Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Preston Gibson papers, 1903-1920

Summary Information


A collection of the writings and personal papers of Preston Gibson (1880-1937), a playwright and prominent society figure.

At a Glance

Call No.: MS#0482
Bib ID 4078805 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Gibson, Preston, 1879-1937
Title Preston Gibson papers, 1903-1920
Physical Description 2 linear feet (4 manuscript boxes)
Language(s) English .

This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

This collection has no restrictions.



This collection is arranged in three series.



The collection includes personal papers, many of which concern Gibson's father-in-law, William Everts Benjamin; drafts and notes for both dramatic and non-dramatic works by Gibson; and texts by W.T. Price on the craft of playwriting.

  • Series I: Non-Dramatic Material, 1904-1920

    This series contains non-dramatic writings by Gibson, notably the complete manuscript for an untitled novel and a memoir of Gibson's military training entitled "The Courage of Ignorance." Personal papers consist mostly of the correspondence of William Everts Benjamin, Gibson's father-in-law, and include inquiries into the copyrights held on the multi-volume Library of American Literature (which Benjamin published) and documents relating to Benjamin's purchase of a portrait of Ralph Sheldon, painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds, from M. Knoedler and Co. A number of photographs of Gibson with members of the Pratt family and the actor Douglas Fairbanks are also part of the collection.

  • Series II: Constructive Course, undated

    This series contains a "constructive course" on playwriting that outlines and describes the facets of a dramatic work. Analyses of the various elements of three well-known plays are also included. While not so marked, this course appears to be the work of W.T. (William Thompson) Price, author of The Technique of the Drama and The Analysis of Play Construction. A letter from Price is also included in this series.

  • Series III: Plays, 1903-1920

    The vast majority of the collection is comprised of scripts, in varying stages of completeness, for a number of plays. Included are bound scripts, handwritten notes, scenarios outlining plots, and drafts, both partial and complete. In the case of The Splendid Sinner there are also printed materials, including a pamphlet on the life of Lola Montez, printed in Munich in 1848. While the collection does not contain a manuscript of Gibson's best-known play, The Turning Point, there are production notes for this work.

    N.B. Several of the plays have more than one title; in these cases, the titles under which Gibson registered the works for copyright are given first and earlier titles or working titles are listed parenthetically.

Using the Collection

Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Restrictions on Access

This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

This collection has no restrictions.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Preston Gibson Papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.


Materials may have been added to the collection since this finding aid was prepared. Contact rbml@columbia.edu for more information.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Source of acquisition--Cartwright, Beatrice Benjamin and Henry Rogers Benjamin. Method of acquisition--Gift; Date of acquisition--1943. Accession number--M-43.

8 photographs of Gibson with Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., and other members of the family of Dallas Pratt: Source of acquisition--Pratt, Dallas. Method of acquisition--Gift, 1987; Date of acquisition--1987. Accession number--M-l987.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

Cataloged Christina Hilton Fenn 06/--/89.

Papers Processed Marina Kastan, Pratt Institute, Class of 2012 10/--/10.

Finding aid written Marina Kastan, Pratt Institute, Class of 2012 10/--/10.

8 photographs of Gibson with Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., and other members of the family of Dallas Pratt Processed 02/01/87.

Revision Description

2010-11-12 xml document instance created by Marina Kastan

2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Scripts (documents) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Benjamin, William Everts, 1859-1940 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Drama -- 20th century Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Dramatists Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Fairbanks, Douglas, 1883-1939 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Gibson, Preston, 1879-1937 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
M. Knoedler & Co. Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Playwriting Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Price, W. T (William Thompson), 1845-1920 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Reynolds, Joshua, Sir, 1723-1792 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
United States. Army -- Military life Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Upper class Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
World War, 1914-1918 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Yale University -- Alumni and alumnae Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Biographical / Historical

Preston Gibson (1880-1937) was a prominent society figure and a playwright. The son of Randall L. Gibson, U.S. Senator and Representative of Louisiana, Gibson was extremely wealthy. Like his father, he attended Yale University, where he was a star athlete. During World War I, he was one of the first Americans to volunteer with the French army. From 1916 to 1918 he fought with the French Ambulance Corps and the American Ambulance Corps, and received the Croix to Guerre for bravery. Upon returning to the United States he enlisted in the Marines and broke records as a recruiting sergeant.

Gibson was married and divorced four times: first to Minna Field (niece of Marshall Field and stepdaughter of Thomas Nelson Page), then to Grace McMillan Jarvis (granddaughter of U.S. Senator James McMillan), Beatrice Benjamin Pratt (daughter of the Boston publisher William Everts Benjamin and granddaughter of Henry H. Rogers of the Standard Oil Company), and finally to Evelyn Harris Spaulding. His multiple marriages caused a certain amount of scandal. He had three sons--Henry Field Gibson, James McMillan Gibson, and Henry Spaulding Gibson--and a daughter, Marie Preston Gibson. Gibson died at the age of 57 from heart disease.

Gibson began to write plays shortly after graduating from Yale in 1900. In 1910 the Hackett Theater in New York produced his play The Turning Point. It received some positive reviews but was heavily criticized when it came to light that certain lines in the play were copied almost exactly from plays by Oscar Wilde, including A Woman of No Importance and The Ideal Husband. Gibson defended himself publicly by saying that he had written the lines and that the accusations put him in the company of writers like Shakespeare who had borrowed ideas from other works. Aside from this production, he achieved little success as a writer, though he completed at least a dozen plays. His third wife, Beatrice Pratt, is listed as a coauthor on a number of his works.

A member of the Metropolitan and Chevy Chase clubs of Washington D.C; the Yale, Lambs, Strollers, and Players clubs of New York; and others in cities in the U.S. and abroad, Gibson was much better known as a society figure than as a writer.