Partner Claire Charles-Roux De Forbin
Fort Ticonderoga, 102 Fort Ti Rd, Ticonderoga, NY 12883, Stati Uniti
Puget-Théniers, 06260 Poggetto Tenieri, Francia
30 East End Ave, New York, NY 10028, Stati Uniti
St Paul, 897 S Columbus Ave, Mt Vernon, NY 10550, Stati Uniti
Isabel Townsend Pell (September 28, 1900 – June 5, 1951) was an American socialite who fought with the French Resistance during World War II and for this reason was decorated with the Legion of Honour.
Pell was born on September 28, 1900, to S. Osgood Pell, a New York real estate man, and Isabel Audrey Townsend, who married in 1899. The marriage was important enough to be noted by the New York Times, but it did not last; at only 19 years old, Isabel Townsend filed for a divorce and moved out with her infant daughter; she remarried twice, the second time to John Cotton Smith, descendant of politician John Cotton Smith.
S. Osgood Pell died in a car accident on the night of August 3, 1913, when a train from the Long Island Railroad crashed into his car at a crossing. Isabel Townsend sued for $250,000, but both she and her daughter were left without money. Pell was cared for by her paternal uncle, Stephen Hyatt Pell; she was raised at Fort Ticonderoga, the family mansion on Lake Champlain, which is now on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and a U.S. National Historic Landmark. Her other uncle was Theodore Pell, tennis player.
Pell attended Holton-Arms School in Bethesda, Maryland, and then the Spence School in New York City. She made her debut in 1920, at the Piping Rock Club, and was known as a skilled horsewoman in Long Island, New York, and Virginia. She was nicknamed "Pelly" and admired by contemporaries for being outspoken and athletic.
In 1921 Pell went to work in a dress shop, a position felt at the time to be below her social standing. In 1922 she left the job at the dress shop and tried a career as actress, playing a small part in Fools Errant at the Maxine Elliott Theatre.
by Arnold Genthe
Sears and Pell
In 1930 Pell worked for the real estate firm of Pell and MacMillen, New York. She collaborated with Lois Long, fashion writer, and Elsie de Wolfe, interior decorator.
While in France during World War II, Pell took the name of "Fredericka" and joined the Maquis. She moved inland in the mountain and served for four years, until September 1944, and was known among the resistance as "the girl with the blonde mèche (lock)". Pell was captured by Italian soldiers and interned at Puget-Théniers; nevertheless she continued to smuggle information to the resistance while she was allowed to take her daily walks at the camp. When she was released, she disguised herself as a peasant and went to a mountain forest with her lover, the Marquise Claire Charles-Roux De Forbin (1908–1992). An Associate Press recounts how, in 1944, Pell rescued a contingent of American soldiers surrounded by enemies in Tanaron, a small French town. Pell, wearing the badge of Free France, came out from her hiding place and led the men to safety.
At the end of the war, November 28, 1944, the plaza in Puget-Théniers was renamed in her honor.
In February 1924 Pell was briefly engaged to R. Lorenzo Thomson; the marriage, supposed to take place on June 3, 1924, never happened.
Her society photos show Pell practicing sports, or together with other heiresses, like Margarett Sargent (1892–1978) and Eleonora Sears (1881–1968), both rumored to be her lovers. Sargent said that Isabell was "handsome, wonderfully handsome". Pell used to visit Sargent at her Prides Crossing, Beverly, Massachusetts mansion, and was well known by both Sargent's husband, Quincy Adams Shaw McKean (1891–1971), and children, who called Pell "cousin Pell".
In 1933 Isabel Pell and another woman, the wife of Henry T. Fleitmann, a partner of De Witt, Fleitmann & Company, were rescued after a crash at sea on the Kattegat while on a flight between Copenhagen and Falkenberg. They were rescued by a German freighter and taken to Copenhagen, uninjured.
Isabel Pell was friends with Eva Le Gallienne (1899–1991), they used to spend time together driving in the country.
Pell had an affair with Renee Prahar, an American sculptor and actress with Bohemian ancestry. Pell was forced to leave New York after her affair with a Metropolitan Opera soprano became public. Pell moved to Paris, joining many other eccentric heiresses who sought the freedom from their gilded cage. In a story recounted by Esther Murphy Strachey, younger sister of Gerald Murphy, Pell, with Natalie Clifford Barney, infiltrated a 13th-century Italian convent to meet with Alice Robinson.
In France, Pell started a relationship with Claire Charles-Roux, Marquise De Forbin. The Marquise was born in Avignon but raised in Morocco. Pell and the Marquise moved together to Auribeau-sur-Siagne. When France was occupied in 1940, both Pell and De Forbin joined the French Resistance and then the 1st Airborne Task Force (Allied) led by Major General Robert T. Frederick, who said "I think she came up there because she wanted a uniform. Well, we told her we didn't have any women's uniforms". Pell became an attaché of the Civil Affair Task Force of the US Army and liaised between the French and the Americans.
Pell was close friends with Mercedes de Acosta. After the war De Acosta visited Pell in France and began a relationship with Pell's companion, Claire de Forbin.
Back in New York City, after the war, Pell lived at 30 East End Avenue.
Pell died at the age of 51, collapsing while dining with her friend Anne
Andrews at La Reine Restaurant, 139 East 52nd Street. Pell ashes were strewn to the four winds from either Pride's Crossing, MA,
Margarett Sargent's house, or Hill Crest, Berwyn,
Mary A. Bair's House.
was the principal legatee in the Pell will; others were
Anne Francine, the
Philadelphia socialite who for a time was a New York cafe singer, and Mary
Bair of Berwyn, PA. Sears received all furniture, pictures, books, china,
glass, silverware, an automobile and two diamond clips, the Resistance and
Citoyen d'Honneur medals (the last two ornaments upon the recipient's death to
pass along to Samuel Riker, cousin of the deceased), a diamond guard ring, and
all the rest of the estate (amount not indicated). Also to Sears and to Mary
Bair, equal shares in "such money as I may have in the Bankers Trust Co. To
Anne Francine went a gold watch, bracelet, link ring and St. Christopher medal
and to Mary Bair went a gold cigaret case.
We Used to Own the Bronx: Memoirs of a Former Debutante is a memoir written by Eve Pell, a reporter in San Francisco.
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