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Eleanor Belmont Papers, 1851-1979 

Creator: 
Belmont, Eleanor Robson, 1879-1979
Phys. Desc: 
33 linear feet 37 boxes 159 volumes 1 (33 linear feet 37 boxes 159 volumes 1)
Call Number: 
Ms Coll\Belmont
Location: 
Rare Book & Manuscript Library
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Biographical Note

Eleanor Robson Belmont, actress socialite and philanthropist was born December 13, 1878 in Wigan Lancashire England to an actress mother and a musician father. Her father died when she was very young and her mother Madge Carr Cook remarried to the actor Augustus Cook immigrated to America. Eleanor was educated in American boarding schools after which she joined her mother Madge Carr Cook in the San Francisco-based Frawley Stock Company. She quickly graduated to starring roles while touring with the company. In 1900 she moved to New York where she was signed by the impresario George Tyler of Liebler and Company. She was a sensation acclaimed for her beauty her sweet rich speaking voice and her natural manner. Her greatest hit was Israel Zangwill's Merely Mary Ann in 1903. While playing the role in London, she captivated George Bernard Shaw who wrote Major Barbara for her. She was never able to play the part she inspired due to contractual obligations, but she continued to be a popular draw starring in Nurse Marjorie (1906), Salomy Jane (1907), and Dawn of Tomorrow (1909). In 1910, she left the stage to marry the banker, August Belmont. After marriage, as she tells us in her autobiography Fabric of Memory , life became a "world of horses, polo, social events, new friends, civic interests, and farming." She supported her husband's pursuits including the Belmont racing stables, the construction of the New York Subway, and the Cape Cod Canal. Both Belmonts actively took part in the war effort in World War I. Mrs. Belmont was appointed to the American Red Cross and she courageously traveled dangerous waters to personally inspect the Red Cross overseas effort. After the war, she helped develop the peacetime American Red Cross. Mrs. Belmont was widowed in 1924 but continued to be active in philanthropic causes. During the Great Depression, she raised funds with the Women's Committee of the Central Emergency Unemployment Relief Agency devoting special attention to the needs of the single working woman. When World War II broke out Mrs. Belmont again served the war effort through the Red Cross. Mrs. Belmont maintained her interest in the theater. In 1931, she co-wrote and produced a play In the Next Room . Her theatrical fame and her training as an actress had contributed to her success as a fundraiser, and the performing arts remained one of her causes. She was especially fond of the Metropolitan Opera Company. In 1933, she became the first woman to sit on its Board of Directors. She founded the Metropolitan Opera Guild in 1935 as a permanent vehicle for raising money and as a basis of support. She lived to see the Opera emerge from the precarious financial predicament in which she found it to become a thriving, well-supported, well-attended institution. Mrs. Belmont died at the age of 101 in 1979. On her hundredth birthday, December 13, 1978, she had told the New York Times that, "the secret to long life is no diet no special care nothing like that. It's doing what you want and doing it happily."

Scope and Contents

Belmont (1878-1979) was an American actress and a prominent public figure. The collection includes correspondence, subject files, and personal materials. Correspondence, manuscripts, and papers reflecting Belmont's associations in the theatrical, musical, philanthropic, and social worlds. There are ten letters from Theodore Roosevelt, ten from George Bernard Shaw, twenty-two from Israel Zangwill, fifteen from Frances Hodgson Burnett, fifteen from Edith Wharton, and nine from Herbert Hoover, as well as letters from Anatole France, Mary Austin, Stephen Vincent Ben'et, Nicholas Murray Butler, Calvin Coolidge, Dwight David Eisenhower, Clyde Fitch, Harriet Ford, John Galsworthy, Ellen Glasgow, Yvette Guilbert, Amy Lowell, Archibald MacLeish, Edgar Lee Masters, John J. Pershing, Arthur Wing Pinero, William Howard Taft, and William Butler Yeats. In addition to the manuscripts of Mrs. Belmont's own writings, among them her autobiography FABRIC OF MEMORY, the collection contains a manuscript of Anatole France's "La Petite Ville de France" and a typescript of George Bernard Shaw's "Democracy and THE APPLE CART." There is also a considerable body of correspondence, notes and reports of the organizations with which Mrs. Belmont was associated, including the American Shakespeare Festival Foundation, Educational Dramatic League, Metropolitan Opera Association, Motion Picture Research Council, and the Red Cross.