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William Robert Pearmain and Pearmain family papers, 1888-1955

Biographical Note

William Robert Pearmain (1888-1912), known as Robert, was a painter and political activist working in Boston and New York City. Born to a wealthy family in New England, Pearmain attended Harvard University to study architecture and studied painting in Italy under George de Forest Brush.
Between 1907 and 1908, Pearmain travelled through France and Italy studying with Brush and other artists. Upon returning to the United States, Pearmain married the eldest daughter of his mentor, Nancy Douglas Brush in Dublin, New Hampshire. Also an artist, Nancy settled with Robert in Boston and later in New York City. While in New York, Pearmain worked as an assistant to muralist Barry Faulkner. In 1911, the Pearmains welcomed their daughter Mary Alice, whom they called Polly.
While in New York, Pearmain grew dissatisfied with his artistic career. He discovered an interest in the conditions of the working class and his social and political viewpoints became increasingly radical. Despite his privilaged upbringing, he immersed himself in the world of manual labor. Leaving his wife and daughter behind, Robert walked from New York City to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to work at the Westinghouse Electric Company. Additionally, Pearmain became associated with the Industrial Workers of the World organization and participated in anarchist demonstrations.
Soon after arriving in Pittsburgh, Pearmain's health started to fail. His family believed the hard working conditions caused his illness and a doctor suggested that he return to Massachusetts to recover. In September of 1912, Robert Pearmain died of leukemia. Later, Nancy remarried Dr. Harold Bowditch.