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  • Title
    Nellie Donegan, roller skater, 1913 / Apeda (N.Y.)
  • Creator
  • Call number
  • Level of description
  • Date

  • Type of material
  • Reference code
  • Issue Copy
  • Physical Description
    Photographs - 24.5 x 19.5 cm. - 1 silver gelatin photoprint
  • Source
    Presented 1974 Pic.Acc.3041
  • Copying Conditions
    Out of copyright: created before 1955
  • Published Information
    Published : The museum / National Museum of Australia, [no.] 3 (Mar./Aug. 2013), cover and Glorious days : Australia 1913 exhibition poster, colourised)
  • General note

    Nellie Donegan is reported as being born about 1870 in White [County?], Indiana. After her death, her birthplace was also given as far away Melbourne, Australia. She had a public roller skating career that started by 1903 and was advertised in national publications by 1907. Her father reportedly operated a large rink in her hometown of Rensselaer, Indiana, though the circa 1907-1910 published lists make no reference to it. It likely existed during the earlier skating craze.

    She appeared in 1907 under the "personal direction" of Earle Reynolds, with a contact address given as 1440 Broadway, New York. Nellie also appeared in the January 6 to 25, 1908 production of "A Parisian Model," appearing as "Henriette." Thereafter they did exhibition skating together, 1909-1916. In 1912 it was [Earle] Reynolds and [Nellie] Donegan and they were booked by Pat Casey of New York. "Decorative Dancing" was their roller skating forte.

    The second boom in roller skating had taken place about 1906-1909, and then it went into another decline. Skating exhibitions by Nellie can be found through 1912. Nellie was hired by Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish, a wealthy man's wife, to present a program in her private ballroom. The couple's image as paired skaters was on the cover of the 1915 sheet music "The Skating Waltzes," published by Charles K. Harris. At the time they were performing in the Winter Garden in "The World of Pleasure." The couple is also mentioned in the book "Vaudeville, From the Honky Tonks to the Palace" as being roller and ice skaters.

    Reynolds and Donegan trained many skaters in a "garage gym" in Rensselaer. A Reynolds Donegan Company did exhibition skating on fairgrounds, in vaudeville, etc., in 1918, 1919, 1922, 1923, 1925, 1930 and 1939 and presumably other years. It would seem that their base was in Indiana, from which they traveled around the country doing exhibition work. If their birth years are accurate [Earle Reynolds, October 28, 1868], they were still on skates when approaching 70 years of age, quite an achievement.

    Nellie appeared as a ballet girl in the Ringling circus spectacle "Jerusalem and the Crusades," definitely in 1903, possibly also in 1904, the second year of the production. It was apparently at that time that she came to know Edith [Mrs. Charles] Ringling, who later arranged to have her son, Robert Ringling, hire Reynolds and Donegan for Ringling-Barnum. Donegan and Reynolds were with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey in 1943-1944 as skaters. Nellie gained some incidental fame as a steam calliope player between 1943 and 1945. She's the only Ziegfeld girl to have played the calliope, as far as I know. Donegan and Reynolds also managed an act as early as 1941 called "Six Pyramid Girls." They were later booked on RBBB, comprised largely girls from Rensselaer. A problem was that they were all pretty and had to be replaced when they found a beau and got married.

    Reynolds and Donegan were married at White [County?], Indiana on August 12, 1913 [also given as 1908]. [Family Search website] They had twin daughters, or step-daughters, Helen and Maude, who were also skaters. Maudie had a daughter, Patricia, who was also taught skating. Nellie died in October 1945 [interred October 31], more than a year and a half after the 1944 disaster. Earle Reynolds died October 1, 1954, age 85, at Home Hospital in Lafayette, Indiana [interred October 4]. They're both buried at the Weston Cemetery in Rensselaer, Indiana. Obituaries were printed for both of them in "Billboard," November 10, 1945, page 42 and October 9, 1954, page 80. There was surely coverage in the local newspapers on their passing as few in Rensselaer likely had such illustrious careers performing before the public. Reynolds' obituary relates that he had two step-daughters, Mrs. Francis Le Maire of New York and Mrs. Helen King of Rensselaer, and grandchildren

    Alfred Cheney Johnston & the Ziegfeld girls. (accessed May 3, 2013)

    Transferred from P1/Donegan, Nellie (BM), January 2010
    Digital order no:a4214086
  • Contributing Creator

    "Apeda / N.Y." -- photographer's signature in photograph, lower left hand corner
  • Signatures / Inscriptions

    "With best wishes / Nellie Donegan / 1913" -- signature on the lower right hand corner of the photograph

    "Nellie Donegan / international speed roller skater (information from donor, M.T. Lewis)" -- below the photograph
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