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Guide to the Ellen K. Lee Collection on Helena Modjeska and Orange County MS.R.143
MS.R.143  
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Collection Details
 
Table of contents What's This?
  • Access
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Acquisition Information
  • Processing History
  • Historical Background
  • Collection Scope and Content Summary
  • Collection Arrangement
  • Separation Note
  • Appraisal Note
  • Processing Note
  • Related Collections

  • Title: Ellen K. Lee collection on Helena Modjeska and Orange County
    Identifier/Call Number: MS.R.143
    Contributing Institution: Special Collections and Archives, University of California, Irvine Libraries
    Physical Description: 7.4 Linear feet (17 boxes)
    Date (inclusive): 1874-2005 and undated
    Languages of Collection Materials: The collection is in English and Polish.
    Abstract: This collection comprises materials collected by Ellen K. Lee, Orange County historian and Helena Modjeska expert, during the course of her research from 1965 until her death in 2006. The materials document Ellen Lee's research, Helena Modjeska's life in the United States, and Orange County history during the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. Lee collected many forms of materials during her research, and many images and textual source materials are reproductions of items housed at other repositories in the United States. Additionally, Lee's collection includes research notes on various topics, file indexes, chronologies, correspondence, writings, and other materials created or produced by Lee during her work on the Board of the Helena Modjeska Foundation.
    Creator: Lee, Ellen K.

    Access

    The collection is open for research.
    Access to original media materials is restricted; researchers may request use copies.

    Publication Rights

    Property rights reside with the University of California. Copyrights are retained by the creators of the records and their heirs. For permission to reproduce or to publish, please contact the Head of Special Collections and Archives.

    Preferred Citation

    Ellen K. Lee collection on Helena Modjeska and Orange County. MS-R143. Special Collections and Archives, The UC Irvine Libraries, Irvine, California. Date accessed
    For the benefit of current and future researchers, please cite any additional information about sources consulted in this collection, including permanent URLs, item or folder descriptions, and box/folder locations.

    Acquisition Information

    Gift of William S. Lee and Margaret Gates, 2008 and Ann Frank, 2013.

    Processing History

    Processed by Joanna Lamb, 2009.

    Historical Background

    Ellen K. Lee, Orange County historian and Helena Modjeska authority, was born in 1918 in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho to lawyer and farm owner, Thomas Kerl, and his wife Lola. Lee studied English literature at Wellesley College, graduating in 1938. Seeking a warmer climate, she moved to Los Angeles in the late 1940s with her husband. In 1956, she moved to Newport Beach where she raised four sons and pursued scholarly interests including lecturing and writing about local history. Lee first learned of Helena Modjeska while completing a writing assignment for a UC Irvine professor in 1965. Intrigued by Modjeska, Lee eventually became a leading expert on the nineteenth-century Polish actress.
    When the canyon home where Modjeska had lived was acquired by Orange County in 1986, Lee played an instrumental role in the development of the historical site. She was a founding member of the non-profit Helena Modjeska Foundation, formed to support the Orange County Historical Park where the home was located, and would eventually serve as director of the organization. During the next two decades she played a prominent role in the foundation by offering historical research, acquiring archival photographs, creating interpretive exhibits, and producing a video about Modjeska and her home. Lee visited Poland twice for research purposes and travelled to a number of theaters in the United States, London, and Berlin where Modjeska performed.
    In addition to publishing numerous scholarly articles, Lee also published two books. The first, Old Newport: the Seaport Years (1970), was written after recording interviews with Newport pioneer Ramona Newport Castle, and told the story of a child growing up in Newport in the late 1800's. Her next book, Newport Bay: A Pioneer History (1973), narrates the history of the bay from the 1860s to the closure of the Harbor in the 1940s during World War II, and includes a foreword from her friend and colleague, well-known Orange County historian Don Meadows. Lee was working on her third book, a Modjeska biography, at the time of her death in 2006.
    Helena Modjeska, born Helena Opid on October 12, 1840 in Krakow, Poland, began acting at a young age. She made her theatrical debut as Helena Modrzejewska in Bochina, Poland in 1861. During this period she was involved in a romantic relationship with her manager, Gustave Sinnmayer Modrzejewski, which produced a daughter and son. After the death of her three-year old daughter, Modjeska returned, unmarried, to Krakow where she became a professional member of a theater company.
    While touring with the theater company she met Bozenta Chlapowski, a revolutionary Polish aristocrat, who would later use the name Count Bozenta. The couple married in September 1868 and Chlapowski became her business manager. Modjeska's popularity and fame grew quickly in Poland, allowing her to have a successful career as an actress. Although successful professionally, the heavy workload soon caused serious health problems and Bozenta and Modjeska relocated to the United States, forming a small Polish colony on a rented farm in Santa Ana in October 1876 where Modjeska could recover her health.
    Helena Modrzejewska anglicized her name to Helena Modjeska and studied English only four months before auditioning for her first English speaking role in San Francisco. She made a successful American debut at San Francisco's California Theater in August 1877 and for the next thirty years toured the United States and Europe, establishing a reputation as one of the greatest dramatic actresses of the late nineteenth century. Lauded on both continents for her performances in plays such as Macbeth, As You Like It, Mary Stuart, and Camille, Modjeska's leading men included both Edwin Booth and Maurice Barrymore, and her circle of friends grew to include such notables as Oscar Wilde, Henry James, and the pianist Ignace Jan Paderewski.
    In 1888 Modjeska and Chlapowski purchased property in Santiago Canyon and commissioned architect Stanford White to remodel and add to an existing cottage. Soon after its completion, Modjeska named it "Arden" after the Forest of Arden in Shakespeare's As You Like It. Despite frequent absences from Arden while touring, Modjeska played an active role in Orange County life. She enjoyed close friendships with Orange County pioneers such as the Rice, McCoy, Yoch, and Pleasant families.
    In the spring of 1906, Modjeska and her husband sold Arden and its surrounding property (totaling 1,341 acres) to a Long Beach investment company which planned to develop it into a country club. In 1908 the couple purchased a small beach cottage on Bay Island in Newport Bay. On April 8, 1909, Modjeska died at her Bay Island home. After funeral services at St. Vibiana's Cathedral in Los Angeles, Modjeska was buried in Krakow, Poland.
    Arden and its surrounding acreage went through a number of owners until it was finally sold (with the original property size greatly reduced because of a number of subdivisions) to the Charles S. Walker family of Long Beach in 1923. In 1986, descendants of the Walker family sold the Modjeska house and 14.4 acres of land to Orange County so that it might be preserved and developed as a historic park. Today it appears on the National Register of Historic Places and is California State Landmark #205. In addition, the two-mile stretch of Santiago Canyon once owned by Orange County's most famous actress is now known as Modjeska Canyon.
    Historical note about Modjeska from: Helena Modjeska collection. MS-R037. Special Collections and Archives, The UC Irvine Libraries, Irvine, California.

    Collection Scope and Content Summary

    This collection comprises materials collected by Ellen K. Lee, Orange County historian and Helena Modjeska expert, during the course of her research from 1965 until her death in 2006. The materials document Ellen Lee's research, Helena Modjeska's life in the United States, and Orange County history during the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. Lee collected many forms of materials during her research, and many images and textual source materials are reproductions of items housed at other repositories in the United States. Additionally, Lee's collection includes research notes on various topics, file indexes, chronologies, correspondence, writings, and other materials created or produced by Lee during her work on the Board of the Helena Modjeska Foundation.
    Lee 's collection includes brochures, pamphlets, reproductions (photographic), printouts, cabinet cards, unsigned ink sketches, videos, compact disks, negatives, slides, handwritten and typescript research notes, transcripts, manuscripts, clippings, and myriad photocopies of book excerpts, correspondence, photographs, clippings, journal and magazine articles, and programs.

    Collection Arrangement

    This collection is arranged in five series:
    • 1. Research files, 1904-2005. 3.6 linear feet
    • 2. Visual materials, 1874-2003. 2.2 linear feet
    • 3. Working files, 1959-2001. 1.0 linear foot
    • 4. Writings, 1969-2003. 0.6 linear feet
    • 5. Letters, 1971-1979 and undated. 7 items

    Separation Note

    Special Collections and Archives has cataloged separately a small collection of books about Modjeska and a number of volumes from her personal library.

    Appraisal Note

    Duplicate materials were not retained, with the exception of materials that had handwritten notes or markings by Lee.

    Processing Note

    When this collection was received, it was primarily comprised of mixed materials stored in hanging folders with topic (subject) titles created by Lee.

    Related Collections

    Related materials documenting Modjeska's life in Orange County can be found in in the following collections in the Department of Special Collections and Archives:
    Modjeska's drop-leaf writing desk, which belonged for many years to the Yoch family of Santa Ana, is also housed in Special Collections and Archives.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Chlapowski, Karol -- Archives
    Helena Modjeska Foundation.
    Lee, Ellen K. -- Archives
    Modjeska, Helena, 1840-1909 -- Archives
    Actresses -- Poland -- History -- Sources.
    CD-ROMs
    Photographic prints -- 19th century.
    Slides
    Video recordings -- 21st century