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Harriet Bishop Speed, Museum Founder, Musician and Philanthropist

Louisville’s visual arts landscape was pretty barren until the 1920s. Up until that time the River City had neither an art museum nor a professional art school.

But one amazing woman helped to change all of that.

Hattie Bishop Speed was a musician and philanthropist… and her story is the subject of this Et Cetera.

Born Harriet Theresa Bishop in Louisville on February 12, 1858; Hattie was a professionally trained pianist and teacher. While studying abroad in Europe, she made friends with several American painters.

In 1906 she married prominent Louisville businessman and philanthropist James Breckinridge Speed. Hattie and James shared a love of art and the two traveled the world collecting paintings and sculpture.

When James died in 1912 Hattie used vision to honor his memory by founding a museum in his name.

The Speed Art Museum, originally known as the J. B. Speed Memorial Museum, is the oldest and largest art museum in Kentucky. The Speed opened in 1927.

The museum’s debut collection contained many donated pieces that were once shared by the Speeds, and Hattie was the Speed’s first president and director.

She served in this capacity until her death in 1942.

However, the Speed Museum isn’t Hattie’s only accomplishment.

She was a charter member of Arts Club Louisville and supported Louisville's American Red Cross Hospital, an institution founded by African-American physicians and operating the only nurse training program in Kentucky open to black women.

Hattie Bishop Speed also helped found the Speed Scientific School at the University of Louisville, in honor of her late husband.

As a musician, Hattie Bishop Speed built and provided a music room in her home for recitals and concerts by the local Bach Club

Another lasting legacy is the Hattie Bishop Speed Endowed Concert Series – which has brought some of the world’s finest classical musicians and rising stars to Louisville.

Etc:

  • Mrs. Speed's initial gift of art has grown to nearly 14,000 works of art at the Speed. Plus, the Speed supports a large program in studio art and art history at the University of Louisville - a university that did not even exist when the museum was founded.
  • According to "The Encyclopedia of Louisville," after Mrs. Speed’s death, her niece Jenny Loring Robbins
  • There is a Hattie Bishop Speed Room at the Dupont Mansion B&B in Old Louisville.

Mrs. Speed would be glad to know how her museum is fostering art education and appreciation in our children. Learn more in our Season One segment on Art Sparks at the Speed Museum. Learn even more about the Speeds and the Speed Museum in this Season Three Et Cetera.

In 2011, The Speed Museum is preparing for a major expansion and renovation project.

Our thanks to The Speed Museum, University of Louisville Archives and Photographic Archives, the Margaret M. Bridwell Art Library, University of Louisville and Louisville Archives and Records Center, Louisville, for the use of their archival images.

Related "Louisville Life" stories:

Program 516
"Louisville Life" presents the unique flavors of tempting chocolates and desserts at Coco's Chocolate Café; profiles founder of the Speed Art Museum; shares the idea behind a Louisville-centric children's book and more. (#516)