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Series 5
Lady Gregory papers, 1879-1932
Boxes 40-47, BV 4-7

Biographical Note

Isabella Augusta Persse was born March 15, 1852 at Roxborough House, Galway Co., Ireland, the ninth child of Dudley Persse of Francis Berry, Dudley's second wife. The Persse family were members of the Anglo-Irish landholding class and traced their descent from the Percys of Northumberland. Dudley Persse had previously been married to Katherine O'Grady. Augusta's closest siblings were her older brother Robert (d. 1879) and her elder sister Arabelle (1850-), later Arabelle Waithman.

As a child, Augusta was schooled at home in French and German. She was an avid reader, and particularly fond of Malory's Morte d'Arthur and the poems of Robert Browning. In 1877, while visiting her brother Richard in Galway, Augusta met Sir W.H. Gregory. After a long courtship and the death of her father and brother Richard, Augusta and W.H. Gregory were married on 4 March 1880. W.H. and Lady Gregory travelled to England, where she was presented to Queen Victoria, and then to Italy, Greece, and Turkey. In Greece, the Gregory's visited archeologist Heinrich Schliemann who gave Lady Gregory an artifact from Troy. In Constantinople, the Gregory's visited Sir Henry Layard and his wife Enid. Lady Gregory and Lady Layard later became close friends.

The Gregorys spent the first years of their marriage in London where Lady Gregory met Browning and Henry James. After the birth of their son William Robert (May 20, 1881) the Gregorys travelled to Egypt. There, as Lady Gregory put it, they "tumbled into a revolution." During this visit she met the Egyptian patriot Arabi Pasha and the English poet, adventurer and philanderer Wilfred Scowen Blunt. After staying with Arabi, Lady Gregory wrote her first published work, an article entitled "Arabi and his household" which appeared in the Times on September 23, 1882. Lady Gregory's friendship with Blunt developed into a love affair that lasted from December 1882 to August 1883. After Blunt's wife got wind of the affair, Lady Gregory went to Ireland, where she remained until May 1884. In November 1885, she accompanied her husband on a trip to India and Ceylon. After the death of W.H. Gregory in 1892, Lady Gregory remained in mourning for the rest of her life.

After the death of her husband, Lady Gregory devoted the time to her literary career. In 1893 she published A Phantom's Pilgrimage, or Home Ruin, a pamphlet against home rule, and worked on the memoirs of W.H. Gregory which were published in 1894. In that year, Lady Gregory met William Butler Yeats. In 1897, Yeats took up semi-permanent residence at Coole Park, Lady Gregory's estate.

Lady Gregory published Mr. Gregory's Letter Box, a collection of letters and papers of William Gregory (1762-1840). After finishing this work she travelled to the Aran Isles to learn Gaelic and collect folklore. From October 1900 to June 1903, Lady Gregory worked at translating ancient Irish myths. The results of this project were the books Cuchulain of Muirtheme (1902), Poets and Dreamers (1905), and Gods and Fighting Men (1904).

In the summer of 1901, Lady Gregory began writing plays. She first collaborated with Yeats on "Cathleen ni Houlihan". Her first play, "Twenty five", was written in 1902. This was followed by "Spreading the News", "Hyacinth Halvey", "Kincora" (all 1903) "White Cockade" (1905), "The Jackdaw" (1906), "The Gaol Gate" (1907), and the "Travelling Man" (1908). From 1904 to 1912, Lady Gregory acted as manager for the newly founded Abbey Theatre, home to the first Irish National Theatre. In February 1909, she suffered a cerebral hemorrage. After the death of her friend and fellow playwright John Synge, Lady Gregory wrote "The Image", followed by the publication of 7 Short Plays, "Granin", "The Bogie Man" (1910) "The Full Moon" (1910), and several lesser plays. From September 1911 to March 1912, the Abbey Theatre toured America. During this visit Lady Gregory met President Taft and former president Theodore Roosevelt. After the tour, Lady Gregory retired as theater manager. Overall, there were 600 performances of her plays between 1904 and 1912.

Lady Gregory also translated four plays by Moliere: "The Doctor in spite of himself", "Rogueries of Sculpin", "The Miser", and "The Would be Gentleman". Among her last plays are "Shanwalla" (1914) and "The Dragon" (1916, composed in the wake of the Easter rising). In 1931, Lady Gregory's recollections of Coole Park were published in Coole, with a preface by W.B. Yeats. Lady Gregory died at Coole on 22 May 1932. Her memoirs, Seventy Years, were published posthumously. Works consulted in preparing this note include Lady Gregory's Seventy Years 1852-1922, 1973 and Mary Lou Kohfeldt's Lady Gregory: The Woman Behind the Irish Renaissance, 1985.

Scope and Content Note

The series consists of the papers of Lady Gregory from 1879-1932. The papers include family correspondence, general correspondence, writings, printed material, and financial and legal papers. Subseries notes, describing the scope and content of each group in more detail, precede the container lists for each subseries.

Arrangement Note

Organized into six subseries: (5.1) Family correspondence, (5.2) General correspondence, (5.3) Writings, (5.4) Printed material, (5.5) Financial and legal papers, and (5.6) Miscellaneous.

Description of Subseries