New Orleans-born Martha Gilmore Robinson was a co-founder of the Louisiana Landmarks Society and a formidable leader in postwar preservation efforts.
A New Orleans native and Newcomb College graduate, Martha Gilmore Robinson was a prominent and outspoken civic activist who applied her talents to historic preservation issues in her hometown and beyond after World War II.¹ According to colleagues, “[t]oward the end of Robinson's life, her influence was felt by her mere presence. Rather than get tangled up with Martha Robinson, politicians considered an alternate course.”²
As a young woman with dreams of becoming an actress, Robinson was a co-founder in 1916 of the Le Petit Théâtre du Vieux Carré, a community theater located in the heart of the crumbling and bohemian old city.³ She then became involved in local politics, founding the Woman Citizens' Union in 1934 and later serving as president of Louisiana's League of Women Voters.⁴ The postwar building boom inspired Robinson to become involved in preservation efforts and, in 1950, she co-founded the Louisiana Landmarks Society (LLS) and served as its president from 1958 until 1962.⁵ During her tenure, she successfully led the effort to prevent the sale of historic Gallier Hall, and she also fought and won a years-long battle to save Chalmette Battlefield from industrial development, which concluded with a sixty-six-acre donation to Chalmette National Historical Park.⁶ In 1962, President John F. Kennedy named Robinson vice chairman of the Battle of New Orleans Sesquicentennial Celebration Commission, which worked with the National Park Service on an extensive park restoration in advance of the site's 150th anniversary.⁷ The following year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation awarded Robinson the fourth Louise du Pont Crowninshield Award for her preservation achievements, the Trust's highest honor.⁸
Upon Robinson's death in 1981, LLS instituted the Martha G. Robinson Memorial Lecture series, an annual event that hosts a variety of speakers on the city's history, preservation, and built environment.⁹
1. Pamela Tyler, “Martha Gilmore Robinson,” in KnowLA Encyclopedia of Louisiana, edited by David Johnson (Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 2010-). Article published February 23, 2011.
2. Abbye A. Gorin and Wilbur E. Meneray, “Louisiana Politics of Destruction,” in The Rivergate: Architecture and Politics No Strangers in Pair-A-Dice (New Orleans: Tulane University Library, 1995).
3. Tyler, “Martha Gilmore Robinson.”
5. Gorin and Meneray, “Louisiana Politics of Destruction”; and Louisiana Landmarks Society, “Lectures.”
6. “The Fourth Louise du Pont Crowninshield Award,” Preservation News 3 (November 1963): 4.
7. National Park Service, “Records of the Battle of New Orleans Sesquicentennial Celebration Commission,” in Inventory of the Records of the National Park Service, Record Group 79 (Washington DC: National Park Service, 2007), 97.
8. “The Fourth Louise du Pont Crowninshield Award.”
9. Louisiana Landmarks Society, “Lectures.”
Suggestions for Additional Reading and Research
Cullison, William R., III. The Louisiana Landmarks Society: The First Thirty Years. New Orleans: Louisiana Landmarks Society, 1980.
Martha Gilmore Robinson Collection, 1909–1980. Newcomb Archives, Tulane University.
Robinson, Martha. 1972. Interview by Dorothy Schlesinger. Tape recording. June 29 and August 6. Friends of the Cabildo Oral History Program, New Orleans Public Library.
Robinson, Martha, and Marie de Verges. 1974. Joint interview by Dorothy Schlesinger. Tape recording. June 22. Friends of the Cabildo Oral History Program, New Orleans Public Library.