Elizabeth McCausland, the art critic and writer, was born in Wichita, Kansas in 1899. She attended Smith College, receiving her Bachelor's degree in 1920 and her Master's in 1922. Beginning in 1923, she worked as a general reporter for
The Springfield Republican
(Springfield, Massachusetts). After several years, she began to review art exhibitions and soon became an established art critic. In the course of her work, she began to develop friendships with artists, such as Alfred Stieglitz and Arthur Dove. During these early years, she also wrote poetry and designed and printed limited edition publications on her private press.
McCausland moved to New York in 1935, but continued to contribute a weekly art column to
The Springfield Republican
until it suspended publication in 1946. From the mid-1930s on, she worked primarily as a freelance writer and art critic, contributing articles to publications such as
The New Republic
Magazine of Art
. In the latter part of her career, her writings focused more on art history and special studies on artists.
In the late-1930s, McCausland collaborated with the photographer Berenice Abbott on the Federal Art Project book,
Changing New York
, for which she provided the text to Abbott's now-famous photographs of New York City neighborhoods, architecture, and street scenes. She studied and wrote about photography, including numerous articles on the photographer Lewis Hine (of whose work she organized a retrospective exhibition at the Riverside Museum in 1939), and was appointed to the Advisory Committee of the Museum of Modern Art's Department of Photography in 1944.
McCausland went on to organize other exhibitions, including a show of contemporary work, "The World of Today" (Berkshire Museum, 1939), shows of silk screen prints (Springfield Museum of Fine Arts, March 1940 and New York State Museum, Summer 1940), and a photography show, "Photography Today" (A.C.A. Gallery, 1944). In the late 1930s, she embarked upon a study of "the status of the artist in America from colonial times to the present, with especial attention to the relation between art and patronage," which continued over twenty years (and was never completed) and for which she received a Guggenheim fellowship in 1943.
In addition to her other writing, during the 1940s, McCausland carried out studies on the artists, E. L. Henry and George Inness, which resulted in exhibitions at the New York State Museum in 1942 and the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum in 1946, respectively and publications (a report on Henry and a book on Inness). From 1948 to 1949, she carried out an extensive study of the painter, Alfred H. Maurer, organizing an exhibition, "A. H. Maurer: 1868-1932," which showed at the Walker Art Center and the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1949, and publishing the biography,
A. H. Maurer
, in 1951. In 1950, she worked as a special consultant on the American Processional exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery and as editor of the accompanying book. Shortly thereafter, she began a study of Marsden Hartley for a monograph, which was published in 1952, and she helped organize the Hartley exhibition at the University of Minnesota that same year. She continued the Hartley study on larger scale for a planned biography and catalogue raisonne; although she continued to work on it off and on for the next decade, the project was never completed.
McCausland published other books, including
Careers in the Arts
(1951), and undertook other research and consulting projects, such as photo-editing Carl Sandburg's
Poems of the Midwest
(1946), conducting surveys of art and advertising for an article in
Magazine of Art
and of art education for Cooper Union Art School, and contributing yearly articles on art to various encyclopedias. At different times throughout her career, she supplemented her income by taking teaching positions. She taught courses on art history at Sarah Lawrence College from 1942 to 1944 and at Barnard College in 1956, as well as courses at the Design Laboratory (1939) and the New School for Social Research (1946). She also gave numerous lectures and speeches on various art topics, and regularly participated in conferences and symposiums. Towards the end of her career, she was publishing less, but was still involved in many projects, most notably the Hartley study.
McCausland was a tireless promoter of the arts, and often an advocate for artists. Even though her work was well-known among certain art circles, she never received the recognition as a writer that she deserved. Nor was she ever able to free herself from the pressure of writing for a living. Continually suffering from poor health, she died on May 14, 1965.