Sculpture of John B. Kelly, on Kelly Drive in Philadelphia. Sculpture 1965 by Harry Rosin (1897-1973). Image obtained by Creative Commons CC0 1.0, Universal Public Domain Dedication.
Before our blog’s attention is turned solely to Grace, let’s get to know the rest of the Kelly family first!
Grace Kelly was born in the Hahnemann Medical College on November 12, 1929 to John and Margaret Kelly. By the time Grace was born, the Kelly family was already established as one made up of true businessmen and decorated athletes. Grace’s mother, Margaret Kelly, was an award-winning swimmer as well as a model and held a college degree in physical education. She was also the first woman ever to teach physical education at the University of Pennsylvania and Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia before her marriage in 1924.
Grace’s father, John B. Kelly, Sr., was a famous rower who won three Olympic Gold Medals and was the first rower ever to do so. He famously applied for entry in the Diamond Sculls event at the 1920 Henley Royal Regatta, but was rejected on the basis that his former apprenticeship to a bricklayer gave him too much of an advantage in strength over his “gentlemanly” competition. Though upset, he immediately went on the win two gold medals at the 1920 Olympics and is reported to have sent his racing cap to King George V with a note that said, “Greetings from a Bricklayer.” He was also owner and president of his company Kelly for Brickwork, commissioner and president of the Fairmount Park Commission, Commodore of the Schuylkill Navy, and President of the National Association of Amateur Oarsmen, now called USRowing. You can actually see a sculpture of John B. Kelly, Sr. by Bucks County’s own Harry Rosin at the finish line for the crew course in Philadelphia. Be sure to check out the Michener’s Bucks County Artist Database entry on Rosin for more information on both the sculpture and the artist!
All this athleticism in Grace’s parents was picked up to a degree by both her older sister Peggy as well as her younger sister Lizanne, but by far the most athletic Kelly child was Grace’s older brother, John B. Kelly, Jr. He was a three time Olympian and won the bronze medal in the single sculls event for rowing in 1956. In addition to carrying on the family brickwork company, he was also a City Councilman-at-Large for 12 years, President of the United States Olympic Committee, and a member of the US rowing hall of fame along with his father. Following his death in 1985, East River Drive in Philadelphia was renamed Kelly Drive in his honor. This means that even though Kelly Drive is not named for Grace, like many people assume, it is named for a member of the same Kelly family.
Grace was less interested in athletic activity herself. She is quoted in Donald Spoto’s 2009 biography, High Society: The Life of Grace Kelly, as saying, “I never felt pretty, bright, or socially adept, and all that talk of sports, politics, and business left me cold.” However she was active in other ways throughout her childhood, including drama clubs at school. Join me next time to learn more about Grace’s childhood activities in EastFalls with the help of Ellen Sheehan from the East Falls Historical Society!
Can’t wait until October to see what the Michener Art Museum has to offer? No problem! Visit our website to see what we have on exhibit currently, learn about memberships, programs, upcoming events, and find our hours to schedule your next trip. We hope to see you soon.
-Louise Feder, Membership and Special Events Coordinator