Marie Goebel Kimball (1889-1955) was an author, historian, and Jefferson scholar. She was appointed the first curator of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s estate, in 1944 and served in that position until her death in 1955. Over her lifetime, she published four books and more than 20 articles about Jefferson and Monticello, including the first in-depth examinations of topics such as Jefferson’s relationships with women and foodways at Monticello.
Born in Hackensack, New Jersey, on June 7, 1889, to Julius Goebel (1857-1931) and Kathryn Vreeland (1861-1932), Kimball grew up in an intellectual family. Julius Goebel was a professor of philology and Kathryn Vreeland Goebel was a schoolteacher. In 1892, Goebel accepted a position at the newly-founded Stanford University. The family lived in Palo Alto for the next 13 years until the earthquake of 1906, after which they relocated to Boston, where Goebel took a position at Harvard.1 Marie Kimball briefly studied at Radcliffe before her father accepted a position as head of the German department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1908. She completed her degree in literature and arts at the University of Illinois in 1911.2 It was here that she met her future husband, (Sidney) Fiske Kimball, who was pursuing graduate studies at the university. They were married on June 7, 1913 in Urbana.3
Marie and Fiske Kimball began their life-long interest in Thomas Jefferson early in their marriage. Initial research by Marie Kimball was later expanded on by her husband and culminated in his landmark folio, Thomas Jefferson Architect (1916), which examined a rich collection of architectural drawings that had recently been deposited at the Massachusetts Historical Society.4 Marie Kimball’s research on this project led to the publication of several articles, including “A Playmate of Thomas Jefferson” (North American Review, 1921), and “William Short, Jefferson’s Only ‘Son’” (North American Review, 1926).5
In 1923, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation was incorporated to purchase and preserve Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s estate near Charlottesville, Virginia. In 1924, Fiske Kimball joined the restoration committee of the TJMF, and in the spring of 1927, Marie Kimball travelled to the Library of Congress to initiate background research for the restoration effort. She located and mined many of the sources still used today in restoration and interpretation, including Jefferson’s account books, accounts written by visitors to Monticello, and the packing list of Jefferson’s belongings shipped back from France in 1789. Her initial research was published in Antiques in November 1927 in a two-part article, “The Furnishing of Monticello.”6 Marie Kimball remained involved with the restoration of Monticello for most of the rest of her life. Among other activities, she composed the first pamphlet guides handed out to visitors, answered queries from visitors and researchers, and was involved in the placement and maintenance of objects in the house.
Kimball also continued to publish on various topics related to Jefferson and Monticello until the early 1950s. One of her most well-known publications is Thomas Jefferson’s Cook Book (1938), which included essays on Jefferson’s culinary interests as well as a selection of recipes recorded by Jefferson and his family.7 She also published three volumes of a projected five-volume biographical examination of Jefferson: Jefferson, the Road to Glory, 1743 to 1776. (1943); Jefferson, War and Peace, 1776 to 1784 (1947); and Jefferson, the Scene of Europe, 1784 to 1789 (1950). She received two Guggenheim Fellowships, in 1945 and 1946, in support of this work.8
Marie Kimball suffered from an apparent heart condition that worsened as she grew older. In 1949, she was the first woman to be invited to give the Founder’s Day address on Jefferson’s birthday (April 13), at the University of Virginia, but had a minor heart attack that morning; on the advice of her doctors, she attended the ceremony but her husband read her address on her behalf.9 She died on March 2, 1955 in Philadelphia of a massive heart attack. She and Fiske, who died only a few months later, were buried in Monticello Memorial Park, just down the road from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.10
Berkes, Anna. "Marie Kimball: Pioneering Scholar and First Curator of Monticello." In Virginia Women, Volume 2: Their Lives and Times, edited by Cynthia A. Kierner and Sandra Gioia Treadway, 202-221. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2016.
Fiske Kimball Papers, Philadelphia Museum of Art Archives. This large collection of Fiske Kimball's personal and professional papers relating to his restoration activities contains substantial correspondence and material relating to Marie Kimball.
Roberts, George and Mary. Triumph on Fairmount. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, 1959. This conversational and anecdotal work was written by two friends of the Kimballs shortly after their deaths, based on the Kimballs' papers and their personal recollections.
6. Kimball, "The Furnishing of Monticello, Part I," Antiques 12, no. 5 (1927): 380-85, and "The Furnishing of Monticello, Part II," Antiques 12, no. 6 (1927): 482-86. (Note: Antiques changed its title to The Magazine Antiques in 1928.)
8. John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. “Marie Kimball.” Accessed June 2, 2017.
9. "Jefferson Speaker Hits Trend; University Honors Its Founder," Charlottesville Daily Progress, April 13, 1949, 1, 3. A typescript of the address can be found in Box 15, Papers of Marie Goebel Kimball, University of Virginia. The newspaper article states only that Marie had an "illness," but George and Mary Roberts state that she had a heart attack the morning of the ceremony. See Roberts and Roberts,Triumph on Fairmount (Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, 1959), 269.