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Caroline PEART


Born: 4 September 1870, Columbia, Pennsylvania USA

Died: 12 October 1963, Lancaster, Pennsylvania USA

Caroline Peart, daughter of John Peart and Martha Herr, was born in 1870 in Columbia, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. When she was seven, the family moved to Philadelphia where her father became a prosperous lumber dealer.

Caroline began her formal art training at The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, in 1887. It was a pivotal time for the American art scene. Women were only beginning to be considered for such an education. Among Caroline’s instructors were Cecilia Beaux and Thomas Hovenden, both highly respected artists of the time. Fellow students included Robert Henri and William Glackens. While attending the Fellowship Ball at the Academy, she rubbed elbows with the likes of Maxfield Parrish, Alexander Calder, William H. Lippincott, and Violet Oakley. In 1889, she won the coveted Mary Smith Prize which the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts awarded annually to the best work by a female artist.


Caroline frequently traveled Europe to paint—she even studied at James McNeill Whistler’s Academie Carmen in Paris. In 1900, she attended JMW's Académie Carmen in Paris. However, she was not accepted to continue there because of her previous training. Inez Addams wrote to her: 'Mr. Whistler, on being reminded of your work, desires me to say – that it cannot be accepted as the ingenuous work of a novice –but is recognized as the outcome of a deliberate training, with which no interference could be possibly entertained.’ In 1901 both Peart and JMW were asked to exhibit at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo. Peart also exhibited at the Corcoran Art Gallery in Washington, D.C. She was among a select group to exhibit at the Pan-American Exhibition in Buffalo, in 1901. Three years later, her work was included in the prestigious Carnegie International exhibit, in Pittsburgh.

Caroline achieved flashes of greatness as a painter but she never became a full-fledged, dedicated artist. This could be in part due to the fact that Caroline focused on traditional portraiture and, as modernism took hold in America, public interest in portraits waned. She failed to establish a career because she didn’t possess the required mix of drive, status, and support needed to find success. Her ongoing struggles in her personal life resulted in her decision to abandon painting. The pressure of these setbacks resulted in Caroline relying on mediums, the occult, and spiritualism to survive day-to-day. These obsessions, combined with the overwhelming responsibility of caring for her aging mother, consumed, and largely destroyed, her. Her home life was important to her, however, Caroline never articulated a single true emotion when writing about her parents or family. Her extended family included many artists, including N. C. Wyeth, but she didn’t forge strong bonds with her Wyeth cousins despite their mutual interests in art.

Caroline’s father, John Peart, served with the 195th Regiment during the Civil War and was the last person to cross the Columbia-Wrightsville bridge before it was burned to stop the Confederates’ advance. After the war, the Pearts settled in Washington Boro before moving to Philadelphia after great success in the lumber business. She adored her father but after his death in 1906, Caroline lost her passion for painting.

Her mother, Martha Ann, was a direct descendant of Lancaster’s Bishop Hans Herr and also had family connections with Andrew and NC Wyeth. After her mother’s death in 1941, Caroline moved permanently to Washington Boro. There, she lived in absolute poverty, despite her wealthy early years and her parent’s social connections. Her home was without electricity, heat, or running water. She had few friends and lived alone. Upon her death, the community was shocked to discover that she left her estate to Franklin & Marshall College, an institution with which she had no ties save that it, like Washington Boro, was in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The estate was valued at over $565,000 in 1963. In return, she stipulated that the college care for the Herr Burying Ground where Caroline remains at rest, near her family, at Third and Herr Streets, Washington Boro.

Caroline truly loved Washington Boro; in her diary, she wrote: “…the most beautiful town site in this country.” She was particularly fond of the river: “We had a pleasant drive to Lancaster and back by the river—ever and ever-lovely Susquehanna;” “The River! Majestic as ever!;” and “The River in all its glory!”

One of Carolina Perart's many paint sketches during her travels abroad.

Portraits Caroline painted of her mother, Martha Ann (Herr), and her father, John.


“Moments of Light and Years of Agony,” graduate dissertation by Katharine John Snider.

“Caroline Peart Papers” introduction, Franklin & Marshall College Special Collections.

“Correspondence of James McNeill Whistler,” From a letter from Whistler’s secretary, 1900.

“Caroline Peart,” Blue Rock Heritage Center.

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