Cornell University Acquires the Archives of Irene Castle

Cornell University Library recently acquired a collection of professional and personal mementos chronicling the colorful, trendsetting career of Irene Castle. Know mostly as a silent film star, Castle was also a fashion designer, ballroom dancer, and animal rights advocate. Castle was known for playing strong and stylish female leads such as the title character in the serial “Patria,” a swashbuckling, gun-toting munitions factory heiress who helps thwart a foreign invasion.

Hundreds of photographs, letters, and manuscripts paint a vivid portrait of Castle and her circle, from her ballroom dancing years with first husband Vernon Castle to her time in Ithaca, New York, during her marriage to Robert E. Treman and her time acting for Wharton Studio, a silent film production company that ran from 1914 to 1919. This trove of archival materials had been in the possession of Castle’s granddaughter, Castle McLaughlin, a senior curator at Harvard’s Peabody Museum.

“She was a very astute businesswoman,” notes Denise Green, an associate professor in the department of fiber science and apparel design in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell. “She knew the value of her name as a brand and so she branded all of her fashion innovations.”

In 1917, Castle collaborated with Corticelli Silk Mills to develop “Patria”-themed fabrics, and started her own clothing line, Irene Castle Corticelli Fashions, in 1923. She also applied her moniker to everything from her “Castle Bob” haircut in 1913 that sparked a trend in the 1920s to the “Castle Band” of jewelry around her forehead.

Filed Under: Women's Studies


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