1870 - 1963
A promising painter and world traveler with access to wealth and social status. Yet, her final decades in Washington Boro belied that truth.
The information below is gleaned from a 2018 doctoral dissertation researched and written
by Katherine John Snider.
Caroline began her formal art training at The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, in 1887. It was a pivotal time for the American art scene. Women were only beginning to be considered for such an education. Among Caroline’s instructors were Cecilia Beaux and Thomas Hovenden, both highly respected artists of the time. Fellow students included Robert Henri and William Glackens. While attending the Fellowship Ball at the Academy, she rubbed elbows with the likes of Maxfield Parrish, Alexander Calder, William H. Lippincott, and Violet Oakley. In 1889, she won the coveted Mary Smith Prize which the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts awarded annually to the best work by a female artist.
Caroline frequently traveled Europe to paint—she even studied at James McNeill Whistler’s Academie Carmen in Paris. She was among a select group to exhibit at the Pan-American Exhibition in Buffalo, in 1901. Three years later, her work was included in the prestigious Carnegie International exhibit, in Pittsburgh.
Caroline achieved flashes of greatness as a painter but she never became a full-fledged professional artist. This could be in part due to the fact that Caroline focused on traditional portraiture and, as modernism took hold in America, public interest in portraits waned. She failed to establish a career because she didn’t possess the required mix of talent, drive, status, and support needed to find success. Her ongoing struggles in her personal life resulted in her decisions to abandon painting. The pressure of these setbacks resulted in Caroline relying on mediums, the occult, and spiritualism to survive day-to-day. These obsessions, combined with the overwhelming responsibility of caring for her aging mother, consumed, and largely destroyed, her.
Caroline’s father, John Peart, served with the 195th Regiment during the Civil War and was the last person to cross the Columbia-Wrightsville bridge before it was burned to stop the Confederates’ advance. After the war, the Peart’s settled in Washington Boro before moving to Philadelphia after great success in the lumber business. She adored her father but after his death in 1906, Caroline lost her passion for painting.
Her mother, Martha Ann, was a direct descendant of Lancaster’s Bishop Hans Herr and also had family connections with Andrew and NC Wyeth. After her mother’s death in 1941, Caroline moved permanently to Washington Boro. There, she lived in absolute poverty, despite her wealthy early years and parent’s social connections. Her home was without electricity, heat, or running water. She had few friends and lived alone. Upon her death, the community was shocked to discover that she left her estate to Franklin & Marshall College, an institution with which she had no ties save that it, like Washington Boro, was in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The estate was valued at over $565,000 in 1963.
Caroline truly loved Washington Boro; in her diary, she wrote: “…the most beautiful town site in this country.” She was particularly fond of the river: “We had a pleasant drive to Lancaster and back by the river—ever and ever-lovely Susquehanna;” “The River! Majestic as ever!;” and “The River in all its glory!”
Caroline is buried, near her family, in the Herr Burying Ground at Third and Herr Streets, Washington Boro.