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Frances Ryan was born in 1893 near Hot Springs, South Dakota to a family of early cattle settlers. She met Lowell Thomas around 1915 while obtaining her Bachelor's degree at the University of Denver and, after delaying him for some time, she agreed to marry him and they were wed on the 4th of August, 1917. Less than a month later they were off to Europe as Lowell attempted to collect material for a wartime travelogue. When Lowell and Harry Chase left for the Middle East, she stayed behind in Italy as an active member of the American Red Cross where she joined the wives of Theodore and Kermit Roosevelt stationed in Genoa. Fran was reportedly the only woman to visit the Italian Front where she witnessed the Battle of Piave River firsthand. She came under fire from snipers and was even briefly detained by Italian authorities as a spy for taking photographs.


After the war she accompanied Thomas as he performed his budding travelogues in New York and London where she hosted Lowell's many prominent visitors including T. E. Lawrence himself and entertained his mother Sarah who would accompany her son to visits to the Thomas's flat in London. Fran even played a role in the travelogues themselves and, “assisted by handling box office and other managerial matters,” — she even played the pipe organ during a performance at Royal Albert Hall. Fran later accompanied her husband on his performing tours in Australia and New Zealand, and later through Malaya, Burma and India where Lowell jockeyed his early success into a sustainable travelogue business by creating, “Through Romantic India,” a minor hit. Apparently, “Idleness had never been popular with Frances Ryan,” as she joined her husband on tiger hunts and elephant parties.


Together, Lowell and Frances Thomas spent most of their younger years on the road touring extensive parts of the globe as Lowell wrote and gave lectures — flying over 25,000 miles in the pioneering days of air travel. This lifestyle continued even after the birth of their son, Lowell Jr. in 1923 as the Thomases didn't settle into a permanent residence until their purchase of the Clover Book Farm in Quaker Hill, New York near Pawling in Dutchess County. There Fran maintained a fir farm and hosted perhaps every major figure of the twentieth century. In the early years at Clover Brook alone the guest list included Prince William of Sweden, Herbert Hoover, Amelia Earhart, Gene Tunney and Jack Dempsey. Fran played an enormous role in documenting Lowell's early life, regularly requesting letters of her husband to be given back to her — sensing that they would serve importance in the future. Her journals offer a fairly comprehensive account of her life during his period. Many of these important papers are now held in the Marist College Archives and Special Collections.

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