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About the Plummer Lecture

The Hellen Ingram Plummer Lecture is the College of Arts and Sciences’ only annual endowed lecture, featuring noted scholars, scientists, artists and performers who have made notable contributions to their fields of achievement and to society at large. The Plummer Lecture was endowed in 1999 in honor of the late Atlanta arts patron.


Biography of Hellen Ingram Plummer

Hellen Ingram Plummer (1898-2000) was an Atlanta arts patron. She was said to be a “vivacious, independent woman with a fondness for the written word,” and she supported the arts in many ways. “She encouraged creative people,” said her stepdaughter, Betty Plummer Potts of Anniston, Alabama. “She was a great storyteller. She would have you laughing or living the moment that she was telling about. She had a wonderful gift of making friends, all ages, all walks of life. She made anyone feel right at ease.”

She was former wife of Merrill Lynch founder Charles E. Merrill. Hellen Ingram grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, and after graduating from high school, she worked as society editor of a Jacksonville afternoon newspaper Megropolis from 1917 until 1922. She then founded Silhouette, her own biweekly paper of social happenings in Jacksonville and Miami working as both publisher and editor. In the mid-1920s, she studied at Columbia University in New York and became an almost adopted daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Conde Nast of publishing fame and came to know many of their celebrated friends, including Charlie Chaplin and Katherine Hepburn.

In 1925, she married Charles Merrill. The following year, James Ingram Merrill who became a Pulitzer Prize winning poet was born. For some years, the Merrills lived in South Hampton. Among her house guests from New York’s creative community were such notables as George Gershwin, who, during one summer there, wrote the score for “Babes in Arms.” Her marriage to Mr. Merrill ended in divorce in 1939. Mr. Merrill died in 1955. During World War II, Mrs. Plummer served as an American Red Cross volunteer in the Pacific Theater. Stationed on Guam, she was in charge of receiving and assigning some 1,200 Red Cross women who passed through her depot.

Mrs. Plummer remarried in 1950. Her second husband Brigadier General William L. Plummer and Mr. Merrill, both U.S. Army Air Corps pilots, had flown together in World War I. In World War II, General Plummer was in command of Orly Field in Paris. After the war, he was assigned to accompany Winston Churchill on his tour of the U.S. General Plummer died in 1969.

James Merrill (1926-1995) received the 1967 National Book Award for his book of poetry Nights and Days. His 1976 Pulitzer Prize was for Divine Comedies. His step-sister, Betty Plummer Potts said, “From the time he was a little boy, she used to tell me he loved to write, and she always encouraged him to write and make a couplet here and there. Rhyming was sometimes a game in the house.”

Mrs. Plummer was a loyal correspondent with her many friends. “Every morning, wherever she was, she would get up and after breakfast do her correspondence. She’d be at her typewriter for an hour or two,” said Betty Potts. Mrs. Plummer was a charter member of the Junior League of Jacksonville. She was a member of the Piedmont Driving Club in Atlanta and the Everglades Club in Palm Beach.

Sources include the New York Times and the Atlanta Journal Constitution.