In honor of Women’s History Month, we fondly remember Daniel Chester French’s only child, Margaret French Cresson (1889-1973). Born in Concord, Massachusetts, Peggy, as she was called by her family and friends, spent 77 years on her father’s country estate in Stockbridge. Thanks to her foresight and generosity, Chesterwood is preserved as a museum and historic site today.
Like her father, Peggy was an accomplished sculptor of bronze and marble busts, bronze reliefs, portrait heads and memorial plaques. She studied under her father and later with Abastenia St. Leger Eberle and George Demetrios. By 1912, she was a student at the New York School of Applied Design for Women, Inc. She exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Art Institute of Chicago, Carnegie Institute, Corcoran Gallery, Whitney Museum, and Metropolitan Museum of Art. She also participated in the 1938 Paris Salon and the New York World’s Fair. In addition, she was a member of the National Sculpture Society, National Academy of Design, and many more horticulture and arts groups.
Although Peggy won many prizes and awards for her sculpture, she is mostly remembered for preserving her father’s work and home. In 1921, Peggy married William Penn Cresson (1873-1932). The Cressons did not have children, and Mr. Cresson died after only 11 years of marriage. Concerned about the future of Chesterwood and her father’s legacy, Mrs. Cresson formed the Daniel Chester French Foundation and then transferred ownership of the estate and its collection to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
After her husband died, Mrs. Cresson continued to sculpt, but she gradually shifted her energy toward her father’s legacy. She wrote Journey into Fame, a biography of French, and lectured extensively on his work and Chesterwood. In 1973, Mrs. Cresson died while entertaining friends and Stockbridge residents in the very home she had so loved and preserved.