Elizabeth Robins Papers
Language of Materials
Elizabeth Robins (1862-1952) was an actress, playwright, prolific novelist and suffragist. American born and educated, Robins spent most of her adult life living and working in England, first in London and later in London and Sussex. The nearly one hundred linear feet of materials which comprise the Elizabeth Robins Papers reflect the many facets of Robins' life. The collection includes diaries, photographs, scrapbooks and ephemera, as well as correspondence with a variety of dynamic personalities, and is a resource not only for studying her life and works, but for examining a wide range of family, social, and political issues. The collection provides insight into American and English theater in the late 19th century, English literary circles, and the women's suffrage and feminist movements in England and America, as well as information on gold mining camps in post Civil War Colorado and turn of the century Alaska. Largely because of her long term friendship with Dr. Octavia Wilberforce, there is information on the movement for improved health care for women and children. The correspondence of Raymond Robins, Elizabeth Robins' brother, adds another dimension to the collection. His letters are an excellent source for the study of Chicago political history, the Settlement House Movement, and Progressive Party politics.
Elizabeth Robins (1862-1952) was an actress, playwright, prolific novelist and suffragist. American born and educated, Robins spent most of her adult life living and working in England, first in London and later in London and Sussex.
Robins, born in Louisville, Kentucky, was the first child of Charles E. Robins and Hannah M. (Crow) Robins.[l] Her parents had six other children, two of whom died in infancy. Her sister Eunice (Una) died in 1886, at age twenty. Of her three brothers, Saxton (1869-1901), Vernon (1872-1934) and Raymond (1873 1954), Robins was closest to Raymond, as their lifelong correspondence testifies.
Jane H. Robins, Elizabeth Robins's paternal grandmother, helped to rear most of the Robins children. Charles E. Robins was often away from his family pursuing a variety of business ventures and Hannah Robins spent much of her time with relatives in Louisville, Kentucky. Well into their adult years, Elizabeth and Raymond Robins recalled staying in Jane H. Robins's "Old Stone House" in Zanesville, Ohio. [For more information on the Robins family background, see the description for Series Three: Robins Family Papers.]
After 1880, Robins moved to New York City and began an acting career. She became a member of the Boston Museum Company, James O'Neill's Monte Cristo Traveling Company, and toured with Edwin Booth Lawrence Barrett. She appeared in such plays as A Celebrated Case, Julius Caesar, and The Merchant of Venice, first under the stage name Claire Raymond and later as Bessie Robins.
While a member of the Boston Museum Company, Robins met and married George Richmond Parks, another actor in the company. The 1885 marriage did not last long. Two years after the wedding, Parks committed suicide by jumping into the Charles River at the stroke of midnight, using a suit of theatrical armor to weigh himself down. Elizabeth Robins never remarried.
In 1888, Robins traveled abroad on a journey which included a stop in England. While she retained her American citizenship and made frequent visits to America, she adopted England as her permanent residence.
In England Robins established herself as a serious actress. She played a number of roles, such as Claire de Cintre in Henry James's The American, but by the 1890's she had discovered the plays of Ibsen and English audiences had discovered her. She became best known as an Ibsen actress, appearing as Hedda in Hedda Gabler, Rebecca West in Rosmersholm, Nora in A Doll's House, and, her most famous part, Hilda Wangel in The Master Builder.
Robins's interest in non-conventional theater led to her involvement in producing plays. She found the actor-manager system confining because it did not allow her to choose her own roles; controversial plays received little support from the powerful actor-managers. In the early 1890's, therefore, she joined forces with Marion Lea, another actress interested in Ibsen's plays, to produce Hedda Gabler.
Hedda Gabler was the first of many plays Robins was influential in bringing to the English stage. In 1896 she organized the Ibsen-Echegaray subscription series to raise money for the productions of Little Eyolf and Jose Echegaray's Mariana.
The following year William Archer (1856-1924) joined her in forming the New Century Theatre to sponsor non-profit productions. Although short-lived, the New Century produced several plays including John Gabriel Borkman, Admiral Guinea, and Peer Gynt.
During the 1890's, while Robins was active in English theater, she began a new career as a writer. Under the pseudonym C.B. Raimond, she saw four of her novels published by 1898. She also collaborated with her friend Florence Bell (1851-1930) on the play Alan's Wife, published anonymously in 1893. After the publication of one of her most successful novels, The Open Question (1898), Robins's identity as C.E. Raimond became widely known. [See Appendix I for a list of Robins's published books.]
In 1900 Robins went to Alaska in search of her brother Raymond, who, a few years earlier, had joined the gold rush in the Klondyke. Worried about her brother's safety, she convinced William T. Stead, publisher of the Review of Reviews, to finance her trip with the agreement that she would write articles for him about her travels. Although she was only in Alaska briefly, the journey was an important event in her life. In addition to convincing Raymond Robins to leave Alaska (which she believed saved his life), she wrote two novels, The Magnetic North (1904) and Come and Find Me (1908), and several short stories based on her experiences.
In November 1902 Robins made her final appearance as an actress in Mrs. Humphry Ward's Eleanor at the Court Theatre. Thereafter she devoted more time to writing and to her growing interest in issues of women's equality.
In 1907 a new play by Robins, Votes for Women, opened in London. Shortly after, her novelization of it, The Convert (1907), was published. During this time, she joined the Women's Social and Political Union and, in 1907, became a committee member of that organization. According to her diary entries for the years 1907-1911, Emmeline and Sylvia Pankhurst visited Robins on occasion and discussed policies for the campaign. Robins was also involved with the Actresses' Franchise League and served as vice president for the Women Writers' Suffrage League. She wrote many articles in support of women's suffrage, including "Why" (1910) and "A Defense of Militant Suffrage" (1913). The 1913 publication of Way Stations brought together a collection of her articles and speeches about suffrage.
In 1908 Robins met Octavia Wilberforce (1888-1963), who became her lifelong companion. Wilberforce studied medicine and became a doctor with special interest in health matters relating to women and children. She worked at the New Sussex Hospital for Women and Children, where Robins served on the Board of Management. In 1927 Robins, with Wilberforce and Dr. Marjorie Hubert, converted her country home, Backsettown, into a restplace for overworked women. She arranged for Backsettown to remain as a place of recuperation after her death. The facility is still in operation today.
Robins's interest in feminism continued throughout the 1920's. In 1924 she published Ancilla's Share, a collection of essays on sexism which also addressed the problem of racism and the possibilities for pacifism. During this period, she served on the Board of Directors of Time and Tide, a magazine begun by Viscountess Rhondda (Margaret Haig Mackworth) for and about women, and became involved with The Six Point Group.
During World War I, Robins performed Emergency Corps relief work, served as Honorary Librarian at the Military Hospital in London, and lectured to school children in Sussex. She spoke for the Ministry of Food in England and Ireland and was involved with the Henfield Women's Institute in Sussex, which she later served as honorary president.
Robins spent most of the period during World War II in the United States. The Vassar Alumni House in New York, the Princeton Inn in New Jersey, and the Prince George Hotel in New York City were several of her residences during the war.
Elizabeth Robins died in England on May 8, 1952, in her ninetieth year.
1. Charles E. Robins had one son, Eugene, by a previous marriage.
Each of the 13 series in the collection are arranged into a number of subseries.
The three subseries of Series I: Diaries, 1873-1952 are arranged chronologically within each series:
Subseries A: Diaries, 1876-1952
Subseries B: Engagement Books, 1892
Subseries C: Notebooks, 1873-1940
Series II: General Correspondence, 1873-1952 is arranged into three subseries:
Subseries A: General Correspondence, 1873 - 1887
Subseries C: General Correspondence, Subject Files
Subseries C: Notebooks, 1873-1940
Subseries A and B are arranged alphabetically by correspondent; Subseries C is alphabetical by subject. All are arranged chronologically within each folder; undated materials are filed at the end of folders.
Series III: Robins Family Papers, 1803-1933 is arranged into nine subseries:
Subseries A: Jane H. Robins 1814 - 1885
Subseries B: Charles E. Robins 1836 - 1893
Subseries C: Sarah E. Robins 1838 - 1866
Subseries D: Hannah M. Robins 1841 - 1890
Subseries E: Eunice (Una) Robins 1880 - 1886
Subseries F: Vernon Robins 1881 - 1933
Subseries G: Saxton Robins 1882 - 1901
Subseries H: Additional Family Members 1803 - 1876
Subseries I: Family Books
Subseries A-G are arranged chronologically. Correspondence with Elizabeth Robins is at the beginning of each subseries, followed by General Correspondence, Business Correspondence and/or personal items such as notebooks, essays, etc. Correspondence is arranged alphabetically; diaries and letterpress books by chronology. The extreme diversity of material in this series complicates uniform arrangement and description.
Series IV: Raymond Robins and Margaret Dreier Robins, 1887-1951 is arranged into four subseries:
Subseries A: Raymond Robins and Margaret Dreier Robins to Elizabeth Robins
Subseries B: Margaret Dreier Robins
Subseries C: Raymond Robins, General Correspondence
Subseries D: Printed Material and Ephemera
Suberies A-C are arrange chronologically within each subseries.
Series V: Florence Bell, 1891-1930 is arranged into five subseries:
Subseries A: Elizabeth Robins to Florence Bell, 1892 - 1930
Subseries B: Florence Bell to Elizabeth Robins, 1891 - 1930
Subseries C: General Correspondence, 1891-1929
Subseries D: Literary Productions
Subseries E: Printed Materials
Subseries A-E are arranged chronologically within each subseries.
Series VI: Octavia Wilberforce, 1916-1963 is arranged into four subseries:
Subseries A: Octavia Wilberforce to Elizabeth Robins, 1916-1950
Subseries B: Elizabeth Robins to Octavia Wilberforce, 1924-1943
Subseries C: General Correspondence, 1918-1963
Subseries D: Printed Material
Each subseries is arranged chronologically within the subseries.
Series VII is arranged alphabetically.
Series VIII: Theater Productions is arranged into two subseries; alphabetically, primarily by play title:
Subseries A: Business Records
Subseries B: Prompt copies and annotated typescripts
Series IX: Photographic Materials is arranged into eight subseries according to subject matter and material type:
Subseries A: Elizabeth Robins
Subseries B: General Portraits
Subseries C: Robins Family
Subseries D: Alaska
Subseries E: Backsettown
Subseries F: Chinsegut
Subseries G: Colorado, and other places
Subseries H: Negatives
Series X: Legal and Financial Records is arranged into two subseries:
Subseries A: Legal Records
Subseries B: Financial Records
Series XI: Scrapbooks is arranged chronologically into two subseries:
Subseries A: Elizabeth Robins, 1874 - 1904
Subseries B: George Richmond Parks, 1871 - 1883
Series XII: Printed Material is arranged chronologically into twelve subseries:
Subseries A: Proofs of Elizabeth Robins's literary productions
Subseries B: Elizabeth Robins's publications
Subseries C: Theatre
Subseries D: Literary and Political Publications
Subseries E: Political, Cultural and Social Events
Subseries F: Backsettown
Subseries G: Putnam Seminary
Subseries H: Alaska
Subseries I: Pictures
Subseries J: Maps
Subseries K: Newspaper Clippings
Subseries L: Books from Elizabeth Robins's library
Series XIII: Artifacts and Ephemera is arranged into three subseries:
Subseries A: Artifacts
Subseries B: Ephemera
Subseries C: Miscellaneous
- Series I: Diaries
- Series II: General Correspondence
- Series III: Robins Family Papers
- Series IV: Raymond Robins and Margaret Dreier Robins
- Series V: Florence Bell
- Series VI: Octavia Wilberforce
- Series VII: Literary Productions
- Series VIII: Theater Productions
- Series IX: Photographic Materials
- Series X: Legal and Financial Records
- Series XI: Scrapbooks
- Series XII: Printed Materials
- Series XIII: Ephemera and Artifacts
- Oversize - Series II: General Correspondence
- Oversize - Series III: Robins Family Papers
- Oversize - Series VII: Literary Productions
- Oversize - Series VIII: Theater Productions
- Oversize - Series IX: Photographic Materials
- Oversize - Series X: Legal and Financial Records
- Oversize - Series XI: Scrapbooks
- Oversize - Series XII: Printed Materials
- Oversize - Series XIII: Ephemera and Artifacts
Scope and Content Note
The nearly one hundred linear feet of materials which comprise the Elizabeth Robins Papers, 1803-1963, in New York University's Fales Library reflect the many facets of Robins' full life. Robins retained family papers predating her birth as well as her own correspondence with a variety of dynamic personalities. Her papers, therefore, are a resource not only for studying her life and works, but for examining a wide range of family, social, and political issues. The early papers, a slice of Americana, are valuable for studying family, religious, and educational history. Dating from 1803, the Robins family papers consist of diaries, correspondence, compositions, poetry, and photographs. Also present is information on gold mining camps in post Civil War Colorado and turn of the century Alaska, as Robins, her father, and two of her brothers all spent time in mining camps.
The papers from Elizabeth Robins' lifetime provide insight into American and English theater in the late 19th century, English literary circles, and the women's suffrage and feminist movements in England and America. Largely because of her long-term friendship with Dr. Octavia Wilberforce, there is information on the movement for improved health care for women and children.
The correspondence of Raymond Robins, Elizabeth Robins' brother, adds another dimension to the collection. His letters are an excellent source for the study of Chicago political history, the Settlement House Movement, and Progressive Party politics.
The thirteen series which comprise the Papers of Elizabeth Robins are measured in linear feet and inches. Each series has a descriptive note and a container list. Oversize materials are cross referenced from their originating series, and listed in an "Oversize Materials" series at the end of the container list.
Materials are open to researchers. Please contact the Fales Library and Special Collections, email@example.com, 212-998-2596.
Copyright (or related rights to publicity and privacy) for materials in this collection was not transferred to New York University. Permission to use materials must be secured from the copyright holder. Please contact the Fales Library and Special Collections, firstname.lastname@example.org, 212-998-2596.
Published citations should take the following form:
Identification of item, date (if known); The Elizabeth Robins Papers; MSS 002; box number; folder number; Fales Library and Special Collections, New York University Libraries.
Location of Materials
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Purchased through Leonard Woolf in 1964. The accession number associated with this purchase is 1964.002. An additional accretion was donated on an unknown date; the accession number is 2009.002.
In 1964, New York University Library purchased the papers (1803-1963) of Elizabeth Robins (1862-1952), actress, playwright, novelist, and suffragist. When Robins died in 1952, her longtime friend Octavia Wilberforce gained possession of the papers which now make up the collection. Upon Wilberforce's death, Leonard Woolf became the Literary Executor and it was through him that New York University's library arranged to purchase the collection from the Chicago firm of Hamill and Barker.
Some G. B. Shaw letters were viewed by Dan. H. Laurence in England after NYU purchased the collection, but before it was shipped to NYC. Laurence included these in his: Laurence, Dan H. (1965). Bernard Shaw: Collected Letters, 1874–1897. London & Beccles: William Clowes & Sons, Ltd. Not all of the letters were in the collection when it was processed by the library. See the collection folders for details.
Below is a bibliography of Elizabeth Robins' published works. Those works indicated with an asterisk (*) are available in Fales.Robins, Elizabeth. *Alan's Wife. 1893 (with Florence Bell), 1893 Robins, Elizabeth. *Ancilla's Share. 1924 Robins, Elizabeth. Below the Salt. 1896 [English version of The Fatal Gift of Beauty ]Robins, Elizabeth. *Both Sides of the Curtain. 1940Robins, Elizabeth. *Camilla. 1918Robins, Elizabeth. *Come and Find Me. 1908 (serialized in Century - April 1907 to March 1908)Robins, Elizabeth. *The Convert. 1907Robins, Elizabeth. *A Dark Lantern. 1905 Robins, Elizabeth. *The Fatal Gift of Beauty, And Other Stories. 1896 [American version of Below the Salt] Robins, Elizabeth. *The Florentine Frame. 1909 Robins, Elizabeth. George Mandeville's Husband. 1894Robins, Elizabeth. *The Magnetic North. 1904 Robins, Elizabeth. *The Messenger. 1919 Robins, Elizabeth. The Mills of the Gods. 1908 Robins, Elizabeth. *My Little Sister. 1913 (American version of Where are You Going to?) Robins, Elizabeth. *The New Moon (or Milly's Story). 1895 Robins, Elizabeth. *The Open Question, A Tale of Two Temperaments. 1899 Robins, Elizabeth. *Portrait of a Lady. 1941 Robins, Elizabeth. *Prudence and Peter; A Story for Children About Cooking Out-of-Doors and Indoors. 1928 (with Octavia Wilberforce) Robins, Elizabeth. *Raymond and I. 1956 (posthumous) Robins, Elizabeth. *The Secret that was Kept; A Study in Fear. 1926Robins, Elizabeth. *Theatre and Friendship; Some Henry James Letters. 1932 Robins, Elizabeth. *Time is Whispering. 1923Robins, Elizabeth. *Under the Southern Cross. 1907Robins, Elizabeth. *Votes for Women; A Play in Three Acts. 1907Robins, Elizabeth. Way Stations. 1913Robins, Elizabeth. *Where are You Going To? 1913 (English version of My Little Sister)
About this Guide
Processed by Janet Evander, Project Archivist, with assistance from Marion Casey, Collection Assistant in 1985. Thomas Frusciano and Dorothy Swanson were Archival Advisors.
Finding aid was edited in 2013 and 2014 to accurately reflect holdings.
In January 2016, boxes from Series II-Series XIII and all oversize boxes were renumbered to numerically follow Series I. Researchers with citations to previous box numbers should contact email@example.com for assistance with identifying new box numbers.
In February 2019 materials housed in Box 289 were rehoused in preparation to be sent offsite.