Mary Carroll Spencer Purves, 79, whose house in Georgetown was for many years a gathering place for artists and writers, died early yesterday at the Washington Home. She had suffered a stroke.
Although she numbered among her friends such eminent figures in 20th century literature as T.S. Eliot, Conrad Aiken, Stephen Spender and W.H. Auden -- while staying at her house Auden took a volume of his own poetry from her shelf one morning and proceeded to revise it -- her hospitality and support was given equally to many younger writers whose names are now well known: the novelist Bernard Malamud, poets William Stafford and W.S. Merwin among them.
She was a supporter of the Poetry Consultantship at the Library of Congress and until her illness could be seen regularly at Library programs. For many years she provided funds for a series of poetry readings at Bryn Mawr College in memory of her brother, the late Shakespearean scholar, poet and critic Theodore Spencer.
In addition, she was a supporter of St. John's Episcopal Church in Georgetown and the Philadelphia Orchestra. She played an active role in the Alliance Francaise, developing its library and other programs, and in The Literary Society of Washington.
Mrs. Purves' interests, however, were not confined to literature and the arts. Her political opinions were firmly held, and firmly liberal. For many years she was actively involved in the direction of the Northwest Settlement House, and in various social programs in Pennsylvania, but she preferred to keep her charities to herself.
Her education at the Shipley School in Bryn Mawr was interrupted when her mother, a widow since shortly before Mrs. Purves's birth, decided that her education should be continued privately and in Paris, which began her lifelong admiration of the French language, literature and culture. Although her formal education was limited, her studies in contemporary literature, philosophy and history continued throughout her life. During the last year, when her sight began to fail, she kept up with new work through the Talking Books Program of the Library of Congress.
Known to her friends as Carroll, Mrs. Purves was a direct descendant of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the Maryland signer of the Declaration of Independence. She was born in Philadelphia on Christmas Day and moved to Washington from Media, Pa., in 1946 with her husband, the late Edmund R. Purves, executive director of the American Institute of Architects.
She is survived by two sons, Alan Carroll, an author and professor of English education at the University of Illinois, and Edmund Spencer, a lawyer in New York City, and four grandchildren.