Mary Perkins Olmstead - Landscape of a Marriage

Mary Perkins Olmsted was born on March 26, 1830. Orphaned at the age of eight, she was raised by her grandparents on Staten Island. As a young girl, she loved to play the piano and sing. When she was 21, she married Dr. John Olmsted. They honeymooned in Italy and over the next five years, she gave birth to three children while living in Europe. John died at the age of 32 from complications from tuberculosis and Mary returned to New York with her children. A year later, she agreed to marry her brother-in-law Frederick Law Olmsted in order to provide a secure future for her family. 

Her new husband was involved in a plan to turn 800 acres of Manhattan swamp land into a public park. Tempted to quit a number of times, it was Mary’s wise counsel and support that kept him focused on their joint goal ‘to create a beating green heart in every urban space’. Fred and Mary had four more children, only two of whom survived infancy. Fred’s career as a landscape architect took him away from the family for long periods of time as he worked on projects including Boston’s Emerald Necklace, the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC, the grounds for the Chicago World’s Fair, the park spaces at Niagara Falls and Yosemite National Park, as well as dozens of urban parks, college campuses and private estates.

More than her husband’s greatest fan, Mary organized the firm’s business operations, fine-tuned many of the design projects (as many as 50 different projects were on the books at any one time), paid the bills and kept track of the company’s finances.

After Fred died in 1903, Mary became more involved in philanthropic activities, leaving the Olmsted Brothers’ operations in the capable hands of her sons John and Rick. 

She died on August 23, 1921at the age of 91, surrounded by her children and grandchildren.

Mary's life story has been immortalized in the novel, Landscape of a Marriage, written by Gail Ward Olmsted, a distant relative of Mary. 

Gail Ward Olmsted

Gail Ward Olmsted was a marketing executive and a college professor before she began writing fiction on a full time basis. A trip to Sedona, AZ inspired her first novel Jeep Tour. Three more novels followed before she began Landscape of a Marriage, a biographical work of fiction featuring landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, a distant cousin of her husband’s, and his wife Mary.


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