Kahlil Gibran Collective
Glen Kalem      30 Apr 2019

Kahlil Gibran and Julia Ellsworth Ford

Gibran and Julia Ellsworth Ford: Two Rare Photographs

 by Francesco Medici

© Copyright Francesco Medici All Rights Reserved 2019

“Mrs. Ford is one of the powerful women of New York […]. Last Sunday she took me in her car to her great country house in Rye, N.Y.” wrote Gibran to Mary Haskell in 1913. And again, one year after: “We had a dinner with the Fords. I enjoyed the evening very much – such rare people.”[1]

Kahlil Gibran and Mrs Ford

Julia Ellsworth Ford (1859-1950) was a New York socialite, philanthropist, art collector, fervent patron of the arts, as well as an author of children’s books, plays and art criticism. She was married to Simeon Ford (1855-1933), a financier and co-owner with his wife’s brother Samuel T. Shaw (1861-1945) of the Grand Union Hotel in New York. Mrs. Ford presided over a twice weekly salon at her New York town house on 43 West 74th Street, that included notables such as Irish poet William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), British philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), American dancer Isadora Duncan (1878-1927), American poet and critic Ezra Pound (1885-1972), English actor and filmmaker Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977), American writer Witter Bynner (1881-1968), American actress Anna May Wong (1905-1961), and many others. As author Nina Wilcox Putnam (1888-1962) described her, in a less alluring tone than Gibran’s, “Mrs. Ford collected celebrities as some people collect postage stamps.”[2]

Portrait of Julia Ellsworth Ford by Gibran 1927 - Gibran National Committee

In Mrs. Ford’s wide circle of acquaintances there was also a well-known Indian lecturer on Middle Eastern politics, Syud Hossain (1888-1949), who in 1925 invited Gibran to join the board of the New Orient Society in New York and to become one of the regular contributors to The New Orient (1923-1927), a quarterly magazine seeking to encourage the meeting of East and West and of which he was editor. It is very probable that Gibran, who always accepted Mrs. Ford’s invitations to stay at her country summer house in Rye, New York, about ten miles north of the Bronx,[3] met Hossain just there. The two men’s mutual frequentation of Julia Ellsworth

Ford is testified by an undated photograph, exhibited in the Soumaya Museum, Mexico City, which portrays them with her in Rye. Currently the Julia Ellsworth Ford Papers collection is property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. It consists of correspondence, writings, scrapbooks, printed material, photographs and other papers documenting aspects of her life and work, and her relationships with literary and artistic figures of the early 20th century. Said collection also includes the same mentioned picture kept by the Soumaya Museum, or better, one of its copies owned by Mrs. Ford with some handwritten annotations by her:

Julia Ellsworth Ford Papers Collection

We all motored from NY to Rye that day. Gene took the picture.

Rye, NY - Kahlil Gibran

Syud Hossain -

Julia Ellsworth Ford,

Under the tree that Kahlil called “Harp of the Winds.”

Gene Vanya [?] was also in Rye that day.[4]

The collection also includes another hitherto unknown photograph, probably dating back some years before the one with Hossain, which portrays only Mrs. Ford and Gibran in an undetermined place, both posing smiling, standing outdoors on a sunny day at the stairs leading to the veranda of a house.[5]

Soumaya Museum Copy

* This article is based on an excerpt from the paper “Tracing Gibran’s Footsteps: Unpublished and Rare Material,” in “Gibran in the 21th Century: Lebanon’s Message to the World,” edited by H. Zoghaib and M. Rihani, Beirut: Center for Lebanese Heritage, LAU, 2018, pp. 93-145.

 [1] The Letters of Kahlil Gibran and Mary Haskell, arranged and edited by Annie Salem Otto, Houston, Texas: Smith & Company Compositors – Southern Printing Company, 1970, pp. 262, 297 (cf. respectively: Tuesday, May 27, 1913; Wednesday, Jan. 7, 1914).

[2] Nina Wilcox Putnam, Laughing Through: Being the Autobiographical Story of a Girl who Made Her Way, New York: Sears publishing Company, Incorporated, 1930, p. 213.

[3] Cf. Salim Mujais, The Face of the Prophet: Kahlil Gibran and the Portraits of the Temple of Arts, Beirut: Kutub, 2011, p. 29: “My dear Mrs. Ford: I wish I could tell you how much I have enjoined each and every one of your Friday dinners. Indeed they were unique and enchanting. […] Whenever it is possible I shall be only too happy to come and share with the others the charm of your friendship and the delight of your enthusiasm.”

[4] See Julia Ellsworth Ford papers, Photographs of children, dancers, and friends of Julia Ellsworth Ford, including Kahlil Gibran, YCAL MSS 638, Object ID: 15260648 (https://brbl-dl.library.yale.edu/vufind/Record/4108641).

[5] See Julia Ellsworth Ford papers, Photographs of Julia Ellsworth Ford, YCAL MSS 638, Object ID: 15260647 (https://brbl-dl.library.yale.edu/vufind/Record/4108640?image_id=15261106).