Rachel Robinson Elmer

Rachel Robinson Elmer
Rachel Robinson Elmer

Time Period

1860-1910

Subject Categories

Arts, Everyday Life

Notable Facts

Noted artist and book illustrater. Member of the Robinson family, the Quaker family that lived at Rokeby(now a museum and National Historic Landmark in Ferrisburgh, Vermont).

Personal Information

Date of Birth

07/28/1878

Date of Death

02/12/1919

Primary Residence

Ferrisburgh

Religion

Quaker

Ethnicity

Caucasian

Historical Significance

Descended from English Quaker immigrants established in Rhode Island, Rachael Robinson Elmer was the daughter of skilled artist and writer, Rowland Evans Robinson and accomplished artist, Anna Stevens Robinson. She was raised on the family farm, Rokeby, in Ferrisburgh, Vermont within sight of Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains. Contrary to the usual upbringing of a young girl at the time, Elmer, although quite knowledgeable and capable when it came to "women's work," was not bound by household duties and the usual laborious tasks expected of females on a working farm in the 1900s. Throughout her childhood, her parents recognized and encouraged their oldest child to develop her artistic abilities by spending hours exploring and sketching the flora, fauna, animals and birds on the many acres surrounding the family farm.

As a Quaker, hard work, family and community were at the core of Elmer's life. The Robinson family, along with the Quaker community in general, helped many black fugitives along the underground railroad en route to Canada and refused to use foodstuffs and other merchandise grown and/or produced with slave labor.

At the age of twelve, Elmer was recognized as a child prodigy for her artistic ability. While attending the Chautauqua Art League, she was invited by the director to study drawing in New York City. For three years, she spent a month in New York. When she was sixteen, she left her family home to study at Goddard Seminary boarding school in Barre, Vermont. She graduated at eighteen, and began teaching art students at home and in Burlington. For three winters, she studied at the Art Students' League in New York under such notable teachers as Childe Hassam, Robert Henri and William Merritt Chase.

Elmer's father, Rowland Robinson, was an author of several books portraying 19th century country life. He illustrated his books until he became blind. At this time, Rachael began to illustrate for her father. Her illustrations appear in "Hunting Without a Gun", which was published after her father's death.

Throughout her career as an artist, Elmer lived in New York City where she necessarily adhered to society's requirements and standards for young ladies living and working away from home and family - she located acceptable boarding establishments and wrote almost daily to her mother with assurances of safe room and board and financial accountability. Elmer continued her classes at the Art Students League, began working for a firm called Decorative Designers and eventually became associated with Harper & Brothers, the American Book Company and P. F. Volland & Co. Elmer designed book covers, as well as illustrations for magazines and books and also undertook commissioned portraitures. She "signed" her covers and illustrations with two "R's" placed back to back.

Elmer established a thriving career through her determination and abilities. Even after meeting and marrying Robert F. Elmer, a New York Businessman and widower with two grown children, in October 17, 1911, she successfully combined married life with her artistic endeavors.

Rachael Robinson Elmer later illustrated for "John Bunyan's Dream Story", "Dutch Fairy Tales", historical readers put out by the American Book Company, and a series of poems by Caroline Hofman called the, "Wee Winkles" series. She also designed postcards of New York City tourist attractions, and mastered the craft of linoleum block printing. These cards were issued in 1916, and received wide publicity.

Elmer became very involved with the war effort during the First World War. Both she and her husband opened their home to entertain servicemen. She visited the sick and wounded in area hospitals and added some much-needed cheerfulness by drawing life size posters on the servicemen's canteen walls.

Elmer's life was cut short when she contracted influenza while volunteering at the Red Cross during the 1918-1919 influenza epidemic that killed hundreds of thousands around the world. Today, Rokeby is a museum and National Historic Landmark honoring the Robinsons, "a remarkable family of Quakers, farmers, abolitionists, authors, and artists."

Organizations or Movements

  • Quakers "The Religious Society of Friends"

Occupations

  • Artist and writer

Education

  • Goddard Seminary, Art Students League, NYC

Additional Information (Bibliography)

  • Rokeby Musuem, Ferrisburgh, VT Link

  • "Those Indomitable Vermont Women", essay by Dorothy Steele, 2006 Link

  • Williamson, Jane. "Rachel Robinson Elmer." In The Vermont Encyclopedia. Edited by John Duffy. University Press of New England, 2003.

Additional Images

Woolworth Building Illustration.
Woolworth Building Illustration.
Illustration from
Illustration from "Dutch Fairy Tales"