Celebrating Generosity: Gifts from the ESK Collection

Selected works from the Eliot Stetson Knowles Collection

Exhibition Dates: November 1st, 2012 – April 28th, 2013

Painting titled "Holland Windmill" by Wendell Macy
Wendell Macy, Holland Windmill. Gift of Mrs. Eliot S. Knowles. #2010.67.15


Eliot S. Knowles (1916-2002), became the thirteenth president of the Old Dartmouth Historical Society in 1973 after serving six years as its treasurer. His leadership and beneficence over the decades was celebrated in an exhibition of selected works from the Eliot Stetson Knowles Collection.

A Life Member of the Museum, Eliot oversaw a substantive endowment drive to build institutional capacity. His tenure encompassed unprecedented growth of the Museum’s physical plant with the construction of the Cook Memorial Theater.

In his first year as President, he established the Society’s system of committees that continues to this day. The Museum was first accredited under his presidency and the quarterly Bulletin began under his term. Major exhibitions and publications included the R. Swain Gifford show and the book, New Bedford & Old Dartmouth: A Portrait of a Region’s Past.

At Eliot’s retirement as ODHS President in 1977, his efforts with the Development Campaign were noted by Richard C. Kugler as the first capital fundraising effort in the Society’s history with 100% fulfillment of donors’ pledges and surpassing the goal by 25%.

As president and chair of the Merchants National Bank for many years, Eliot lent his pecuniary expertise to the boards of many organizations including the New Bedford Port Society, Valley View School, Girl Scouts, St. Luke’s Hospital, Children’s Museum, New Bedford Chamber of Commerce, YMCA, Dartmouth Town Library, and the Animal Rescue League.

In private life as in public affairs, Eliot – together with his wife of 65 years, artist and philanthropist Betty Kirkendall Knowles (1916-2012) – “provided guidance, leadership and love to three generations” of family and community.