Robert Gould Shaw II
|Robert Gould Shaw II|
June 16, 1872|
Beacon Hill, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Died||March 29, 1930
Newton, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Forest Hills Cemetery, Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, U.S.|
|Other names||RGS II|
|Known for||wealthy Massachusetts landowner and socialite|
|Spouse(s)||Nancy Witcher Langhorne
|Children||Robert Gould Shaw III
Louis Agassiz Shaw II
|Parents||Quincy Adams Shaw
Robert Gould Shaw II (sometimes referred to as RGS II) (June 16, 1872 — March 29, 1930) was a wealthy landowner and socialite of the leisure class in the greater Boston area of Massachusetts during the late 19th century, in an era of rapid economic and population growth in the United States referred to as the Gilded Age.
Born in 1872 into one of the wealthiest and most influential families in Boston, he was a first cousin of Robert Gould Shaw (RGS, 1837—1863). RGS was a colonel in the Union Army during the American Civil War, and commander of the 54th Regiment the enlisted members of which were all African-American. Colonel Shaw was killed in action during the Second Battle of Fort Wagner in July 1863, nine years before the birth of RGS II.
RGS II had a reputation for Alcohol abuse and promiscuity. His first wife was Viscountess Nancy Witcher Langhorne, who later divorced him and married Viscount Waldorf Astor. Both of his sons Robert Gould Shaw III (RGS III) and Louis Agassiz Shaw II suffered from depression and alcoholism. RGS committed suicide in July 1970. Louis Agassiz Shaw II committed a murder in 1964 for which he never stood trial (he was remanded instead to a psychiatric hospital for the rest of his life).
Family and early life
RGS II was the youngest child of Quincy Adams Shaw and Pauline Agassiz. Quincy was one of the wealthiest men in Massachusetts as a result of his investment in the Calumet and Hecla Mining Company. RGS II's four older siblings were Louis, Pauline, Marian, and Quincy Jr. While his maternal grandfather Louis Agassiz was born in Switzerland, his father's side of the family had roots extending back to the Mayflower. Aside from his parents and cousin, RGS II's family had many notable members:
- One of his uncles was Francis George Shaw (October 23, 1809—November 7, 1882), an outspoken advocate of the abolition of slavery.
- Another uncle was Alexander Emanuel Agassiz (1835—1910), who served as president of Calumet and Hecla Mining Company from 1871–1910, as well as president of the United States National Academy of Sciences (1901—1907).
- His first cousin (once removed) was Francis Parkman, Jr. (1823—1893), a noted American historian and author of The Oregon Trail: Sketches of Prairie and Rocky-Mountain Life.
- His maternal grandfather was Louis Agassiz (1807—1873), a prominent paleontologist, glaciologist, geologist, and scholar of the Earth's natural history.
- His maternal grandmother was Cecilie Braun.
- A granduncle was George Parkman (1790—1849), a murder victim in a highly publicized case that shook the city of Boston to its core in 1849—1850, due to the gruesome nature of the crime and the high social station of both the victim and the murderer.
- His cousin Josephine Shaw was married to Civil War Union casualty Colonel Charles Russell Lowell III.
- His cousin Rodolphe Louis Agassiz was a polo champion
- His nephew Louis Agassiz Shaw, Jr. was a professor of physiology at Harvard Medical School and co-inventor of the first widely used iron lung.
His paternal grandparents were Robert G. Shaw (1776—1853) and Elizabeth Willard Parkman (1785—1853).
On October 27, 1897, RGS II married Nancy Witcher Langhorne (1879—1964) in New York City. She was a daughter of railroad millionaire Chiswell Dabney Langhorne and Nancy Witcher Keene. They had one son, Robert Gould Shaw III (August 18, 1898 — July 10, 1970).
The marriage was a disaster for both RGS II and Nancy. RGS II's friends accused Nancy of being puritanical and rigid, while Nancy's friends contended that RGS II was an alcoholic and a womanizer. Nancy left RGS II numerous times during their brief marriage, the first time during their honeymoon. In 1903, Nancy's mother died and she divorced RGS II, returning to Mirador, her childhood home.
In 1905, while a passenger on a trans-Atlantic ship to England, the recently divorced Nancy met Waldorf Astor, eldest son of William Waldorf Astor and Mary Dahlgren Paul of the Astor family. The couple were married in May 1906, settling in Cliveden, the Astor family estate in Taplow, Buckinghamshire, England. In 1919, Nancy became the first woman to sit as a Member of Parliament in the English House of Commons.
After his ex-wife and son moved to England, RGS II had a limited role in RGS III's life. RGS III was educated at the Shrewsbury School in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England. RGS III briefly served in the Life Guards (the senior regiment of the English Army and part of the Household Cavalry), but he experienced increasing difficulty in his personal and professional life as a result of his homosexuality, alcoholism, and depression. In 1931, he was imprisoned for six months for homosexual offences.
Along with his worsening alcoholism, the 1963 Profumo Affair, his mother's death in 1964, and the sudden death of his half-brother Viscount William Waldorf Astor II in March 1966 may have increased his suicidal tendencies. After years of struggling with depression and suicidal ideation, RGS III committed suicide on July 10, 1970. He is buried in the chapel at Cliveden. John Singer Sargent painted an oil portrait of Nancy Viscountess Astor in 1909, and also did a 1923 charcoal portrait of RGS III in his military uniform. Nancy gave the portrait to Alfred Edward Goodey, art collector and RGS III's partner, and it was later sold in England in 2011 for £23,000.
RGS II later married Mary Hannington (1874—1937) and they had one son, Louis Agassiz Shaw II (c. 1906—c. 1987). RGS II purchased a tract of land in Oak Hill, Newton, shortly after the death of its owner, William Sumner Appleton (1840—1903), father of William Sumner Appleton, Jr.). He commissioned Boston architect James Lovell Little, Jr. to design and construct several buildings on the property, including a carriage house and horse stable in 1910, a cow barn in 1912, and a primary residence (the Appleton/Shaw House) in 1912. The family lived briefly in a brownstone building located at 35 Commonwealth Avenue in the Back Bay in 1915, presumably while awaiting the completion of their new home in Newton.
Death and legacy
As the Gilded Age gave way to the Progressive Era and eventually the Great Depression, the Shaw fortune collapsed. RGS II died in 1930, and the vacant and decaying Shaw estate in Newton was sold in 1939 to Dr. William Fitts Carlson. Carlson used the property as the new campus for Mount Ida Junior College. Adjoining tracts of land were converted into the Wells Avenue office park in the 1970s, and the Charles River Footpath (since renamed the Helen Heyn Riverway) in the 1990s.
In popular culture
Artist R.G. Harper Pennington (1854—1920) in one of his paintings depicted a nude RGS II as the character "Little Billee" from the bohemian novel Trilby (1894) by George du Maurier. This painting hung in the bedroom of Henry Symes Lehr, the homosexual husband of Elizabeth Wharton Drexel.
In a 1982 episode of Masterpiece Theatre that chronicled the life of Nancy Astor, Pierce Brosnan portrayed RGS II as a profligate and promiscuous gambler whom Nancy continued to love even after her marriage to Waldorf Astor. For this performance, Brosnan was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor in 1985.
- G.E. Cokayne; Vicary Gibbs; H.A. Doubleday; Geoffrey H. White; Duncan Warrand; Lord Howard de Walden, eds. (2000). The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, Extant, Extinct or Dormant. Volume XIII:Peers created 1901 to 1938. Gloucester, United Kingdom: Alan Sutton Publishing. pp. 215–6.
- Snoots, Jen (November 25, 2007). "Robert Gould Shaw, II (Memorial# 23098611)". Find a Grave. Salt Lake City, Utah. Retrieved 2011-07-03.
- Boston Museum of Fine Arts (1918). "Introduction". Quincy Adams Shaw Collection (Italian Renaissance sculpture. Paintings and pastels by Jean François Millet. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts. pp. 1–4.
- New York Times (November 9, 1882). "An old abolitionist dead: Francis George Shaw and his services in the cause of freedom". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-07-03.
- Shaw, Colin Gould (December 2005). "Robert Gould Shaw II". Newton, Massachusetts: Newton Conservators Inc. Retrieved 2011-07-03.
- Parkman, Francis (1849). "Chapter I:The Frontier". The California and Oregon Trail: Being Sketches of Prairie and Rocky Mountain Life. New York: George P. Putnam. pp. 9–18.
- Sherwood, RJ (1973). "Obituaries: Philip Drinker 1894 – 1972". The Annals of Occupational Hygiene 16 (1): 93–4. doi:10.1093/annhyg/16.1.93. Retrieved 2011-07-02.
- Gorham, J (1979). "A medical triumph: the iron lung". Respiratory Therapy 9 (1): 71–3. PMID 10297356.
- The Harvard Education and Research Center for Occupational Safety and Health (2010). "2010-2011 Student Handbook". Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Harvard Education and Research Center for Occupational Safety and Health. Retrieved 2011-07-02.
- P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science (2011). "Philip Drinker '17". Distinguished Alumni: Great Talents & Bright Minds. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania: Lehigh University. Retrieved 2011-07-02.
- The Canterbury Auction Galleries (February 22, 2011). "February Sale Report: John Singer Sargent drawing sells for £23,000". News. Canterbury, Kent, England: The Canterbury Auction Galleries. Retrieved 2011-07-03.
- Sykes, Christopher (1972). "Chapter 4: Early sorrow". Nancy: The Life of Lady Astor. New York: Harper & Row. pp. 52–65.
- Marlowe, Derek (1982). Nancy Astor: The Lady from Virginia. London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson.
- Lundy, Darryl (August 11, 2004). "Robert Gould Shaw II". ThePeerage.com. Wellington, New Zealand. Retrieved 2011-07-03.
- Prats, JJ (August 2, 2009). "Mirador". The Historical Marker Database. Retrieved 2011-07-03.
- Sykes, Christopher (1972). "Chapter 5: Love and marriage". Nancy: The Life of Lady Astor. New York: Harper & Row. pp. 66–88.
- Haverty, Anne (1988). Constance Markievicz: an independent life. London: Pandora. p. 187. ISBN 978-0-86358-161-8.
- Julia and Keld (May 5, 2008). "Robert Gould Shaw, III (Memorial# 26617275)". Find a Grave. Salt Lake City, Utah. Retrieved 2011-07-03.
- Snoots, Jen (November 25, 2007). "Mary Hannington Shaw (Memorial# 23098574)". Find a Grave. Salt Lake City, Utah. Retrieved 2011-07-03.
- Council of Independent Colleges (2006). "Holbrook Hall". Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project. Washington, DC: Council of Independent Colleges. Retrieved 2011-07-03.
- Council of Independent Colleges (2006). "Hallden Academic Support Center". Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project. Washington, DC: Council of Independent Colleges. Retrieved 2011-07-03.
- Council of Independent Colleges (2006). "Shaw Hall". Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project. Washington, DC: Council of Independent Colleges. Retrieved 2011-07-03.
- BOSarchitecture (2011). "Boston Architecture: 35 Commonwealth Avenue". Back Bay: Commonwealth Avenue. Boston: BOSarchitecture. Retrieved 2011-07-03.
- Newton Conservators (2011). "Newton Park and Conservation Lands: Helen Heyn Riverway". Newton Park and Conservation Areas. Newton, Massachusetts: Newton Conservators Inc. Retrieved 2011-07-03.
- Decies, Elizabeth Wharton Drexel Beresford (1935). King Lehr and the gilded age (The leisure class in America). Philadelphia, London: J.B. Lippincott Company. ISBN 978-0-405-06918-5.
- IMDb.com (2011). "Full cast and crew for "Masterpiece Theatre: Nancy Astor"". Masterpiece Theatre: Nancy Astor. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2011-07-03.
- IMDb.com (2011). "Awards for Pierce Brosnan". Pierce Brosnan. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2011-07-03.
- City of Newton Massachusetts Atlas (1886): Section V, Ward 5. The location of the tract of land purchased by Robert Gould Shaw II in 1903 (property owned by William Sumner Appleton) is clearly visible on this 1886 map of Newton, Massachusetts.