Skip to main content Skip to search results Skip to Facets & Filters

MacKaye Family



The MacKaye family of New York included James Morrison MacKaye (1805-1888), organizer of the Wells Fargo Express Company and president of The American Telegraph Company during Abraham Lincoln’s administration; his wife, Emily Benton Steele (1807-1849); and their six children, Sarah MacKaye Alling (1809-1904); William Henry MacKaye (1834-1888); Emily MacKaye von Hesse (b. 1838), who married Baron Christian von Hesse; Sarah (Sadie) MacKaye Warner (1840-1876), who married Lewis T. Warren (1840-1876); Henry Goodwin MacKaye (1856-1913); and James Steele MacKaye (1842-1894), actor, playwright, and inventor, who first married Jennie Spring and later married Mary Medbury MacKaye (1845-1924), author, and half-sister of Sarah Stetson Pevear.

James Steele MacKaye was born in 1842 in Buffalo, New York. In 1858 he became a student of the 'Theatre Français' and studied at L’Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. In 1862 he returned home and enlisted in New York’s Seventh Regiment. Having married Mary Medbery, his second wife, in 1865, he continued his studies in Paris under the tutelage of Francois Delsarte. Between 1872-1894 he wrote thirty plays and acted in seventeen different roles. In 1873 he became the first American to play Hamlet in London. He also patented over 100 theatrical inventions between 1879-1893, including the folding theatre chair. His crowning piece would have been his “Spectatorium.” Planned to include twenty-five moving stages and seat 12,000 people, it was to be staged at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. However, financial difficulties prevented the completion of the project. James Steele MacKaye died in 1894.

Steele’s wife Mary Medbury MacKaye was an author of a popular dramatization of Jane Austin’s “Pride and Prejudice.” James Steele MacKaye and Mary Medbury MacKaye had seven children: Arthur Loring MacKaye (1863-1939); Harold Steele MacKaye (1866-1928); William Payson MacKaye (1868-1889); James Medbery MacKaye (1872-1935); Percy MacKaye (1875-1956), teacher, and writer; Benton MacKaye (1879-1975), conservationist, and planner, who married Jesse Bell Hardy Stubbs (1875-1921), devoted suffragette; and Hazel MacKaye (1880-1944), writer and director.

Percy MacKaye was born in New York in 1875. He attended Harvard College, graduating in 1897. The following year he married Marion Morse (1840-1876) and from 1898-1900 they lived abroad in Rome, Switzerland, and Germany, where he studied at the University of Leipzig. From 1900-1904 he taught at the Craigie School for Boys in New York and from 1906-1913 he lectured on theatre at Harvard, Yale, Columbia and other universities. In 1924 he received an honorary Ph.D. in Literature from Miami University in Ohio. He began to write seriously in 1905 and produced many pageants, plays, poems and essays. In 1927 he completed “Epoch,” a two-volume biography of his father James Steele MacKaye, and after joining the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire in 1930 he completed the work “Annals of an Era, Percy MacKaye and the MacKaye Family, 1826-1932.” In 1948 he received the Fellowship Award of the Academy of American Poets. Percy died on August 31, 1956 in Cornish, New Hampshire.

Percy’s MacKaye’s younger brother Benton MacKaye was born March 8, 1879 in Stamford, Connecticut. He graduated from Harvard in 1900 and continued his education at Harvard Forestry School from which he graduated in 1905. He joined the US Forest Service in 1905 and the US Department of Labor in 1918. From 1920-1922 he worked on projects related to regional planning, during which he formulated the idea and plan for the Appalachian Trail. In 1928 he published his first book, “The New Exploration.” In 1933 he continued his work on preservation and planning as a consultant for the US Indian Service on Indian reservations in South Dakota, New Mexico and Arizona, and from 1934-1936 he was on the planning staff of the Tennessee Valley Authority. In 1937, he developed a plan for the development of the Bay Circuit Project in Massachusetts, and from 1938-1939 he was a consultant on flood control policies of the US Forest Service. In 1940 he began his study of conservation with population distribution for the US Forest Service and continued in 1942 with a formulated proposal for the “Alaska-Siberia Burma Road.” From 1942-1945 he was a member of the Rural Electrification Administration. He retired in 1945. After his retirement, he published a collection of thirteen of his essays entitled “From Geography to Geotechnics,” in 1968. He also began work on his last book “Geotechnics of North America,” which he never finished. Benton MacKaye died on December 11, 1975.

Hazel MacKaye was born on August 24, 1880 and was named after the character “Hazel Kirke” in one of her father’s plays by the same name. In 1910 she was made an honorary member of Radcliffe College’s graduating class. From 1911-1917 she designed, directed and wrote many pageants and acted in a few of her father’s as well. In 1924 she wrote “The Enchanted Urn,” a fantasy in pantomime. She died in Westport, Connecticut in 1944.

The fourth generation of notable MacKaye’s included Percy and Marion’s children: Robert (Robin) Keith MacKaye (1899-1992), sketch artist; Arvia MacKaye (1902- 1989), poet and founder of the Rudolph Steiner Educational and Farming Association; and Christy MacKaye (1909-2002), poet, English teacher at the Rudolph Steiner School in New York, and alumna of the Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

MacKaye Family papers

Identifier: ML-5
Date(s): 1751 to 1998

The MacKaye Family Papers contain correspondence, manuscript drafts, photographs, financial records, sketchbooks, notebooks, diaries, programs, broadsides, posters, newspaper clippings, and ephemeral items. They chronicle four generations of the family. The bulk of the collections focus is on dramatist Steele MacKaye, his son and fellow dramatist and poet, Percy Mackaye, as well as the noted conservationist Benton Mackaye.

Back to top