Myra Pratt: Olympian, Serbian princess, WWI relief worker.

Silence is the expression of tragedy . . .
—Princess Alexis Karageorgevich,
For the Better Hour (64)

Myra Abigail Pankhurst Wright Pratt was born in Cleveland in 1859, the daughter of Globe Iron Works vice president John Foster Pankhurst. In December 1877, she married Herbert A. Wright and had a daughter, Harriette, in December 1878. Her great-grandson, writer Michael J. Arlen, reports in Exiles that her husband died in Montana in 1880, although some newspaper accounts list her as divorced. In January 1896, Myra married Thomas Huger Pratt (who seems to have had a brush with the law regarding financial speculation); they lived at 29 Waverly Place in New York. She placed third in ladies’ golf at the 1900 Olympics in Paris (at the time, prizes were only awarded for first and second place, although the IOC has awarded medals for the 1900 Olympics retroactively). The 1908 New York Social Register states that Thomas Huger Pratt died in 1907. In June 1913, Myra married Prince Alexis Karageorgevich, a cousin of King Peter of Serbia, and converted to the Eastern Orthodox Church, taking the name Daria.

During World War I, Prince Alexis served as president of the Serbian Red Cross. The princess’s For the Better Hour (1917) describes the effects of the war on Serbia and its people, including the care of the wounded:

Medical and hospital supplies were lacking also, but this fact did not deter those brave, splendid men from undergoing the necessary operations; they endured their enforced suffering silently and stoically, since no anaesthetics could be had. (28)

A Nation at Bay by Ruth Stanley Farnam (later Baroness de Luze) shows the princess grappling with a grim typhus epidemic. For the Better Hour lists the number of victims at more than 70,000. Equally harrowing is the 56-year-old princess’s account (echoed in newspapers) of the 1915–16 Serbian retreat from the advancing enemy, involving treacherous bridges, rivers, and mountain roads; mud; snow; travel by oxcart, by pony, and on foot; and a lack of food. Wrote the princess in For the Better Hour (122):

One of the most pathetic sights, and the one which tugged the hardest at my heart-strings, was to see the poor wounded soldiers, weak and helpless, climbing these mountains, exposed to the elements day and night, with nothing but bread to eat, and very little of that.

The horses had now been led far down the river bank to find a safe fording place, as the current was swift and strong. We, walking through the deep snow, at last reached the bridge, which had been almost totally destroyed. The gradual approach to it was missing, which necessitated climbing to a great height up a roughly made ladder, which, when surmounted, brought us in face of another danger, for the only foothold was a single beam, from which one false step would have precipitated us into the river below.

The prince and princess managed to reach Brindisi, Italy. Prince Alexis died in 1920 and the princess in 1938 near Cannes. Her granddaughter, Atalanta Mercati, wed author Michael Arlen (The Green Hat, etc.) in 1928. Her great-great granddaughters include NYU Norma Z. Paige Professor of Law Jennifer H. Arlen and writer Caroline Arlen.

(Below: Princess [Alexis] Karageorgevich drives off at Mont Angel golf course, Monte Carlo, 1 Mar. 1921)

Embed from Getty Images
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s