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Anne Belle Purple MASTER-1.jpg

Annie Bell PURPLE


Born: 25 April 1856, Columbia, Pennsylvania USA

Died: 30 July 1931, Columbia, Pennsylvania USA

Annie Purple is mentioned in countless newspaper articles of her day, but very little substantive information is offered. We know she was an artist. A few sources clearly state that she was a respected and appreciated artist who decorated china (ceramics) and painted small portraits. We also know she taught many others what she knew.

Among those who 'took lessons' from Annie are Charles Demuth, Lloyd Mifflin, and Gardiner Criswell... and many others of a lesser stature. It's unclear what she taught them exactly. Was it technique? Or, was it a particular process she knew that they wanted to learn? For a time, she held studio space at Lancaster's Iris Club (still in operation, by the way, since 1895). At the Iris Club House, she not only exhibited her work, she displayed the work of her students who attended her lessons there. Annie Purple was an 'art teacher,' that's clear. Probably a good one.

Annie Purple's 'china painting' was always appreciated. She exhibited that work in 1890 at the York County Fair. During another year, she was awarded First Place in 'hand painting, display china' and garnered two other awards for 'figurative' and 'naturalistic work.' It's not surprising, then, that she was sought out to share her talents. Also in 1890, she displayed her work at W. H. Herr's store. This time, in their window.

Ms. Purple was a lifelong loyal member of the First Presbyterian Church at Fourth & Locust and taught Sunday School there for 42 years. She was also a proud member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Beyond her work as a talented artisan, her social life appears to have been an important component in her world, as it was at that time for any one of standing. She had a number of good friends with connections. Annie often stayed with Fanny Eby of Harrisburg (and Fanny visited her in Columbia). She'd visit Wild Cat Falls with Flora Patton of Columbia. Annie Musselman of York and she would alternate weekend visits. Annie rubbed elbows with Mrs. H. F. Yergey, wife of a director of the First National Bank of Columbia. Her best friend seems to have been Evalyn Nesbitt of Port Deposit, Maryland, about 45 miles down river. Undoubtedly, Annie and Eva took full advantage of the Columbia & Port Deposit rail line completed in 1877. In 1884, Evalyn married Jacob Tome, banker, Maryland State Senator, and millionaire. When Jacob died, Evalyn became the richest woman in Maryland. It's unclear if Annie and Eva stayed friends after Eva's marriage to Mr. Tome.

In September 1899, Annie was privileged enough to take a few days at New York City's Westminster House Hotel to join the crowd welcoming home Admiral George Dewey after his grand success at the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War. Only one American crewman was lost in that battle. Annie wanted to be part of that homecoming.


Many of these relationships must have started when she attended the Columbia Classical Institute (some called it "Columbia Female Institute"). She was obviously exposed to a high level of education. At one of the Institute's yearly "Musical and Literary Entertainment" events, she read an essay she wrote... in French. Another year, she was a featured pianist. 

Later, she attended Wilson College in Chambersburg. In 1926, fellow members of the Wilson College Club elected her secretary. After Annie's death, her fellow Club members honored her with a memorial. She was obviously loved and respected by those who knew her.

Like many other creative women in our review of Columbia artists, Annie Purple never married. However, by all accounts, she enjoyed her extended family of sisters, brothers, nephews and nieces in her final decades. Annie could have chosen anywhere to live, but she remained in the town she loved. She died in her home at 109 South Second Street. Annie's final resting place is in Laurel Hill Cemetery, Columbia near others of her family.

Evalyn (Eva) Netbitt. Considered to be Annie's closest  friend.

Adm Geo Dewey_edited.jpg

Adm. George Dewey, hero of the Battle of Manila Bay.

This charming brooch is an example of Annie's special talent of painting on stone or china.

Annie (second from left, standing in the back) surrounding by family. Likely photoraph was taken in the rear of her house on South Second in Columbia.


Columbia Historic Preservation Society, brooch

Lancaster History Archives, Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Columbia, Pennsylvania

Find-a-Grave, photographs, Barbara Stahl Gueltig & Debbie P

Lancaster Examiner, 12 October 1920

Lancaster New Era, 27 June 1925 / 10 June 1890 / 31 July 1931 / 26 June 1926 / 18 May 1936 / 6 February 1889 / 17 November 1899

The News-Journal 25 August 1890

Lancaster Daily Intelligencer 5 October 1881 / 5 April 1893

Harrisburg Telegraph 27 December 1927

Philadelphia Inquirer 30 September 1899

Intelligencer Journal 26 July 1878 / 3 March 1882

York Dispatch 28 October 1881 / 25 August 1890

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