century association biographical archive

Earliest Members of the Century Association

View all members

Austin Strong


Centurion, 1917–1952

Full Name Joseph Austin Strong

Born 18 April 1881 in San Francisco, California

Died 17 September 1952 in Nantucket, Massachusetts

Buried Lakeside-Carpenter Cemetery, Nantucket, Massachusetts

Proposed by Robert Underwood Johnson and John Huston Finley

Elected 5 May 1917 at age thirty-six

Archivist’s Note: Step-grandson of (nonmember) Robert Louis Stevenson

Century Memorial

Austin Strong was born in San Francisco. His maternal grandmother, Fanny Vandergrift, was the wife of Robert Louis Stevenson, and Austin spent his boyhood, till he was fourteen, in Stevenson’s home, “Vailima,” on Samoa. This was a priceless experience, and to hear him tell of “Vailima” was unforgettable. He could talk and write supremely well about anything that moved him.

His abilities were as rich and varied as was his career. He studied landscape architecture in France and Italy, and practiced it in New Zealand; but when he was thirty, he came to New York and began to write plays. They were first-class. “Seventh Heaven” in 1922 ran 704 performances at the Booth Theater, and he was the author of half a dozen others which had long runs in London and New York.

With all this success, Austin was a shy and diffident person. He liked to get out to Nantucket where everybody knew him well and where his associations reached back for many years. The local carpenter there taught him the ritual when he became a Mason. He was sometime Commodore of the Nantucket Yacht Club, and one of his particular consecrations was teaching children to sail their little “Rainbow” catboats in the harbor. He started a quaint organization of old sea dogs, the “Wharf Rats,” and when the Strongs made landfall in the spring, they were welcomed with a salute from the little cannon of the “Wharf Rats” on Old North Wharf.

In the Century, Austin had served on the Board of Management, the Nominating Committee, the Committee on Admissions, and other committees of the Club. He was an exceedingly useful member and thoroughly imbued with Century traditions. He refused to permit the bar to be extended; and was wonderfully fervent (and quite right) in denouncing any member who tried to talk business in the sacred precincts.

He had a positive genius for organizing spectacles and pageants. He took complete charge of the Roman Twelfth Night Celebration in 1933. It was a marvelous occasion and became the talk of the town—especially among the wives of the members. In grateful recognition of his labors a medal, designed by Mahonri Young, was cast in bronze, bearing a portrait of him in a toga, with an inscription by Leonard Bacon:

Life is short,

Art is long:

Only the Young

Can sculpt the Strong.

A plaster model of this joyful medallion hangs in the bar today.

In 1947 came the great Centennial Anniversary of the Club, and Austin created and directed the historical pageant which was given at that time. This, too, was a performance of extraordinary interest, involving imagination and dramatic technique of the highest order. Every member of the Century was proud and happy to be associated with such a feat, and it was necessary to give two performances to accommodate the eager spectators. The evening concluded, be it remembered, with a group of little children prophesying the future in verse.

Austin was at the Club a great deal, pleasantly and happily occupied there. He had an understanding heart, and he was kind and generous. When his sympathies were engaged, he was loyal and incautious and wholly without guile. He never compromised with the truth as he saw it, for the sake of expediency, and so he bound his friends to him with hoops of steel.

George W. Martin
1953 Century Association Yearbook