Madison Cawein’s Louisville II

By Spencer Cawein Pate

Spencer and Filson

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been planning to return to Louisville, Kentucky, in order to explore the collections of the Filson Historical Society related to Madison Cawein. This post will be another photoessay–a sequel to my original post on Madison Cawein’s Louisville–documenting what I discovered while I was there this weekend.

Conrad-Caldwell House

The first thing I did in Louisville was to visit the Conrad-Caldwell House (above) on the corner of St. James Court. This was one of the best house tours I’ve ever been on, not only because the home is gorgeously ornate (complete with original furnishings and decorations), but also because our guide, Beth Caldwell, was one of the great-granddaughters of William Caldwell, and thus had many fascinating details, stories, and experiences to share. When I asked Beth if she was familiar with Madison Cawein, she replied in the affirmative and said that the house has among its collections some framed manuscripts / typescripts of Madison’s poetry. For both of us, this suggests that the home’s original owners were at the very least acquainted with the Caweins–the Conrads and Caldwells hosted and entertained guests frequently–during their time at St. James Court. I strongly encourage all visitors to Louisville to tour the Conrad-Caldwell House, and they welcome and deserve any additional donations to their foundation as well.


While at the Conrad-Caldwell House gift shop, I purchased a coffee-table book titled Old Louisville written by David Dominé and featuring photography by Franklin and Esther Schmidt. This profusely illustrated volume portrays the exteriors and interiors of many of Louisville’s most beautiful historic homes in St. James Court, including–and this was the central reason why I bought the book–the Madison Cawein house! The accompanying text fills in some crucial historical details by discussing the home’s other owners, too, including the remarkable fact that this residence has since become home to another Kentucky poet laureate, the writer Sena Jeter Naslund (who has published many works of fiction, including a historical novel titled The Fountain of St. James Court). To the best of my knowledge, the photographs in this book are the only available modern depictions of the inside of Cawein’s former home, so I am reproducing them for viewers below:

Old Louisville book 1

Old Louisville Cawein

Old Louisville Cawein 2

I recommend that anyone interested in Louisville or historic homes seek out and buy Dominé’s book.


Filson marker

The Filson Historical Society (above) possesses three portraits of Madison Cawein and one of Madison’s wife, Gertrude Foster McKelvey. Two of the Cawein portraits have been packed away and placed in storage offsite due to the Filson’s ongoing campus expansion, but the other two are on display on the third floor of the museum, accompanied by a display case of some Cawein artifacts (a letter to Eric Pape, a selection of the manuscript to The Shadow Garden, and photos of his death mask). The portrait of Madison is by J. Bernard Alberts, while the lovely portrait of Gertrude was done by the Caweins’ friend Eric Pape. Here are photos of both:

Cawein portrait and artifacts

Cawein portrait

Gertrude portrait

The Filson staff was also kind enough to provide me with images of the two portraits currently in storage. This is what they look like:

cawein, madison 1993.35.12-watermarked

cawein, madison 1983102-watermarked

The Filson’s special collections includes many cubic feet of documents (subdivided into folders covering a few months at a time) related to Cawein. Here is the description from the online catalogue:

Papers include material which was collected by Otto Arthur Rothert in preparation for his book: The Story of a Poet: Madison Cawein (1921). Cawein’s correspondence discusses his literary work and that of others, especially R. E. Gibson; local, personal, and family news; visits to New York and Washington; meetings with many literary people of the period; publication and reviews of his books; and the sale of his library and letters. Otto A. Rothert’s correspondence, 1915-1928, is chiefly about his biography of Cawein. The collection also includes publisher’s contracts, scrapbooks, photographs, typewritten and handwritten copies of Cawein’s poetry; his translations of works by German poets; and memorabilia. Correspondents include Robert E. Lee Gibson, William Dean Howells, Eric Pape, Jessie B. Rittenhouse, Clinton Scollard, Sara Teasdale and Henry Van Dyke.

It was the mention of Sara Teasdale which most intrigued me, as I am in possession of seven letters written by Cawein to Teasdale (I scanned and transcribed the correspondence and related the full story in my post “The Cawein-Teasdale Letters”), so I decided to focus my study on Cawein’s correspondence from 1910 to 1912, as this time period includes not only the letters Cawein and Teasdale exchanged, but also letters to and from Cawein’s friend Robert E. Lee Gibson, which discuss Teasdale and her work extensively. Upon beginning my research, it quickly became apparent that only a fraction of Cawein’s total correspondence made it into Otto Rothert’s The Story of a Poet, as the number of letters indexed among the Filson’s holdings is overwhelmingly vast; he was apparently as prolific a correspondent as he was a poet.

And now, I am pleased to announce that I was able to read and transcribe the other half of this dialogue–five letters from Sara Teasdale to Madison Cawein! I have since updated “The Cawein-Teasdale Letters” to include this additional text in its proper chronological sequence. Please visit this post to read the rest of the story!

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2 Responses to Madison Cawein’s Louisville II

  1. Greg Conn says:

    Spencer, Great to see the image of Gertrude up on your site. If you would like a good quality full frontal view, please let me know. I commissioned a local Louisville photographer to shoot photos of the painting after it was cleaned and restored. The Filson staff may have informed you that a large amount of new Cawein material (letters, poems, etc.) was recently purchased by the Filson; I was able to help facilitate the purchase. I hope to get to Louisville soon to further investigate the life of Cawein and his friend Eric Pape. All the best, Greg Conn

    • Hi Greg–yes, I would be very interested in seeing a good quality full frontal view of the Eric Pape portrait of Gertrude Cawein! I did get to peruse a list of the new Cawein material while I was at the Filson; it seemed that much of it was correspondence with Pape.

      Thank you again for letting me know about the Filson Historical Society in the first place and for having the painting cleaned and restored!


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