Browse | News & Events | Ordering | UPP Blog | For Authors | For Instructors | Prizes | Rights & Permissions | About the Press | Support the Press | Contact Us
December 2007
408 pages  
98 color, 18 b&w Illustrations
Hardcover $40.00 Add to cart

View Cart
Check Out
Other Ways to order
Helen Clay Frick
Bittersweet Heiress
Sanger, Martha Frick Symington
Chronicles Helen Clay Frick's lifelong commitment to social welfare, the environment, and her purchase of many significant works of art for her private collection, the Frick Collection in New York, the University of Pittsburgh teaching collection, and the Frick Art Museum.

Read a press release about this book
Martha Frick Symington Sanger is the author of Henry Clay Frick: An Intimate Portrait (1998), which was cited in August 2007 in the Wall Street Journal by Carnegie Corporation president Vartan Gregorian as one of the “five best” books detailing the lives and contributions of great philanthropists in America's gilded age. Her second book, The Henry Clay Frick Houses: Architecture-Interiors-Landscapes In the Golden Era (2001), captured in great detail the homes Frick built in Pittsburgh, New York, and Boston's North Shore.

In 1991, Ms. Sanger served as an advisor for the introductory video of the New York Frick Collection and exhibitions at Clayton (now a house museum at the Frick Art & Historical Center in Pittsburgh) and has also been instrumental in widening the use of the family papers and art history materials contained in the voluminous Frick archives. Ms. Sanger also was as a consultant for the 1995 two-hour PBS documentary on Andrew Carnegie, “Richest Man in the World,” produced by WGBH.

Martha Frick Symington Sanger lives in Stevenson, Maryland. She is the great-granddaughter of Henry Clay Frick, and has three daughters and five grandchildren. Her Web site is
“With studious care, Martha Sanger portrays the life of her resolute great-aunt, whose qualities and disappointments, especially at the end of her life, make a lasting impression.”--Everett Fahy, former director of the Frick Collection, current John Pope-Hennessy Chairman, European Paintings Department, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

“This exhaustively researched and beautifully written work finally brings Helen Frick out from under the shadow of her father and recognizes her contribution to art collecting, photo archiving, cataloguing, war relief, and women's charities. Sanger adds immeasurably to our knowledge about the private and public lives of elite women in America, philanthropy, family dynamics, and the politicking that takes place behind the closed doors of museum boardrooms.” --Dianne Sachko Macleod, author of Enchanted Lives, Enchanted Objects: American Women Collectors and the Making of Culture

“The daughter of one of Pittsburgh's steel magnates, Helen Clay Frick left her own legacy of philanthropy, nationally, in the art world and in the lives of working-class women. This biography is a valuable contribution to women's history, adding especially to the literature on women's philanthropy during the first three quarters of the twentieth century.”--Carolyn Carson, University of Pittsburgh

“This brilliant book reveals as never before the extraordinary life of Helen Clay Frick, one of the twentieth century's most powerful, elusive, and sometimes vindictive women. Her great-niece has closely examined private family records, museum archives, and many published accounts of events with her characteristic openness to the truth. She has brought to light an amazing range of fascinating issues and events and explains many of Helen Frick's attitudes that have long perplexed her friends, foes, and the curious.”--Donald Miller, former art and architecture critic, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

”For obvious reasons, relatives of famous people often write poor biographies of them. Sanger, however, is the consummate professional in this fair, warts-and-all portrait of her great-aunt, Helen Clay Frick, the steel-industry heiress, art patron, and champion of New York’s famed Frick Collection and its related art reference library.”—ALA Booklist

”[Sanger] succeeds brilliantly in conveying a vivid sense of her greataunt as an exceptional individual, for better or worse.”—Pittsburgh Quarterly

”A visual treat . . . this impeccable and impartial biography limns the characteristics of Helen, who was an exceptional woman.” —Feminist Review

”A welcome addition to the growing interest in the history of privileged women and of memory and historical preservation.”—The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography

“This remarkable monograph by the great-granddaughter of Henry Clay Frick offers a fascinating portrait of his daughter, Helen Clay Frick. Her achievements intersect the history of art, collecting, museums, women, philanthropy, and historic preservation. Long overshadowed by her father, Helen’s central role in her family’s legacy is restored.”—Woman’s Art Journal

Complete Description Reviews

In 1919, at the age of thirty-one, Helen Clay Frick inherited $38 million, becoming the richest single woman in America. These riches, however, came at a price. Helen's tumultuous early life was shaped by her father's infamy as a union strikebreaker and the ensuing attempt on his life, her mother's debilitating depression, and the death of her older sister and newborn brother about a year apart. Despite these events, Helen built a luminous legacy through her lifelong commitment to social welfare, the environment, and a supreme devotion to the visual arts. Helen's philanthropy touched the lives of thousands. Her contributions included a vacation home for young female textile workers, two wildlife preserves, one a public wilderness park, a Victorian-era house museum, a pre-Civil War historic Mennonite village, a university fine arts department, two art history libraries, and the purchase of many significant works of art for her private collection, the Frick Collection in New York, the University of Pittsburgh teaching collection, and the Frick Art Museum. Through extensive period research and singular access to Frick family archives and Helen Clay Frick's personal writings, Martha Frick Symington Sanger fashions a multifaceted portrait of a complex, often misunderstood, yet indomitable humanitarian, philanthropist, and cultural force in twentieth-century America.


© 2018 University of Pittsburgh Press. All rights reserved.