MacKaye Family papers, 1751 - 1998Manuscript ML-5

Family History

The MacKaye family papers at Dartmouth College comprise materials for four generations of the family beginning with James Morrison Mackaye (1805-1888), an organizer of The Wells Fargo Express Company, and president of The American Telegraph Company during Abraham Lincoln's administration. However, the collection's bulk begins with his son, Steele MacKaye, who was born in 1842 in Buffalo, New York. In 1858 Steele became a student of the 'Theatre Français' and studied at L'Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. In 1862 he returned home and enlisted in New York's Seventh Regiment. Having married Mary Medbery, his second wife, in 1865, he continued his studies in Paris under the tutelage of Francois Delsarte. Between 1872-1894 he wrote thirty plays and acted in seventeen different roles. In 1873 he became the first American to play Hamlet in London. He also patented over 100 theatrical inventions between 1879-1893, including the folding theatre chair. His crowning piece would have been his "Spectatorium." Planned to include twenty-five moving stages and seat 12,000 people, it was to be staged at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. However, financial difficulties prevented the completion of the project. Steele MacKaye died in 1894.

Also part of this generation, and represented to a lesser degree in the collection are Steele's siblings; Sarah MacKaye Alling (1809-1904), Emily MacKaye von Hesse (1838-?), Sarah MacKaye Warner (1840-1876), his half brothers William Henry MacKaye (1834-1888) and Henry Goodwin MacKaye (1856-1913). Steele's wife Mary Medbery MacKaye (1845-1924), was an author of a popular dramatization of Jane Austin's "Pride and Prejudice" and also has material in the collection. In addition, there are documents related to Mary Medbery's first cousin and adopted sister Sarah Stetson Pevear (1831-1905).

Steele MacKaye had seven children, Arthur Loring MacKay (1863-1939), Harold Steele (1866-1928), William Payson (1868-1889), James Medbery (1872-1935), Percy (1875-1956), Benton (1879-1975), and Hazel (1880-1944). Although all of them are represented in this collection the majority of the materials relate to Percy and Benton MacKaye.

Born in 1875 in New York, Percy attended Harvard College, graduating in 1897. The following year he married Marion Morse and from 1898-1900 they lived abroad in Rome, Switzerland, and Germany, where he studied at the University of Leipzig. From 1900-1904 he taught at the Craigie School for Boys in New York and from 1906-1913 he lectured on theatre at Harvard, Yale, Columbia and other universities. In 1924 he received an honorary Ph.D. in Literature from Miami University in Ohio. He began to write seriously in 1905 and produced many pageants, plays, poems and essays. In 1927 he completed "Epoch," a two volume biography of his father Steele, and after joining the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire in 1930 he completed the work "Annals of an Era, Percy MacKaye and the MacKaye Family, 1826-1932." In 1948 he received the Fellowship Award of the Academy of American Poets. Percy died on August 31, 1956 in Cornish, New Hampshire. There are also a number of manuscripts related to Percy's wife Marion Morse MacKaye (1872-1939), including many commemorative poems and writings.

Percy's younger brother Benton was born March 8, 1879 in Stamford, Connecticut. He graduated from Harvard in 1900 and continued his education at Harvard Forestry School from which he graduated in 1905. He joined the US Forest Service in 1905 and the US Department of Labor in 1918. From 1920-1922 he worked on projects related to regional planning, during which he formulated the idea and plan for the Appalachian Trail. In 1928 he published his first book, "The New Exploration." In 1933 he continued his work on preservation and planning as a consultant for the US Indian Service on Indian reservations in South Dakota, New Mexico and Arizona, and from 1934-1936 he was on the planning staff of the Tennessee Valley Authority. In 1937, he developed a plan for the development of the Bay Circuit Project in Massachusetts, and from 1938-1939 he was a consultant on flood control policies of the US Forest Service. In 1940 he began his study of conservation with population distribution for the US Forest Service and continued in 1942 with a formulated proposal for the "Alaska-Siberia Burma Road." From 1942-1945 he was a member of the Rural Electrification Administration. He retired in 1945. After his retirement, he published a collection of thirteen of his essays entitled "From Geography to Geotechnics," in 1968. He also began work on his last book "Geotechnics of North America," which he never finished. Benton MacKaye died on December 11, 1975. A small part of this collection pertains to Benton's wife, Jesse Bell Hardy Stubbs MacKaye (1875-1921), a devoted suffragette.

The youngest of Steele's children, Hazel MacKaye was born on August 24, 1880 and was named after the character "Hazel Kirke" in one of her father's plays by the same name. In 1910 she was made an honorary member of Radcliffe College's graduating class. From 1911-1917 she designed, directed and wrote many pageants and acted in a few of her father's as well. In 1924 she wrote "The Enchanted Urn," a fantasy in pantomime. She died in Westport, Connecticut in 1944.

The remainder of the collection is related to Percy's children Robert Keith (Robin) MacKaye (1899-1992), a sketch artist; Arvia MacKaye (1902- 1989), a poet and founder of the Rudolph Steiner Educational and Farming Association and Christy MacKaye ( 1909-2002 ), who published her first book of poetry when she was twenty-one. Christy was devoted to anthroposophy and trained in speech and drama at the Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland. She also taught English for many years at the Rudolf Steiner School in New York.

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