Frances H. Flaherty

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Frances Hubbard Flaherty (December 5, 1883 – June 22, 1972) was married to acclaimed documentary filmmaker Robert J. Flaherty from 1914 until his death in 1951.


Frances Johnson Hubbard was born in Bonn, Germany into "a household of erudition, gentility, and privilege," the daughter of Lucius L. Hubbard (1849-1933), who was studying mineralogy at the University of Bonn, and his wife Frances (1852-1927).[1] She met Robert Flaherty in 1903 in Painesdale, Michigan, where he was employed by her father; the two fell in love, but Flaherty, then "a lumberjack-handyman... of no means and few expectations," was dismissed by her father, after which Frances had a nervous breakdown and was treated at a sanatorium in Dansville, New York, while Flaherty went to British Columbia. Frances visited him there during the summer of 1908, but the two quarreled, and Frances broke their engagement and went back East.[2]

Over the next few years, she "traveled to New York and Paris to continue her conservatory training in music and piano, and in 1911 she visited the West Indies and South America."[3] On November 12, 1914, she married Flaherty in a civil ceremony in New York City; it is not clear how their relationship was renewed: "Legend has it that she sent him a congratulatory telegram on hearing reports of his return with the rediscovery of the Belcher Islands confirmed; and he shot back a reply that included a proposal of marriage."[4] She herself wrote in a self-profile for the tenth reunion of her Bryn Mawr class in 1915:

Coming back for a visit to my own country last July, I found myself caught by the war, and doubly caught in the toils of an old romance. I married my husband for several very plain and simple reasons: 1. Because an innate sense for the preservation of his own genius has saved him from all educational institutions or instruction of any kind. 2. Because that genius is for (a) exploration, (Profession: Exploration and Mining), and (b) music and the arts, (Avocations: playing the violin and portrait photography).[5]

The couple had three children and remained married until Flaherty's death in 1951. Frances worked alongside her husband on several of his films, including Louisiana Story (1948), for which she earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Story. She appeared in a feature-length documentary on her and her husband's film work Hidden and Seeking (1971) directed by Peter Werner. She died on June 22, 1972, in Dummerston, Vermont.[6]


  1. ^ Robert J. Christopher (ed.), Robert and Frances Flaherty: A Documentary Life, 1883-1922 (McGill-Queen's Press - MQUP, 2005: ISBN 0-7735-2876-8), pp. 40-42.
  2. ^ Christopher (ed.), Robert and Frances Flaherty: A Documentary Life, 1883-1922, pp. 43-48.
  3. ^ Christopher (ed.), Robert and Frances Flaherty: A Documentary Life, 1883-1922, p. 49.
  4. ^ Christopher (ed.), Robert and Frances Flaherty: A Documentary Life, 1883-1922, p. 201.
  5. ^ Christopher (ed.), Robert and Frances Flaherty: A Documentary Life, 1883-1922, p. 203.
  6. ^ Turner Browne and Elaine Partnow, Macmillan Biographical Encyclopaedia of Photographic Artists (Macmillan, 1983: ISBN 0-02-517500-9), p. 198.

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