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, whose enlisted members were all African American and the first to be allowed to serve in the Union Army. Colonel Shaw was killed in action with many of his men, who made a historic fight, during the Second Battle of Fort Wagner in July 1863.
As an adult, RGS II gained a reputation for alcohol abuse and promiscuity. His first wife was Viscountess Nancy Witcher Langhorne, and they had a son together, Robert Gould Shaw III (RGS III), known as Bobby. RGS II and Nancy Langhorne divorced after four years of marriage. She moved to England after some time, where she met and married Waldorf Astor, who later succeeded his father as Viscount.
Shaw married again and had another son, Louis Agassiz Shaw II. Both of his sons suffered from depression and alcoholism. Bobby was arrested in England for homosexuality, then illegal. He committed suicide in July 1970. Louis Agassiz Shaw II committed a murder in 1964, for which he never stood trial. (He was determined to be unfit for trial and was remanded instead to a psychiatric hospital as criminally insane, where he resided 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 Anglo-American roots extending back to passengers on the Mayflower.
RGS II's family had many notable members:
- A paternal uncle was Francis George Shaw (October 23, 1809—November 7, 1882), an outspoken advocate of the abolition of slavery.
- A maternal 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 scholar 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 Colonel Charles Russell Lowell III, a Union casualty in the American Civil War.
- 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 the 18-year-old daughter of railroad millionaire Chiswell Dabney Langhorne, a railroad millionaire, and Nancy Witcher Keene. They had one son, Robert Gould Shaw III (August 18, 1898 — July 10, 1970).
The marriage was extremely unpleasant 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, a present from his father, in Taplow, Buckinghamshire, England. In 1919, Lady Astor ran for Parliament with the Tory Party and won, becoming the first woman to sit as a Member of Parliament in the English House of Commons.
RGS II later married Mary Hannington (1874—1937) and they had one son, Louis Agassiz Shaw II (c. 1906—c. 1987).
A few years later, RGS II purchased a tract of land in Oak Hill, Newton, shortly after the death of its owner, William Sumner Appleton (1840—1903). (He was the father of William Sumner Appleton, Jr.). Shaw commissioned Boston architect James Lovell Little, Jr. to design and construct several buildings on the property, including a primary residence (the Appleton/Shaw House) in 1912, which followed such outbuildings as a carriage house and horse stable in 1910, and a cow barn 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. 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.
His sons had unfortunate lives. After his ex-wife and son Bobby moved to England, RGS II had a limited role in his son's life. Bobby was educated at the Shrewsbury School in Shropshire. He served briefly in the Life Guards (the senior regiment of the English Army and part of the Household Cavalry), but he had increasing difficulty in his personal and professional life. He was homosexual, which was then illegal in England; and suffered from alcoholism and depression. In 1931, he was imprisoned for six months for homosexual offences.
Bob Shaw suffered from worsening alcoholism, and the publicity of 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 depression. Bobby Shaw 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. After Shaw's death, Nancy gave the portrait to Alfred Edward Goodey, Bobby's life partner and an art collector. It was sold in England in 2011 for £23,000.
Louis Agassiz Shaw II also suffered from depression and alcoholism. In 1964, he committed a murder. Determined to be unfit for trial, he was remanded instead to a psychiatric hospital as criminally insane, where he resided for the rest of his life.
In popular culture
Artist R.G. Harper Pennington (1854—1920) 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. In this version, Nancy Langhorne continued to love RGS II after her marriage to Waldorf Astor, but this has not been documented. 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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). "Awards for Pierce Brosnan". Pierce Brosnan. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2011-07-03.
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- 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.