Beatrice Chanler

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Beatrice Chanler
Minnie Ashley - B. J. Falk 1896.jpg
Minnie Ashley in 1896
Minnie W. Collins

May 7, 1880
DiedJune 19, 1946 (aged 66)
New York City, U.S.
  • Actress
  • sculptor
  • philanthropist
William Sheldon
(m. 1897, divorced)

(m. 1903; separated 1909)
AwardsLegion of Honour
Order of the Phoenix

Beatrice Minerva Ashley Chanler (born Minnie W. Collins; May 7, 1880[1] – June 19, 1946), also known as Minnie Ashley, was an American stage actress, artist, and author. She was active in charity and philanthropy during World War I and World War II.

Early life and stage career[edit]

Beatrice Chanler was born Minnie W. Collins on May 7, 1881 to Eliza Collins and an unknown father, according to the novelist Stephanie Dray.[2] "At first, I believed that I was going to be telling a story about a blue-blooded do-gooder born in Charlottesville, Virginia. Instead, I found the story of an illegitimate daughter of Irish immigrants who lived a difficult childhood in Boston. And suddenly, the story became much more meaningful," Dray told the New York Post. The Post says that Ashley was born as "Minnie Collins" in Boston to an Irish-American widow named Eliza Collins. When Minnie was a toddler, her mother moved in with George Ashley, and she took his surname. The birth record of Minnie W. Collins on May 7, 1880, to Eliza Collins in Dartmouth, Massachusetts is consistent with this story.[3] George Ashley died shortly after Minnie's 8th birthday, on May 11, 1888, in Boston.

Ashley likely adopted the middle name of Minerva for George Ashley's aunt, Minerva Crapo Lindley, who died around the time that George Ashley and Eliza Collins began living together.[4][2]

She appeared in Broadway and London stage productions as Minnie Ashley from 1893 until 1902. She launched her acting career in 1893 (at the age of 12) as a member of the chorus in 1492 Up to Date by R. A. Barnet, produced on Broadway by Edward E. Rice. She then served as understudy for Edna Wallace Hopper in John Philip Sousa's operetta El Capitan (1896) starring DeWolf Hopper.[5] The following summer she married William Sheldon, an actor,[6] and was separated from him within a few months.[7][8]

Her future husband, William A. Chanler, first saw her in a 1902 production of A Country Girl[9] starring C. Hayden Coffin at Augustin Daly's theater in London.[10] By then, Ashley was already well known after appearing in The Geisha (1896), The Circus Girl (1897), A Greek Slave (1899)[11][12] and San Toy (1900 and 1902).[13][14][15] Ashley was anxious to quit her stage career due to damage to her eyesight resulting from prolonged exposure to theatrical arc lights.[5]

In 1911, after a decade's absence from the stage, Ashley returned briefly to acting, revisiting her role as Madame Sophie in "A Country Girl."[5]

Marriage and children[edit]

Chanler with her two sons

Minnie Ashley was courted both by William Randolph Hearst and William A. Chanler. During this courtship, in spite of the protections of secretaries at the Hearst Corporation, Chanler stormed into Hearst's office and punched him in the nose, ultimately winning the affections and hand of Miss Ashley.[16] Ashley married Chanler on December 4, 1903 at St. George's Episcopal Church in Manhattan.[17] The union was controversial as Chanler's family disapproved of his choice to marry an actress and because of Ashley's previous divorce. The couple spent their honeymoon in the Caribbean on board Chanler's recently-purchased yacht Sanibel.[1]

They had two sons:

In 1909 Willie expressed a desire to go to Libya to fight for the Senussi against Italy in the Italo-Turkish War.[22] When Beatrice objected, reminding him that he had a family to support and could not risk his life so easily, Willie revised his will, signing over the better part of his estate to his wife and sons in trust. Beatrice remained dissatisfied, however, in particular because Willie's drinking had become a problem.[1] In the fall of 1909, Willie and Beatrice separated on good terms.[5] The separation was never legally formalized[23] and she retained his surname for the rest of her life. Following their separation, she maintained a home in Paris on the left bank not far from his residence on the right bank, and met frequently with him until his death in 1934. She socialized with prominent members of the theatrical community in Paris, and became close friends with Arturo Toscanini and Lionel Barrymore. In 1939 she relocated to New York City.[1]

Artistic and philanthropic career[edit]

After separating from her husband, she became a sculptor,[24] studying under George Gray Barnard.[25] In 1912 she executed a 400-foot-long frieze for the ground floor of the Vanderbilt Hotel at 4 Park Avenue in New York City.[26][27][28][29]

Chanler in 1921[30]

In 1915, her husband Willie had his leg amputated in the American Hospital of Paris and Beatrice took her sons to visit him. The hospital was filled with war wounded from the Western Front, and this inspired her to become involved in philanthropy.[31] In 1917, she volunteered to spend five months in France and told the New York Times in June:

As to the devastated regions that I visited, the awful waste and desolation is almost inconceivable. . . . I visited the ransacked regions of Pozières and Bapaume, where there was nothing but charred trees to make a village site, and a level country made undulating by shellfire. We came across a place called the Cemetery of the Tanks. Here were the battered remains of ten tanks, their hulls looking like ships wrecked at sea. Thousands of hand grenades, many of them unexploded, were lying all about us.[32][33]

Later that year she co-founded and managed the French Heroes Lafayette Memorial Fund[34][35] headquartered at the Château de Chavaniac in Auvergne.[25][36][31] The château served as a school, orphanage and preventorium for the care of pre-tubercular, frail and malnourished children, as well as a museum of the life and family of the Marquis de Lafayette. During World War II the château was used as a secret hiding place for Jewish children.[37]

Late in life she became an author, publishing a literary novel in French in 1927.[38] She also extensively researched (on location in Paris and Algiers) a 1934 biography of Cleopatra's daughter citing English, French, German, Latin and Greek references.[39]

During World War II she was president of two relief organizations, the Friends of Greece and the Committee of Mercy,[40][41] She also served as a committee member for the National Allied Relief Committee, the League of the Allies, Relief of Belgian Prisoners in Germany, the American Fund for the Heroes of France and Her Allies, the American Branch of the French Actors' Fund, and the Russian War Relief Committee. For her philanthropic work during World War I she was decorated as a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour[42] and for her work during World War II she was awarded (posthumously) the Greek Order of the Phoenix.[43]


Beatrice Chanler died on June 19, 1946, aboard a train from New York to Portland, Maine, where she was going to open her summer home in Islesboro, Maine.[42][25] Her funeral was delayed to give time for her Order of the Phoenix decoration to be flown from Athens and placed on her casket, along with her Legion of Honor cross.[1]



  1. ^ a b c d e Thomas, Lately. The Astor Orphans: A Pride of Lions, W. Morrow, 1971. ISBN 1881324036
  2. ^ a b Raquel Laneri,"The shocking secret past of wild child turned NYC high-society doyenne," New York Post, April 15, 2021
  3. ^ Massachusetts, U.S., Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988 [database on-line].
  4. ^ Pennsylvania, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1683-1993 [database on-line]
  5. ^ a b c d "Minnie Ashley - Broadway Photographs".
  6. ^ "The Theatre". Meyer Bros. & Company. June 30, 2019.
  7. ^ "Romance of a Famous Hunter and an Actress". The San Francisco Examiner. Sunday Magazine. May 17, 1903. p. 44. Retrieved February 18, 2019.
  8. ^ "Minnie Ashley (1875-1945) American Actress," excerpt from Famous Prima Donnas by Lewis C. Strang, 1906.
  9. ^ "Minnie Ashley – Broadway Cast & Staff - IBDB".
  10. ^ "William A. Chanler WEDS; Marries Miss Minnie Ashley at St. Georges Rectory. Bride Was Formerly a Popular Actress," New York Times, December 5, 1903.
  11. ^ "'A Greek Slave' is a Showy and Tasteful Extravaganza--Minnie Ashley's Big Hit," New York Times, Nov 29, 1899.
  12. ^ Minnie Ashley in A Greek Slave
  13. ^ Lewis Clinton Strang, Famous Prima Donnas, Boston, L. C. Page & Co., 1900, pp. 134–146.
  14. ^ "Beatrice Ashley Chanler papers, 1914-1928: Guide". Harvard University Library. Archived from the original on February 2, 2014.
  15. ^ Lida Rose McCabe, "Poor Girls Who Marry Millions," Cosmopolitan, Vol XLI, No. 1, May 1906; pp. 249-258.
  16. ^ a b Chanler, William Astor, Jr. And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time: A Seven Hundred Acre Island Reminiscence. Rockport, ME: Outerbridge Books, 1984.
  17. ^ "W. Astor Chanler Weds. Former Congressman Marries Minnie Ashley, Actress." Chicago Tribune, Dec 5, 1903, p. 3.
  18. ^ "Paid Notice: Deaths CHANLER, WILLIAM A., JR". The New York Times. October 23, 2002. Retrieved February 18, 2019.
  19. ^ "Obituary: William Astor Chanler, Jr". Archived from the original on February 19, 2014. Retrieved February 6, 2019.
  20. ^ "Beatrice Chanler's Son is Set to Marry A Princess," The Times, San Mateo, California, Tue. 29 May 1934, p. 4.
  21. ^ "MARIA DE BRAGANCA MARRIED IN AUSTRIA; Princess Becomes the Bride of Ashley Chanler, a Son of Late Explorer and Represengatlve" (PDF). The New York Times. June 15, 1934. Retrieved March 1, 2019.
  22. ^ Leopold, Robert S. (August 1994). "A Guide to Early African Collections in the Smithsonian Institution": 21. hdl:10088/21930. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  23. ^ Thomas, Lately (1999). The Astor Orphans: A Pride of Lions. Washington Park Press. ISBN 9781881324034. lately thomas pride of lions.
  24. ^ "Beatrice AshleyChanler - Artist, Fine Art Prices, Auction Records for Beatrice AshleyChanler".
  25. ^ a b c "Mrs. W.A. Chanler, Explorer's Widow. Actress, Sculptor and Author Is Dead. Her Husband Was Kin of John Jacob Astor Active in War Relief Work Was Singer on Stage". Associated Press in the New York Times. June 19, 1946. Retrieved December 9, 2013. Mrs. Beatrice Ashley Chanler of 59 East Fifty-fourth Street, New York, died today aboard a New York-to-Portland train while on the way to her Islesboro (Me.) summer home ... .
  26. ^ Miller, Tom (November 10, 2012). "Daytonian in Manhattan: The 1912 Vanderbilt Hotel -- Park Avenue and 34th Street".
  27. ^ Schaedel (August 9, 2011). "New York - History - Geschichte: Vanderbilt Hotel 1913".
  28. ^ "The History Box- NYC's Hotels and Boarding Houses 1916 Part I".
  29. ^ "The Vanderbilt Hotel," in Architecture and Building: A Magazine Devoted to Contemporary Architectural Construction, Volume XLIV, No. 4. W.T. Comstock Company, April, 1912, p. 152.
  30. ^ Arts & Decoration, March 1921
  31. ^ a b "Gazette of the American Friends of Lafayette, Oct. 2016, pp 56–57" (PDF).
  32. ^ emfoxwell (October 15, 2018). "Beatrice Ashley Chanler, actress turned relief worker".
  33. ^ Quoted in "Pictures Ruins Left by Germany: Destruction of Orchards and Other Evidences of Refined Cruelty," Morning Press, Santa Barbara, California, Volume 45, Number 224, 28 June 1917
  34. ^ French Heroes Lafayette Memorial Fund
  35. ^ "Americans Aid War Refugees in Paris: Mrs. William Astor Chanler Tells of Work Done Through Lafayette Fund," The Philadelphia Inquirer, August 4, 1918, Vol. 179, Issue 35, p. 11.
  36. ^ Johnson, Wendy. "Beatrice Ashley Chanler — Dumbarton Oaks".
  37. ^ "Lafayette Memorial - Lafayette - Château Musée".
  38. ^ Beatrice Chanler, Le péan du nouveau monde, Paris, Éditions de La Revue mondiale, 1927.
  39. ^ Beatrice Chanler, Cleopatra's Daughter, the Queen of Mauretania, Liveright Pub. Co., London, 1934.
  40. ^ "Beatrice and William Astor Chanler papers, 1897-ca. 1945".
  41. ^ "Boston Blueblood Is on Errand of Mercy: Mrs. William Astor Chanler Is Doing the Same Job She Did in First World War." The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Kentucky, Wed. 12 Nov 1941, p. 16
  42. ^ a b "Mrs. William A. Chanler Dies," The Rhinebeck Gazette / Red Hook Times, Rhinebeck, NY June 27, 1946, p. 10.
  43. ^ Henry McBride, An Eye on the Modern Century: Selected Letters of Henry McBride, Steven Watson and Catherine Morris, editors. Yale University Press, 2000., p. 344. ISBN 0-300-08326-2

External links[edit]