Armstrong, Margaret Neilson (1867–1944)

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Armstrong, Margaret Neilson (1867–1944)

American botanist and author. Born Margaret Neil-son Armstrong on September 24, 1867, in New York City; died on July 18, 1944, in New York City; daughter of David Maitland and Helen Neilson Armstrong; sister of Helen Maitland Armstrong (a painter and stained-glass artist) and Hamilton Fish Armstrong (author and editor of Foreign Affairs).

Selected works:

Field Book of Western Wild Flowers (1915); Five Generations (1930); Fanny Kemble: A Passionate Victorian (1938); Murder in Stained Glass (1939); Trelawny: A Man's Life (1940); The Blue Santo Murder Mystery (1941). Wrote fiction and biography, including a history of her family.

In 1867, Margaret Neilson Armstrong was born at her grandmother's home into a family of New York aristocracy. Her maternal grandfather, Peter Stuyvesant, had been mayor of New Amsterdam before it became New York City. Her father, David Armstrong, was an artist and stained-glass-window maker of old, monied lineage. The Armstrongs lived between a home at West 10th Street in New York City and a Newburgh Bay, New York, estate. Armstrong was two when the family moved temporarily to Italy, where her father served appointments as diplomatic consul to the Papal State and then consul general to Italy. Back in New York, Armstrong and her sister Helen received private education and their talents were encouraged with painting lessons (of which Armstrong's first was in Boston). She was 25 when her brother, Hamilton Fish, was born.

Unmarried, the Armstrong sisters primarily lived at home. Margaret spent several years in the American West as she worked on her Field Book of Western Wild Flowers, which was published in 1915; after her study was complete, she returned home. In 1918, her father died, leaving his memoirs unfinished. Armstrong assumed the challenge of completing them and in 1920 Day Before Yesterday was published. She followed this with a biography of the Armstrong family, as well as portraits of two popular figures of the time, actress Fanny Kemble and writer and adventurer Edward Trelawny. Her biography Fanny Kemble: A Passionate Victorian earned her the greatest praise, though she also authored two mysteries, one of which, Murder in Stained Glass (1939), relied heavily on her familiarity with the art of stained glass. Two months shy of her 77th birthday, Armstrong died after a brief illness at the family home on West 10th Street, where she had lived with her sister all her life.


The New York Times. July 19, 1944, p. L19.

Crista Martin , Boston, Massachusetts

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Armstrong, Margaret Neilson (1867–1944)

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