 1926 they settled in Winnetka, raised three children, and lived here until the early 1980s when Mrs. Harnsberger moved to her native Ohio after her husband died. She lived there until her death at age 89 in 1991.

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.”

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.”

In the mid 1960s Harnsberger became the proprietor of Music in Northfield, a store where she sold stringed instruments and sheet music and repaired violins and guitars.

Caroline Harnsberger’s eclectic interests drew on her many talents, continually challenged her to try new things, and led to amazing achievements. At age 59 she earned her flying license, copiloted her husband’s plane, and wrote Pilot’s Ready Reference, a best-selling book with 12 editions.

In 1977 Harnsberger’s twelfth book was published. Winnetka: The Biography of a Village chronicles the community’s past and is used as a resource by students, historians, and residents who want to learn about Winnetka history.

The interests and talents of this renaissance woman enriched the lives of family, friends, and a broader community that is still drawing on her rich legacy.

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5 Responses to “Caroline Thomas Harnsberger”

  1. March 13, 2021 at 7:47 AM #

    Does anyone know if this is the same Caroline Thomas that toured with John Philip Sousa’s Band during the 1922 fall season? She would have been 19 or 20 at the time.
    Thank you,
    Barry Owen Furrer

  2. April 14, 2021 at 4:53 PM #

    Hi Barry,
    Thank you for your question! I pulled our file on Caroline Thomas Harnsberger and found the following quote in an article about her life: “Caroline grew up in a musical family and began playing the violin as a child…After graduation from Grandview High School, Caroline attended the Juilliard School of Music for three years…” Thus, it certainly seems likely! I will continue to look into this and will update you if I find confirmation. Please feel free to reach out with any additional questions at

  3. December 18, 2021 at 3:24 PM #

    I had the pleasure of knowing Mrs. Harnsberger,
    I can tell you that she was dear to the hearts of every kid growing up in Northfield.
    Northfield Music had the best candy selection in town, and if we showed up pennyless she’d give us a smile and a treat anyway.
    She had toy instruments like a kazoo, or Harmonica, as well.
    Mrs. Harnsberger was the kind of Lady who made Northfield a great place to be a kid.
    I was eleven, in 1977 when Mrs Harnsberger asked me to ride around in her pinto station wagon and help her deliver signed copies of her book, The Biography of a Village, to her dearest friends. I asked her if I could have one, she said that “When I grew up, if I wanted one , I’d find a way.”
    She was right, and through the power of EBAY, my signed copy is on its way.
    I have to wonder if it’s one that we delivered that day.

  4. September 25, 2022 at 2:55 PM #

    Hal Holbrook, when he was thinking about performing as Mark Twain in the early 1950s, visited Caroline Harnsberger and she shared her organizational work on Twain’s writings with Hal to help him locate quotations and stories he could use. She did the same for many other Mark Twain imitators over the following decades.

  5. January 12, 2024 at 9:32 AM #

    Hello Barry, I am Caroline’s daughter, Ann Harnsberger Atkinson, and I have her diaries here. I looked up all the entries in Oct., 2022, and she was busy in New York City, studying violin at Juilliard. There is no mention of the Sousa band. Cheers, Ann

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