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80th Anniversary of World Record Bathysphere Descent

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Blair Niles

Mary Blair Rice was William Beebe's first wife. They married in 1902 and co-wrote two books about their travels. She went by the name Blair. They divorced in 1913. The day after her divorce, Blair married an architect named Robert L. Niles. She changed her name to Blair Niles and became famous in her own right, writing numerous travel books. She passed away in 1959.
 
Blair wrote in her book "Journeys in Time" that growing up she lived a sheltered life. She enjoyed spending time in the plantation's library, reading books by Jane Austin, Dickens, Thoreau, Hugo and Tolstoy. She also enjoyed passing time in the kitchen, talking with the African-American help.
 
According to their wedding announcement, Mary met William Beebe when he visited the plantation. However, I believe they met while vacationing in Nova Scotia. The Rice family had a house there and Will often visited while he was there during the summer.
 
After a brief courtship they were married at dawn in the Rice family's plantation in an English boxwood garden which was her mother's pride and joy.
 
August 6, 1902 was the wedding day and their announcement made the front page of the New York Times, "Wedded At Sunrise 'Mid Dew-Kissed Lilies." Word has it that several of the wedding party guests were a tad cranky having to wake up so early for the sunrise ceremony. The article called Blair "one of the most beautiful young women in the state." 
 
As William Beebe's wife and assistant, Blair's travels took her with him to Mexico, Venezuela, Trinidad and British Guinea . They also traveled to Europe, Egypt, Ceylon, India, Burma, the Malay States, Java, Borneo, China and Japan ("A Monograph of the Pheasants" and "Pheasant Jungles"). She took an active part in the 17-month-long "Kuser-Beebe" expedition to study pheasants in their native haunts.Although she played a primary role in the expedition, after their bitter divorce, Will banished her from his books that he wrote about the expedition. Today not very many people know that Beebe even had a first wife, or that the author known as Blair Niles was really Mary Beebe. 
In early January 1913, Blair traveled to Nevada to begin a six-month residency requirement for a divorce from Beebe. Their divorce August 28, 1913, was granted "on the ground of extreme cruelty" on the part of Beebe, and made the front page of The New York Times with the headline, "Naturalist Was Cruel." Blair remarried the day after her divorce and changed her name to Blair Niles. 
One of the finest projects she and her husband collaborated on was for a four-part series of articles on "Devil's Island," published in the Sunday New York Times Magazine. (Part One appeared July 3, 1927; Part Two July 10; Part Three July 24 and Part Four August 7).
 
Blair is said to have been the only woman ever (at that time) to have set foot on the Devil's Island penal colony in French Guiana. Her husband took the photos and they were said to be the only foreigners ever to have (voluntarily) visited it. They were given full access to the prison and interviewed many prisoners. As a result of their work, changes were made to improve conditions for the prisoners. Blair turned her research into a book, "Condemned to Devil's Island" and "Free."
 
Blair fictionalized the research of "Condemned" into another book called "Free." In 1927, "Condemned to Devil's Island" was made into an early "talkie" black and white motion picture simply called "Condemned." (very cheesy) During that period, Blair hob-nobbed with the elite of Hollywood; including having tea with actress Mary Pickford. Many years later, Devil's Island was featured in another movie, "Pappillon," with Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman.
  
Blair Niles said of her travels, "You are never tired, never bored. You feel as if you could go on living forever, as if you had just touched the fringe of what you want to do." ("Feminine Ulysses" by Rose Henderson, published in the March 1934 edition of "Independent Woman")
 
As one of the four founders and secretary of the Society of Woman Geographers (still in existence today), Blair Niles wrote a tribute to women explorers and pioneers called "Over the World and Back: Women Explorers, Writers and Scientists Whose Work Carries Them to Far Places." This article was published in the December 1926 edition of "The Women's Citizen."
 
"Often the silence which follows the letters of an explorer is as eloquent as are the letters themselves. For memory supplies the Secretary with the towering snows of Kinchinjunga and the lofty trail where, above the tree-line, some lonely Pan flutes his tribute to the majestic beauty of the Hills. Another postmark and another silence will reconstruct for her the mystery of a jungle river, far from mail communication."

Books authored as Mary Blair Beebe
Two Bird Lovers in Mexico (with C. William Beebe)
Our Search for a Wilderness (with C. William Beebe)
 
Books authored as Blair Niles
Casual Wanderings in Ecuador (travel book), 1923
Columbia: Land of Miracles (travel book), 1924
Black Haiti (A Biography of Africa's Eldest Daughter), 1926
Condemned to Devil's Island, 1928
The Biography of an Unknown Convict, 1928
Free, 1930
Strange Brother, 1931
Light Again, 1933
Maria Paluna, 1934
Day of Immense Sun, 1936
Peruvian Pageant, 1937
The James: From Sea to Iron Gate ("Rivers of America"), 1939
East by Day, 1940 (About the Amistad case)
Journeys in Time, 1946
Martha's Husband
Passengers to Mexico
 
Book by Blair's Grandmother
Mrs. Roger Pryor about her family's survival during the Civil War.
Reminiscences of Peace and War
  
Book about Blair's Grandparents
Surviving the Confederacy: Rebellion, Ruin, and Recovery--Roger and Sara Pryor During the Civil War
John C. Waugh
  
Book about Blair and Other Women Explorers
Women Explorers in North and South America: Nellie Cashman,
Annie Peck, Ynes Mexia, Blair Niles, Violet Cressy Marcks (Capstone Short Biographies)
 

The Official William Beebe Web Site is copyrighted 2000 - 2011 by Catharine L. Hines. All rights reserved. No images may be reproduced as many of them are copyrighted and are used with permission of the copyright holder. Last updated February 2011.

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