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Ethel May Reed

Birthplace: Newburyport, Essex, Massachusetts, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Edgar Eugene Reed and Mary Elizabeth Reed

Occupation: Illustrator
Managed by: Erica Howton
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Ethel Reed

Ethel Reed was born on March 13, 1874, daughter of photographer Edgar Eugene Reed and Mary Elizabeth Mahoney. The date of her death is not known but is said to be before 1925.


In the last decade of the nineteenth century, Ethel Reed emerged as one of Boston's preeminent poster designers. Born in Newburyport, Massachusetts, she studied drawing and was briefly apprenticed to a painter of miniatures, but for the most part was self-taught. She spent most of her career in Boston, and also did some work in London.

Reed was extraordinarily prolific while in Boston. From 1895 to 1897 she designed a large number of important book posters, in addition to producing illustrations, covers, and endpapers. Her style was distinctive, albeit rooted in the whiplash-curve sensibility of art nouveau. Many of Reed's illustrations feature female figures, frequently surrounded by objects and tangled forms that seem full of secret and illicit meanings.

Reed's departure from the spotlight was even more sudden than her arrival ...

Reed’s promising career ended under mysterious circumstances. She became engaged to the painter Philip Hale in 1895, but the romance apparently sputtered. In May, 1896 she traveled to Britain, where she designed posters for publisher John Lane, and met the romantic novelist Richard Le Gallienne — with whom she had an affair, if the London papers are to be believed. She returned to England in 1897 to work on another poster for Le Gallienne. Reed apparently traveled on to Ireland, and then disappeared altogether.

It is rumored that she may have enrolled in the Royal College of Music, to pursue an early passion for the violin. A 1901 British census shows one Ethel Reed living in London, a single mother with a four-month-old son. It is also rumored that she went blind, which would explain the sudden curtailment of her career. What is certain is that she died some-time before 1925, when Gallienne praised the loss of the “noble, silent beauty” that was Ethel Reed.


  1. Name: Ethel May Reed. Birth Date: 13 Mar 1874. Event Type: Birth. Event City: Newburyport. Father Name: Edgar Eugene Reed. Occupation: Photographer. Place of Birth: Newburyport. Mother Name: Mary Elizabeth Marbury. Place of birth: Ireland. Massachusetts, Town Vital Collections, 1620-1988
  2. 1880; Census Place: Amherst, Hampshire, Massachusetts; Roll: 537; Family History Film: ; Page: 276D; Enumeration District: 341; Image: 0554.


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Ethel Reed's Timeline

March 13, 1874
Newburyport, Essex, Massachusetts, United States