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Yaddo's Founders: Katrina and Spencer Trask

Author and philanthropist Katrina Trask (1853-1922) supported women’s suffrage. Her article in favor of the vote was published in the official organ of the National American Woman Suffrage Association: “I am a democrat, and, of course, the democratic plea appeals to me — the plea that women are of the people and there cannot be a complete democracy until all the people vote.”

Like many women of her time, Trask thought a woman’s place was in the home, but as she wrote in this article: “It lies with woman to make the home more stimulating, more vivid, more heroic.” Trask became an important patron of the arts by turning her home into a salon for artists and intellectuals.

"Woman Sufferage a Practical Necessity" by Katrina Trask

Katrina Trask, “Woman Suffrage a Practical Necessity” The Woman Citizen 1:20 (13 October 1917): 368-69

Postcard, 1928

Picture postcard of Yaddo, Eloise Gard Wright to Lola Ridge, 3 September 1929

The original mansion at Yaddo burned to the ground in 1891. The second house of fifty-five rooms designed by William Halsey Wood was complete in 1893, modeled on Haddon Hall in Derbyshire, one of the great houses of Elizabethan England. Spencer Trask commissioned Tiffany to design a mosaic for the fireplace in the Great Hall depicting a phoenix rising from its ashes, bearing the inscription:

"Fourth of July at Yaddo," 1893

William Reed Huntington, “Fourth of July at Yaddo,” printed broadside, 1893.
Annotated by Lola Ridge

Flammis Invicta Per Ignem Yaddo Resurgo Ad Pacem
(Unconquered by flames, I, Yaddo, rise again for peace)

William Reed Huntington, the Episcopal rector of Grace Church, New York, commemorated the Trasks’ new home in one of his occasional verse:

"Nay, best, my Lady in her tower,
As in the body dwells the soul,
Sits, half unconscious of her power,
Calm regent of the whole."

"Night and Morning," 1907"Night and Morning," 1907

Katrina Trask, Night and Morning. London: John Lane, 1907.
Gift of Spencer Trask with autograph letter to Edmund C. Stedman, 14 December 1906

In 1907 Kate Nichols Trask, commonly known as Katrina Trask, published Night and Morning, a narrative in blank verse about love and marriage. Her husband wrote with pride to his friend the American poet and critic Edmund Clarence Stedman: “It has been an especial pleasure for me to have the book received with such universal enthusiasm as it gives so much encouragement to Mrs. Trask after the many long & weary months of her confinement to her own rooms.” Katrina suffered from early-onset heart disease for most of her life.

Spencer Trask encouraged his talented wife to write poetry, novels, and plays as a way to cope with the tragic early deaths of their four children (Alanson, Christina, Spencer, and Katrina) from diphtheria and other childhood diseases. A book of verse Under King Constantine (1892) began her literary career. John Lane also published Katrina Trask’s historical drama King Alfred’s Jewel in 1909.

King Alfred's Jewel

Katrina Trask, King Alfred’s Jewel. London: John Lane, 1909

In the Vangard book cover
The Northampton Players

Click the texts for more images and information on In the Vangard by Katrina Trask and The Northampton Players' production of the same name.

An ardent pacifist, Katrina Trask published In the Vanguard, her influential antiwar play, in 1913. The Northampton Players performed the play “for the first time on any stage” at the Academy of Music on 12 October 1914 to a packed house of local citizens, peace workers, and Smith College students in “bright evening dresses.” According to a special article published the next day in the New York Times, the “vast audience was deeply impressed by Mrs. Trask’s play, which is less a play in the conventional sense than an argument, constructed by means of scenes illustrating one or another aspect of war illusion.” Among the special guests were Smith College President Marion Le Roy Burton and Trask family friend George Foster Peabody.

Yaddo by Katrina Trask

Katrina Trask, Yaddo. Privatley printed, 1923. This book was made by Allena Pardee in accordance with directions given by Katrina Trask.

In the summer of 1899 during a walk with her husband, Katrina Trask had a vision for the future of Yaddo:

    Yaddo is not to be an institution, a school, a charity: it is to be, always, a place of inspiration, a delightful, hospitable home where guests may come and find welcome. Here will be a perpetual series of house-parties — of literary men, literary women and other artists. [. . .] At Yaddo they will find the inspiration they need: some of them will see the Muses — some of them will drink of the Fountain of Hippocrene, and all of them will find the Sacred Fire and light their torches at its flame.

In February 1900 the Trasks drew up a document establishing Yaddo as a foundation directed by a board of trustees, to begin operating after both of their deaths. Spencer died in 1909 in a train wreck. With the help of family friend George Foster Peabody, whom she married in the last year of her life, Katrina kept Yaddo running until her death in 1922. Peabody guided Yaddo from a private estate to one of America’s premier artistic retreats. The Corporation of Yaddo opened the mansion and grounds to invited guests on 7 June 1926.

Postcard, 1929

Picture postcards of the fountain and pagoda at Yaddo,

Postcard, 1929

Lola Ridge to David Lawson, July 15 and August 20, 1929

According to an early pamphlet, guests were invited by a committee of advisers to enjoy Yaddo from spring to fall. In addition to private rooms and studios, visitors were encouraged to walk in the pine woods and sunken formal gardens, which were created by the Trasks before their death.

The property was named by the Trasks’ daughter Christina — yaddo the opposite of shadow. Indeed, to Katrina Trask, Yaddo came to mean light and an oasis for artistic creativity. As stated in the retreat’s brochure, “Yaddo means peace and beauty and romance as well as practical, direct living and a simple, unaffected home.”

Brochure, circa 1929

Click for more pages and versions of Yaddo's printed brochures, circa 1929

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