Skip to Content

Edith Finch

Showing 1 of 1

Print this page

This donor does not have an image.

Bookmark and Share


Edith Finch
Edith Finch (Mrs. Bertrand Russell) (A.B. 1922) (1900-1978)
Edith, Countess Russell, was born Edith Finch, the daughter of Edward Bronson Finch, a physician, and his wife, Delia, on November 5, 1900 in New York City. As a child, Edith grew up in New York and spent many holidays in Greenfield, Massachusetts, with her paternal grandparents; after attending the Chapin School, she came to Bryn Mawr College, where, known to her friends as “Fink”, she majored in English Literature. After graduating Bryn Mawr in 1922, Edith traveled to England to attend St. Hilda’s College at Oxford University, where she again studied English literature, receiving a B.A with honors in 1925 and an M.A. in 1926. From 1925-1926, Edith studied in Paris; according to fellow classmates Byrd Cremora Hazelton (A.B. 1922) and Polly (Marie) Wilcox Abbott (A.B. 1922):
While in France Edith did indeed take lessons in bareback riding! She achieved such a proficiency that she was asked to travel and perform with a European circus. One of her friends urged her to say yes, and perhaps write a thesis later on circus life. But Edith turned (with reluctance or with relief?) to more academic pursuits. (Byrd Cremora Hazelton and Polly Wilcox Abbott, “Class Notes: 1922,” Bryn Mawr Alumnae Bulletin (Spring 1978): p. 38)

In 1938 Edith published the biography Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, 1840-1922 (London: J. Cape, 1938), and in 1942 she returned to Bryn Mawr when she was appointed instructor in the English Department. According to Sheila Turcon, Edith was “a frequent traveler to Europe during these years of teaching and writing…She sometimes lectured at various schools and clubs off campus on biography in general and Blunt in particular” (Sheila Turcon, “The Edith Russell Papers,” Russell: The Journal of the Bertrand Russell Archives 12 (Summer 1992): 61-78, p.61). In 1947, Edith published her biography of Bryn Mawr’s former president, Carey Thomas of Bryn Mawr (New York: Harper, 1947). In 1948, Edith received a special award from the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors for the biography, which is made up of ten chapters divided into two halves—the first five devoted to Carey Thomas of Baltimore, the last five to Carey Thomas of Bryn Mawr. The book is dedicated to Lucy Martin Donnelly, a professor of English at Bryn Mawr, with whom Edith built a home, New Place, in Rosemont Pennsylvania, where they lived after Lucy’s retirement in 1936 as head of the English Department. Hazelton and Abbott recall the home as a “lovely house near campus. Professor Lucy Marin Donnelly lived with [Edith] there, and many of us enjoyed tea and lively conversation with them around an open fire” (Hazelton and Abbott, p. 38). Donnelly was also a friend of Edith’s future husband, the British philosopher Bertrand Russell, and of his first wife, Alys Pearsall-Smith Russell (A.B. 1890), cousin of Bryn Mawr president, M. Cary Thomas. Edith met Bertrand Russell in 1942, while he was visiting the college to deliver a lecture. While Hazelton and Abbott speculate, “Edith must have met this famous and remarkable man many times on holidays to England” (Hazelton and Abbott, p. 38), Bertrand Russell asserts in his autobiography:
More important than anything in pulling me through the dark apprehensions and premonitions of these last two decades is the fact that I had fallen in love with Edith Finch and she with me. She had been a close friend of Lucy Donnelly whom I had known well at the turn of the century and had seen something of during my various American visits as I had of Edith during my years in the United States in the ‘thirties and ‘forties. Lucy was a Professor at Bryn Mawr, where Edith also taught. I had had friendly relations with Bryn Mawr ever since I married a cousin of the President of that College. It was the first institution to break the boycott imposed on me in American after my dismissal from the City College of New York. Paul Weiss of its Department of Philosophy wrote asking me to give a series of lectures there, an invitation which I gladly accepted. And when I was writing my History of Western Philosophy, the Bryn Mawr authorities very kindly allowed me to make use of their excellent library. Lucy had died and Edith had moved to New York where I met her again during my Columbia lectures there in 1950. (Bertrand Russell, The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell (London: Allen & Unwin, 1967- ), p. 64)

Following Donnelly’s death in 1948, writes Turcon, “Edith worked as a freelance editor in New York City and in 1950 applied, unsuccessfully, for a position as an Intelligence Research Specialist/Foreign Affairs Officer in the US Foreign Service” (Turcon, p. 61). In 1949 Edith offered Bryn Mawr several paintings and drawings from Donnelly’s collection, valued at the time at $1500 (by then Chairman of the Department of History of Art, Joseph Curtis Sloane, according to a letter from Sloane to comptroller R.G. Buckley, 18 August 1949), for indefinite loan (Letter from Katherine McBride to Edith Finch, 22 July 1949). The collection includes the College’s famed prints by Mary Cassatt, though the provenance of the prints is unknown; in a letter to Anne Blake Freedberg at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Sloane writes, “The prints came to us from the estate of Miss Lucy Martin Donnelly, but where she got them I have no way of knowing. She was not herself a collector and her lifelong friend Edith Finch (Now Lady Bertrand Russell) did not say anything about their history” (Letter from Joseph Curtis Sloane to Anne Blake Freedberg, 11 May 1956). According to an account given to the Bryn Mawr Collections office by Professor Emeritus of English, Mary K. Woodworth:
Miss Finch (Countess Russell) was getting rid of some of her things. She decided instead of to Mary to give the Cassatts to Lucy Martin Donnelly (also of the English Dept.). L.M.D. and Mrs. Russell did things together, travels, etc. Mrs. Russell financially backed Donnelly who otherwise had little resources of her own. (Mary K. Woodworth, in an account told to on Collections Office 9/14/1984).

In 1950, when Bertrand Russell was in New York to deliver the Matchette Foundation lectures at Columbia University, he and Edith met again, and according to Russell:
Our friendship ripened quickly, and soon we could no longer bear to be parted by the Atlantic. She settled in London, and, as I lived in Richmond, we met frequently. The resulting time was infinitely delightful. Richmond Park was full of reminiscences, many going back to early childhood…Edith’s family myths, as I came to know them, seemed to me far more romantic: an ancestor who in 1640 or thereabouts was either hanged or carried off by the Red Indians; the adventures of her father among the Indians when he was a little boy and his family for a short time lived a pioneering life in Colorado; attics full of pillions and saddles on which members of her family had ridden from New England to the Congress at Philadelphia; tales of canoeing and of swimming in rocky streams near where Eunice Williams, stolen away by the Indians in the great massacre at Deerfield, Massachusetts, was killed. It might have been a chapter from Fennimore Cooper. In the Civil War, Edith’s people were divided between North and South. Among them were two brothers, one of them (a Southern General) at the end had to surrender his sword to his brother, who was a Northern General. She herself had been born and brought up in New York City, which, as she remembered it, seemed very much like the New York of my youth of cobbled streets and hansom cabs and no motor cars…The satisfaction that we felt then in our companionship has grown, and grows seemingly without limit, into an abiding and secure happiness and is the basis of our lives. Most that I have to relate henceforth may be taken, therefore, to include her participation. (Russell, pp. 64-66)

In 1952 and, as observed by Hazelton and Abbott, “to the astonishment of many of her friends” (Hazelton and Abbott, p. 38), Edith married Bertrand Russell when she was 52 and he was 80 years of age. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s report of the engagement includes a summary of the controversy surrounding Russell:
Russell gained extensive local note in Philadelphia a decade ago when he was hired—and fired—by the late Dr. Albert C. Barnes, head of the Barnes Foundation at Merion, as a lecturer at that art center. Dr. Barnes retained the philosopher in October, 1940, to give one lecture a week at the Foundation for five years. Barnes dismissed him from his $8,000-a-year post in January, 1943, giving as his reason at the time that Russell had given other lectures outside the Foundation. He amended this later to say that “disorderly conduct” and “trouble-making propensities” on the part of Russell’s third wife were to blame. Specifically, Dr. Barnes objected to the fact that Mrs. Russell insisted on being known as Lady Russell, although Russell himself had rejected the earldom he inherited in Britain. As a result of his dismissal, Russell sued Dr. Barnes for $24,000 for breach of contract and was awarded $20,000 in Federal Court here. Dr. Barnes carried his appeals from the decision, unsuccessfully, all the way to the United States Supreme Court. The views of the bridegroom-to-be on free love, pacifism and atheism have gotten him into difficulties at various other times in this country. The New York State Supreme Court revoked his appointment as guest lecturer at City College of New York on the ground that his books had taught “immoral and salacious doctrines.” He also resigned from the University of California faculty on similar charges. He was divorced from his first wife, Alys Smith of Philadelphia [whom he married in 1894], in 1921, and from his second wife, Dora Winifred Black [whom he married in 1921], in 1935. He was divorced by his third wife, [former secretary] Patricia Helen Spence [whom he married in 1936], last June 24 on the ground that he had deserted her in April, 1949. (Philadelphia Inquirer, Wednesday, November 19, 1952)

The brief civil ceremony took place on December 15 in the Chelsea registry office in London; the Philadelphia Inquirer describes the nuptials as follows:
Russell had hoped the wedding would be a secret ceremony. But a little group of curious persons was at the registry office when he drove up, alone in a taxicab, shortloy before 3 P.M. He was hatless and the shock of white hair stood out in vivid contrast to his blue overcoat and muffler. The bride, who for some months had been living in Paradise Walk in the Chelsea district of London, arrived a moment later, also hatless. Wearing a short leopard skin coat over a green dress, she passed serenely through the group in the street. The only persons present at the ceremony, which consists of little more than signing documents, were the official witnesses. (Philadelphia Inquirer, Tuesday, December 16, 1952)

In the mid-1950s Edith took up residence with her husband in Plas Penrhyn in North Wales; she became a British subject in 1960, and according to Hazelton and Abbott:
She never again returned to the United States for even a visit, though she was unfailingly warm in the welcome she gave to those of her friends who saw her in England and in Wales, where the Russells later made their home. Three of Bertrand Russell’s grandchildren, Ann, Lucy, and Sarah, lived with their grandfather and Edith for some years when not away at school. It was largely to give those children a country home that the Russells moved away from Richmond, near London, to Wales. (Hazelton and Abbott, p. 38)

Deeply involved with anti-war and anti-nuclear protests, Bertrand Russell was convicted in 1961, along with other members of a direct action group, The Committee of 100, of inciting a breach of peace by a sit-down demonstration, and Edith went to the women’s prison on like charges. According to Philadelphia’s Evening Bulletin report:
Bertrand Russell, 89-year-old philosopher, was sentenced today to seven days in jail for refusing to promise to keep the peace in his campaign against nuclear weapons. A judge sentenced him to two months at the end of a hearing in the Bow Street Magistrates Court, but reduced the sentence to a week when shown a medical report indicating that the longer term would be too much for the hardship of the frail earl. Twenty-seven of Lord Russell’s fellow campaigners were sentenced to one month in jail and three others to two months. Five others promised to keep the peace and were freed. All were members of an anti-nuclear organization called the Committee of 100. Russell, his wife and the 35 others were charged with “inciting members of the public to commit a breach of the peace next Sunday.” Lady Russell, the philosopher’s wife, also was sentenced to prison for seven days when the court was told she, too, was in no physical condition to go to jail for a long term. She is some 30 years younger than her husband. Cries of “shame,” “fascists” and “poor old man” were heard in the court as Judge Bertram Reece told Russell he would have to go to prison. The antinuclear campaigners knew in advance that unless they promised to behave they were subject to jail… (“Bertrand Russell Faces Jail for Antinuclear Campaign,” The Evening Bulletin, Tuesday, September 12, 1961)

Soon after their release Edith wrote to Byrd Hazelton, “We don’t care much for Her Majesty’s hospitality. It is both uncomfortable and frightening, and we don’t like being separated” (Hazelton and Abbott, p. 38). Meanwhile, Russell, who had gone to jail for six months in World War I for denouncing the British military draft, resigned the presidency of the Committee and organized the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation and the Atlantic Peace Foundation “for the purpose of developing international resistance to the threat of nuclear war” (Hazelton and Abbot, p. 38). In her book, My Father Bertrand Russell (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975), Edith’s step-daughter, Kate Russell Tait, speaks of what Edith brought to her unique marriage:
Without her [Edith] I do not know how he [my father] would have survived the personal and global anxieties that beset the last twenty years of his life. In all the newspaper pictures I saw of him, sitting, standing, marching, protesting, Edith stood in the background in her leopard-skin coat, gentle but determined, a true supporter. I do not know Edith very well, for I was not often in England during those years, and she is as shy as I am; but all I know I like. If I could have ordered from the Almighty a person to accompany my father to the end of his life, it would have been someone like Edith, devoted, courageous, witty. (Kate Russell Tait, My Father Bertrand Russell (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975), p.178)

Russell published his three-volume Autobiography in 1967, 1968, and 1969, dedicating the publication to Edith with a hand-written poem:
Through the long years
I sought peace.
I found ecstasy, I found anguish
I found madness,
I found loneliness.
I found the solitary pain
that gnaws the heart,
But peace I did not find.

Now, old and near my end,
I have known you,
And, knowing you,
I have found both ecstasy and peace.
I know rest,
After so many lonely years.
I know what life and love may be.
And if I sleep,
I sleep fulfilled.

Bertrand Russell died in Wales in 1970 at the age of 97, and according to Hazelton and Abbott:

Edith continued on in Place Penrhyn, working to raise money and stimulate interest in the Foundations. Many friends and admirers of her husband, many students, made their way to that rather remote corner of Wales. We remember Edith’s saying rather ruefully that she had to learn to book in order to offer proper hospitality to these pilgrims. The household staff, never numerous, dwindled gradually. Replacements were non-existent. In the last years Edith did not even have a part-time gardener.

Edith herself died on January 1, 1978 in Bangor, Wales at the age of 77.

Objects donated by Edith Finch

Your current search criteria is: Agent is "Edith Finch".