Elizabeth Corbet Yeats, known as Lolly, Anglo-Irish educator and publisher, dies on January 16, 1940. She works as an art teacher and publishes several books on art and is a founder of Dun Emer Press which publishes several works by her brother, W. B. Yeats. She is the first commercial printer in Ireland to work exclusively with hand presses.
Yeats is born at 23 Fitzroy Road, London, on March 11, 1868. She is the daughter of the Irish artist John Butler Yeats and Susan Yeats (née Pollexfen). She is sister to W. B., Jack and Susan Mary “Lily” Yeats. From the age of four she lives in Merville, Sligo, at the home of her grandfather William Pollexfen. In November 1874 her family moves to 14 Edith Villas, West Kensington, London. Her governess is Martha Jowitt from 1876 until 1879 before the family moves to Bedford Park, Chiswick, in 1878.
Yeats returns to Howth, County Dublin, in 1881. She enrolls, with her sister Susan, in the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art in 1883 and takes classes at the Royal Dublin Society.
The family moves to Eardley Crescent, South Kensington, London, in 1886. While there Yeats starts to write fiction and publishes a homemade magazine, The Pleiades, with six friends, contributing “Story without a plot” to the Christmas 1888 issue. In addition, she publishes “Scamp and three friends” in The Vegetarian.
Yeats also attends the Chiswick School of Art with her sister Susan and brother Jack Butler Yeats, learning “Freehand drawing in all its branches, practical Geometry and perspective, pottery and tile painting, design for decorative purposes.”
In the 1890s Yeats lives at 3 Blenheim Road, Bedford Park, London, and trains as a kindergarten teacher at the Froebel College in Bedford, Bedfordshire. She undertakes her teaching practice at the Bedford Park High School. In 1892, when her training is completed, she teaches as a visiting art mistress at the Froebel Society, Chiswick High School and the Central Foundation School.
Yeats earns a good income from lecturing and publication of four popular painting manuals: Brushwork (1896), Brushwork Studies of Flowers, Fruits and Animals (1898), Brushwork Copy Book (1899), and Elementary Brushwork Studies (1900).
Yeats trains and works as an art teacher and is a member of William Morris‘s circle in London before her family returns to Dublin in 1900. She writes and creates the artwork for Elementary Brush-Work Studies (1900), an educational book that teaches young children the technique of painting flowers and plants using her simple method. At the suggestion of Emery Walker, who works with Morris on the Kelmscott Press, she studies printing with the Women’s Printing Society in London.
In Dublin, Yeats accepts the invitation to join Evelyn Gleeson to form the Dun Emer Guild along with Lily, who is an embroiderer. She manages the Dun Emer Press from 1902 with a printing press acquired from a provincial newspaper. The Press is located at Runnymede, the house of Evelyn Gleeson. This is set up with the intention of training young women in bookbinding and printing as well as embroidery and weaving. In 1903 she starts printing and Dun Emer’s first book is W. B. Yeats’s In the Seven Woods (1903).
Despite being a gifted printer, the costings exceed the quality of work that Yeats produces with the result that the press is often at risk financially. Eleven books, decorated with pastels by George William Russell, appear under the Dun Emer imprint produced from a first-floor room. She has several disagreements with her brother William over his directions as literary editor. She also dislikes Evelyn Gleeson. In October 1906 she travels to New York to advertise her products but publishes Dun Emer’s last book, William’s Discoveries (1907), in late November when she returns to Dublin.
After many years of strained relations between the Yeats sisters and Evelyn Gleeson, their business relationship is finally ended. Subsequently, in 1908, Lolly and her brother William start the Cuala Press, publishing over 70 books including 48 by the poet. Yeats manages the press while her sister Lily controls the embroidery section. Cuala continues to be a family strain. Their father, John Butler Yeats, has to castigate his son William for sending overtly critical letters to his sisters about the press. However, Cuala produces magnificent books: W. B. Yeats’ The Green Helmet and Other Poems (1910) and a series of Broadsides (published 1908–15, with illustrations from Jack Yeats).
Yeats works with Cuala Press until just before her death in Dublin on January 16, 1940, after a diagnosis of high blood pressure and heart trouble.
(Pictured: “Elizabeth Corbet Yeats” by Jack Butler Yeats, oil on canvas, circa 1899, National Gallery of Ireland)