Lady Masters of Foxhounds at the NSLM

Lady Masters of Foxhounds (Lady MFH) are a compelling topic around the NSLM lately! When that happens around here, it’s usually time to take to the shelves to see what our collections can tell us. For this topic, I checked out the “The Story of American Foxhunting; From Challenge to Full Cry” by J. Blan Van Urk.

Shelf of foxhunting literature in the main reading room
Shelf of foxhunting literature in the main reading room

“The Story of American Foxhunting,” published in 1940, tells the story of foxhunting history in North America. The book is written in two volumes; Volume I covers 1650-1861 and Volume II covers 1865-1906. This classic book is a comprehensive history. I dug in to see what I could find here on Lady MFH.

Title page of "The Story of American Foxhunting." I love the red fox mask
Title page of “The Story of American Foxhunting.” I love the red fox mask

Women in hunting have few mentions in these pages. Interesting tidbit: did you know Martha Washington used to hunt with her husband George?

Martha joins her husband George in the hunt
Martha joins her husband George in the hunt

Martha wasn’t a MFH though. The first Lady MFH, according to Van Urk, was Mrs. Gertrude Rives Potts with the Castle Hill Hounds in the early 1900s.

"In modern times, the Castle Hill hounds made history when...it became the first pack of record to be owned and hunted by an American woman, Mrs. Allen Potts, MFH"
“In modern times, the Castle Hill Hounds made history when…it became the first pack of record to be owned and hunted by an American woman, Mrs. Allen Potts, MFH. Here indeed is romance in sport!”
Mrs. Potts, MFH
Mrs. Potts, MFH

Mrs. Potts’ story with the Castle Hill Hounds leads to Urk’s discussion of previous ideas of women as incapable of hunting. It appears that opinions were, for a long time, that women could ride well but not well enough for hunting. While Urk does discuss the controversy surrounding women’s roles on the field, he also leaves us with this (remember, this was published in 1940): “The ladies – God Bless them! What would hunting be without them!”

If the stories, history, and controversy of Lady Masters of Foxhounds is a topic you wish to learn more about, join us on May 23th at the NSLM for The Dynamic Role of Lady Masters: A Foxhunting Roundtable. A panel of Lady MFH will join in an open and candid discussion, with time for questions and comments from the audience. Reception begins at 12:30 pm, and the roundtable discussion is from 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm. Email for more information.

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