Newmains to New York – Mary Brawley 1903-1986

There are many people on my family tree that I would love to have met. I’d need a time machine to be able to spend time with them and ask them about their lives and the stories that the official documents don’t tell me. One person I could have met, but never did, was my cousin (twice removed) Mary Brawley. She lived until 1986 and at that time she was only a few miles away from me but I didn’t even know she existed. When I did find out about her through my family history research I heard some stories. One story is that she worked as a nanny for Spencer Tracy’s son. Another is that she was a beautiful singer and sang at Carnegie Hall in New York. I’ve tried my best to put together her story and this is what I know so far…

Mary was born on 24 December 1903 at 9 Coltness Cottages in Mossend, Lanarkshire. Her parents were Patrick Brawley and Mary O’Neil.

Her birth record shows that she was illegitimate. I don’t know the significance of the Mossend address. Both parents lived in Newmains. Patrick was prepared to sign the record and accept paternity but when Mary was baptised her name was recorded as Mary O’Neil.

Patrick was clearly not ready for fatherhood and in 1907 he left Scotland for America. I don’t know what happened to Mary O’Neil but I believe I have found her on a census in England.

Mary was raised by Patrick’s brother, Matthew Brawley and his wife, Mary Hagan. The couple went on to adopt two more children, siblings Matthew and Edith Cran who were born in 1915 and 1917 respectively.

In the 1911 census Mary was living at Cambus Cottages in Newmains. She would have attended St Brigid’s School in the village alongside a number of cousins including my grandfather, Hugh Brawley who was born in 1899.

The next record I have for Mary is a passenger list from 1926 showing that she travelled from Glasgow to New York.

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Mary is recorded in the census for 1930 as a servant for a couple called Nathan, a silk merchant and his wife, Rae. The couple, who were both Russian, had two children; Edith age 8 and Bertran who was 4. Both children were born in New York and their home was in Brooklyn. Mary is the only member of staff recorded at the address.

In 1931 she sailed back to Scotland on the same ship. On this occasion her occupation is recorded as a nurse. She was in Scotland for three months before returning to New York. On the return record her occupation was nursemaid.

In 1937 her father Matthew died so Mary returned to Scotland for a short period. She is now recorded as a children’s nurse. The occupation information from her travel records shows that she was a nanny but unfortunately I don’t have any employment records.

On her previous trips to Scotland Mary stayed with her family in Newmains but on a trip in 1838 her destination address was Yester House in Gifford. I checked this address and found this photograph. A far cry from her home in Newmains.

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Travelling with Mary on this trip were teacher, Winifred Barry and maid, Margaret Seahill. In first class and also heading for Yester House were sisters, Harriet Van Ingen and Edith McClane and their children. Harriet and Edith were the daughters of Herbert L Pratt who, it would seem, was a very rich man. So, Mary was a nanny to the rich and famous but still no Spencer’s Tracy connection.

In June 1949 this short article was published in the Wishaw Press and tells of a concert in St Brigid’s Parish Hall. Mary, it seems, was to be star of the show after a performance at none other that Carnegie Hall in New York.

Mary travelled back and forth between New York and Newmains on a further number of occasions in 1962 she also visited Paris. Look at her address on these arrival documents between 1958 and 1962.

Mary was living at Carnegie Hall, New York! And who else was known to have a studio at Carnegie Hall?  Mr Spencer Tracy.

I decided to contact Carnegie Hall to see if they could provide any information in relation to Mary’s time there. I was delighted when, after just a couple of days, I received a reply from the Archives.

I’m sorry to say that we have nothing in our performance history records that indicates Mary Brawley ever performed at Carnegie Hall. However, since our archives weren’t established until 1986, we are missing some earlier documentation, so it is possible she appeared but we have no concert program. The most likely possibility would have been a performance in our small recital hall, which is now called Weill Recital Hall, but until 1987 was known as Carnegie Recital Hall (and until 1947 asCarnegie Chamber Music Hall). Our records for the recital hall are far from complete, and information on many performances has ben filled in using sources such as weekly concert listings published in the New York Times, reviews, etc. I was unable to find any listings or reviews that mentioned Mary Brawley.

There was a connection between Spencer Tracy and Carnegie Hall, but not to Studio 868. Tracy studied a the American Academy ofDramatic arts, which had its offices and taught classes from studios at Carnegie Hall. the American Academy leased the theatre on Carnegie Hall’s lower level, at the time known as Carnegie Lyceum, from late 1895 until 1956, when they moved out of the building. Tracy studies at the AADA in 1922-23 and appeared in several student productions.

The connection between Mary Brawley and Studio 868 is more interesting. That studio was occupied for many, many years by a cabaret and theatre singer named Jeanne Beauvais (1917-2007). She lived in Studio 868 from the late 1940s until her death. We don’t have any of her personal effects, so it’s difficult to say what the connection might have been to Mary Brawley. She may have sublet her studio to Mary; this was a very common practice among Carnegie Hall studio tenants (sadly, we have few administrative records on the Carnegie Hall studios, which operated like an outside business, with Carnegie Hall serving as landlord). From articles published in the New York Times, it’s clear that Jeanne Beauvais went on several European tours with several theatrical productions so perhaps she sublet her studio during one of these periods. I believe she (Beauvais) also taught voice; perhaps Mary studied with her. It’s also possible she allowed Mary to list that address for some reason

So Mary and Spencer Tracy both have links to Carnegie Hall but not at the same time. I checked the census records for the Tracy family. In both the 1930 and 1940 records they have the same nurse for their children which makes it unlikely Mary was ever employed in a permanent position as their nanny.

I am now more interested in finding the connection to Beauvais but other than the address I’ve yet to find any clues. Both travelled a lot but none of the trips seem to overlap.

So that is the story of Mary Brawley as far as I know it.  I’d love to ask her about her life in New York.  She never married. Her biological father was also in New York but I don’t know if they spent time together.  I heard from a family member that she left America for good after ‘something bad’ happened to her.  I don’t know about that.  I do know that she died on 13 March 1986. She is buried with her adoptive parents and sister in Cambusnethan Cemetery.

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