Eva Scott Fényes (1849-1930), Leonora Scott Muse Curtin (1879-1972), and Leonora Frances Curtin Paloheimo (1903-1999)—mother, daughter, and granddaughter—were three visionary women ahead of their time who would not be constrained by societal codes. They were primarily self-taught, well read in diverse subjects, able to speak several languages fluently, and held a deep and abiding interest in world cultures. Collectively these astute businesswomen developed means to support their interests philanthropically. They contributed to the establishment of prominent cultural institutions that focused on art, humanities and sciences and are still in existence in the United State and abroad. Their stewardship of the fortune they built together is now held in trust by their family Foundation which supports these institutions and are open today for scholars and public enjoyment.
These three generations of women whose lives spanned 150 years of the 19th and 20th centuries, designed and built their homes at Acequia Madre House® in Santa Fe, New Mexico, an estate that still stands today much the same as it was when completed in 1926. Designated special museum status by the City of Santa Fe, Acequia Madre House® has provided treasured collections of books, art, furniture and textiles as well as thousands of photographs and letters capturing the stories of the women’s lives in the Southwest and around the world from 1849-1999.
Besides their shared skills and interests, each of the women excelled in her own area of focus. Mrs. Fényes was a talented artist whose watercolor paintings captured landscapes and architecture of the West and Southwest during the turn of the 19th century. Her paintings are now in the permanent collection of the Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles. Mrs. Curtin was a keen ethnobotanist focused on antecedents and practices in the herbal traditions of Northern New Mexico. Her study during the first several decades of the 20th century is a landmark in research and an invaluable resource to herbalists today. Mrs. Paloheimo was a skilled linguistic researcher and visionary social philanthropist whose recordings of Native American Indian languages and songs in the 1930s are held in the collection of the Library of Congress. Her work with Northern New Mexico artisans during the depression evolved into robust cultural institutions and celebrations still celebrated today. Mrs. Paloheimo and her husband also founded El Rancho de las Golondrinas which is the Southwest’s premier living history museum.
In the words of historians Virginia Scharff and Carolyn Brucken, Eva Scott Fényes, Leonora Scott Muse Curtin, and Leonora Frances Curtin Paloheimo formed a “remarkable female dynasty” unlike any other. They built and were stewards of their fortunes and through their studies and philanthropic work made a profound impact on our ability to research and enjoy what might otherwise today be unknown facets of Finnish and American Southwest cultural heritage the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The Acequia Madre House is the home to the Women’s International Study Center, which celebrates the legacy of the three women through fellowships in residence in the arts, sciences, cultural preservation, business, and philanthropy.