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Beatrice Forbes-Robertson Hale

1883 – 1967


Beatrice Forbes-Robertson was born in England, the daughter of Gertrude Knight and Ian Forbes-Robertson (1857 - 1936) and grand-daughter of John Forbes-Robertson (1822 - 1903). John Forbes-Robertson took that hyphenated family surname after marrying Margaret Forbes, who was born in 1799 in Inverurie, Scotland, to Alexander Forbes (circa 1741 - 1822), who was the Baillie in Inverurie, and Margaret Simpson.

At the age of 17, she became an actor, following the footsteps of her uncles, Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson and Norman Forbes-Robertson. In 1904, she played “Agatha” in the comedy Saturday to Monday, by Frederick Fenn and Richard Pryce, at the St. James Theatre. In the Black and White, the reviewer wrote, “Agatha, by the way, is one of the most disingenuous but charming young people it has been our fortune to meet for a long time, on the stage or off; and as played by Miss Beatrice Forbes-Robertson, she quite takes one's heart…”

Forbes-Robertson moved to New York City in 1907 and joined the New Theatre Company. She was an acclaimed actor who played leading and ingenue roles in plays such as The Morals of Marcus, The Mollusc, The Cottage in the Air, and Strife by John Galsworthy.

Forbes-Robertson became active politically as a member of Heterodoxy, a feminist debating club based in Greenwich Village. She was also an outspoken advocate for a woman’s right to vote and was an active lecturer. In 1914, she wrote the book What Women Want: An Interpretation of the Feminist Movement. In the preface, she wrote, “It is my conviction that the evolutionary growth known as the Feminist Movement is gradually supplying to women the things they most need, and it is therefore with Feminism that this book deals.”

Forbes-Robertson went on to write: “The view is often put forward that women can express themselves to the full through their children. But even if every woman were a mother, and each mother permitted complete authority over her child, which has never been the case, it would remain true that if one generation never expressed itself save through the next, no generation would ever express itself fully. Racially speaking, both parents renew themselves through their children; socially speaking, both must also be free to express their human gifts through hand, eye, and brain.”

In 1916, she spoke before the General Assembly of Kentucky on women's right to vote and at a large rally in support of the Girl Scouting movement at the DAR Constitution Hall in Washington D.C. During World War I, she was also president of the British War Relief Association and raised funds in New York for military hospitals abroad.

Forbes-Robertson Hale fueled a controversy in February 1928 in a ten-minute radio program in the Washington, D.C. area. The brief talk on “Compassionate Marriage” aired on WRC Radio (now
ESPN’s 980 Sports Talk Radio). Her comments were a pointed contrast the 1927 book Companionate Marriage, by Colorado judge and social reformer Ben Lindsey. The book argued for couples to undergo a one-year trial marriage with the promise of no children in order to decide if they are compatible enough for married life. Forbes-Robertson’s arguments against companionate marriage were short but the public response went longer. Three days later, the Washington Post published a special section on “Radio Obscenity.” Over the next few weeks, both Forbes-Robertson and the Post “scores of letters” thanking her for her talk. For more information, see Throwing Shade in 1928: A Feminist Takes on Haters.

Forbes-Robertson married the lawyer Swinburne Hale in 1910, with whom she had three daughters, Sanchia (b. 1911), and twins Rosemary and Clemency (b. 1913). She divorced her husband in 1920. She went on to write other books, including the novel The Nest Builder (1916), Little Allies: A Story of Four Children (1918), and What's Wrong with Our Girls? (1923). Forbes-Robertson died in London in 1967. About 140 of her letters from the period 1913-1919 are in the Swinburne Hale Papers at the New York Public Library.

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