Happy Birthday to the Adventurous Caroline Boeing Poole

Posted on: September 15, 2020

By Victoria Bernal, Women in the Archives Social Media Manager

Before the Autry received her personal papers in 2018, little was widely known about socialite Caroline Boeing Poole, including her birthday. Born in Detroit on September 16, 1884, Caroline Boeing Poole was mostly remembered for the books she commissioned, her unparalleled collection of Native American baskets and an elegant oil-painted portrait of her in a blue evening gown that once hung in the National Portrait Gallery.

General biographic details could be surmised from past headlines that announced her wedding (December 24, 1907) and her death (January 11, 1932) with a few social engagements sprinkled between. Perhaps better known were the men to whom she was related. Her older brother was William Boeing, the aviation pioneer who founded The Boeing Company. Her husband was Col. John Hudson Poole, a philanthropist and World War I veteran who had also served as Theodore Roosevelt’s aide in the Spanish-American War. Her son John Hudson Poole, Jr., was memorialized in the Los Angeles Times for his work as a radio and television pioneer. Beyond these broad strokes, there was not much available in institutional archives to flesh out the life, loves, and interests of Caroline Boeing Poole. 

The Caroline Boeing Poole papers at the Autry are a treasure trove of stories, scrapbooks, and photos from this woman of means who used her wealth to explore and document her Southwest and international travels. When looking through her archive, it’s clear that Poole was a devoted mother, adventurous hiker, animal lover, and descriptive chronicler. Her albums are filled with so many images taken on mountain trails, one wonders if she preferred hiking boots to evening gowns. She appears fearless in these photos, striking a strong hands-on-hips stance on cliffs and hillsides. In other photos, she’s kneeling on a Grand Canyon cliff, climbing up rocks in the Royal Gorge, and riding numerous horses. Her sense of humor bubbles up through her scrapbook pages as she poses holding an alligator or laughs through a silly pose behind a clothesline. Paging through her travel diaries transports one right there beside her on the Grand Canyon trail where she “felt like shaking hands with all the great crags, the palisades and rocky walls.”

 

Caroline Boeing Poole’s rich archive not only draws a more complete profile of the woman, but also of her family and the places through which they moved. In her essay “Tacitly the Work of Women: Personal Archive and the Public Memory of Families,” Susan Tucker explains how women are often the record keepers of a family. In Poole’s case, her archive not only documents her family’s lives in Detroit and Pasadena but spreads into the public sphere of hiking trails, dusty roads, dude ranches, and even the Zeppelin airship. The third woman to ride on a transatlantic commercial Zeppelin, Poole also wrote a detailed account of meandering through the cream-colored interior of her brother’s 16-passenger commercial plane in the early 1930s. “Every detail is beautifully and perfectly carried out and gave me a great thrill to see it all and to realize, which was a little hard to do, that this was all my Brother’s doing.” Her descriptive prose and beautiful lantern slides of the Southwest would aid any historian researching firsthand accounts and beautiful landscapes, which are usually presented from the male perspective. 

Questions remain about Poole’s life, but these personal papers reveal her rugged sense of adventure and show a sense of agency not shown in the elegant oil painting for which she is known. Hopefully the preservation of this woman’s archive will inspire others to preserve their mother and grandmother’s diaries, scrapbooks, and photo albums. These personal archives not only illustrate stories about a specific family, but they often help tell the history of a community as well. So, in honor of her birthday on September 16th, we raise a virtual glass and toast to Caroline Boeing Poole using this little ditty scribbled in her travel diary: 

Take the experience I have had,
Profit by what I’ve done and seen,
And don’t be Good & don’t be Bad; 
But cultivate a golden mean. 
What makes existence really nice
Is virtue, with a dash of vice.  
 

IMAGE CAPTIONS

All images are from the Caroline Boeing Poole archive collection held at the Library and Archives at the Autry.

[MAIN IMAGE]: Photo from Caroline Boeing Poole’s album in which she is waving her hat while standing between rocks.

Lantern slide of the Bright Angel Point in the Grand Canyon.

Page from Caroline Boeing Poole’s Travel Diary (1930-1931) with telegrams wishing her a happy birthday.

Photo from Caroline Boeing Poole’s photo album featuring a photo of her with a horse named Prince.

Photo from Caroline Boeing Poole’s photo album featuring Caroline Boeing Poole posting on a mountain cliff.

Photo from Caroline Boeing Poole’s photo album featuring Poole posing on a resort stairway.

Photo from Caroline Boeing Poole’s photo album featuring Poole on a hiking trail.

Photo from Caroline Boeing Poole’s photo album featuring Poole holding an alligator.