In 2012, the Rare Book and Special Collections Division (RBSCD) acquired an archive of material that belonged to musician and children’s book author Gertrude Ina Robinson. In addition to a handful of books on the harp and music composition, Ms. Robinson published two children’s books under a series title of Floral Fairies: The Little Miss Hollys (1912) and The Mistletoes’ Pranks (1913). The archive contains original artwork by Alberta Hall, manuscript material for another work the author was composing, Rainbow Fairies; a mock-up for a planned book, Adventures of Johnny-Jump-Up; holograph notes on colors, wavelengths, vibrations, zodiac signs, shapes, and precious stones; and a series of printed gift tags and labels employing characters from the author’s books. Beyond this, there isn’t a lot of biographical information about the author.
Gertrude Ina Robinson was born Anna G. Robinson in Waterloo, Iowa around 1868, the first of four children. Her father, Robert Harvey Robinson (1841-1923), was listed as a shoe and boot dealer in the 1870 census. Her mother, Mary Frances (Jackson) Robinson (1846-1915) listed “keeping house” as her occupation. They had married on July 20, 1867 and lived on Jefferson Street, between 5th and 6th Streets, shown below in a detail from the 1885 Waterloo Sanford Fire Insurance map.
Gertrude studied piano from an early age and, at some point, took up the study of music and the harp. By 1900, the family had moved to Chicago and the 1900 census records show them as living at 3953 Michigan Avenue in the city’s Bronzeville neighborhood on the south side. By then, her father’s occupation was listed as ‘commercial traveler’ and her mother’s as being the owner of a zinc and lead mine. Gertrude, now 32 and living at home, had become a music teacher after studying under Edmond Schuecker of the Theodore Thomas Orchestra, and later with Signor Tramonti.
By the time of the 1910 census, Gertrude had moved to New York City, and was listed as living in Ward 21, an area bounded by Broadway, Spring, West Houston, and Bowery in Lower Manhattan. She was listed as the guest of a household, and with an occupation of musician. In New York, she studied under Alphonse Hasselmans of the Conservatoire of Paris. This was a highly productive time for Ms. Robinson, and she took on a variety of ambitious projects. She appears to have leased a studio in the Hatfield House, located at 103 East 29th Street in Manhattan, where she taught the Clark Irish harp. The studio could hold up to 150 guests with a performance stage and concert equipment. On weekends, she played harp at the Madison Square Presbyterian Church, as numerous newspaper announcements from the time attest:
She also had several books published by the Carl Fischer Company with instruction for playing the Concert and Clark Irish harps, as well as some of her own compositions. In 1912, Ms. Robinson published her first children’s book, The Little Miss Hollys by the Floral Fairies Publishing Company, and illustrated by F. A. Carter. The address of her publishing venture was the same as her studio at 103 East 29th Street.
In 1913, she released her second children’s book, The Mistletoes’ Pranks. A December 14, 1913 article in the Detroit Free Press entitled “More Books for the Young,” states:
In the “Floral Fairies Series,” prepared by Gertrude Ina Robinson, “The Mistletoes’ Pranks” is the latest. Pictures, verses, and legends concerning the plant are given and the book is attractively prepared for Christmas. It comes from the Floral Fairies Publishing Co., 103 E. 29th st., New York.
In 2023, RBSCD acquired a set of 13 cloth figurines, many that match the characters in Robinson’s books, and labeled with Robinson’s name. Their purpose isn’t fully understood, but knowing that the author was interested in branching out to produce labels and tags, these may have been dolls that she envisioned producing to go with her series of books. It’s also possible that she created them to demonstrate to her illustrators the poses her characters should assume in her stories.
It seems that her venture in producing children’s books and accessories wasn’t as successful as she desired and she abandoned her children’s book publishing business. The 1920 census finds Robinson living on West 57th Street in Manhattan and lists her as a single lodger employed as a teacher of the harp. She was living with two other women of similar age, Alice Beckington and Harriet K. Farbes.
By the time of the 1930 census, Ms. Robinson had moved to Nassau in Upstate New York. Ten years later, the 1940 census lists her as single head of household and employed in real estate, still living in Nassau at 1029 Northern Boulevard.
Ms. Robinson died at the age of 81 on September 7, 1950 leaving scant biographical information behind, but a small legacy of children’s stories and her own compositions for the harp. This collection and others are available for research in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division. For more information, send a query to the reference staff via Ask-A-Librarian.
The Crescendo. Volume 9, no. 8 (February 1917), page 9.
*The Chronicling America historic newspapers online collection is a product of the National Digital Newspaper Program and jointly sponsored by the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
- Ancestry Library Edition [electronic resource available through the Library of Congress]
- Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps Digital Collection
- New-York tribune. [volume] (New York [N.Y.]), 27 Sept. 1908. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.* Lib. of Congress. //chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030214/1908-09-27/ed-1/seq-57/
- “More Books for the Young,” Detroit Free Press, December 14, 1913.
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