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 Edith <I>Conway</I> Ringling

Edith Conway Ringling

Death 23 Sep 1953 (aged 83–84)
Burial Bradenton, Manatee County, Florida, USA
Plot Ringling Mausoleum
Memorial ID 112784517 · View Source
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Wife of Charles Edward Ringling, she died at age 84 approximately 26 years after her husband's death. She never remarried.

She met Charles Ringling as a teenager in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Up until their introduction, Edith Conway had never been to a circus. Charles Ringling later married the former Edith Conway in 1892. Together, they had two children--a son, Robert, and a daughter, Hester.

With her marriage to Charles, Edith Ringling became part of the circus. She took tickets when the circus had three elephants and the show was small enough to be performed in a neighborhood. She traveled with the show nearly every year until 1950, except for a period after Charles' death in 1926. By the time a Christian Science Monitor reporter interviewed her in 1932, she was "running the show" for a week in John Ringling North's absence; the show then included 40 elephants, 30 tents, 1,600 people and required 100 railroad cars to move it.

Edith and Charles Ringling, along with Mable and John Ringling, visited Sarasota in 1911 at the behest of business acquaintances. The following year, the two couples purchased adjoining properties along Sarasota Bay. In 1924, work began on Charles Ringlings' Italian Renaissance mansion. Veneered in pink Etowah marble from Georgia, the two-story U-shaped home surrounded a terrace open to the bay.

The 20 rooms included a large music room, a billiard room, office space, servants' quarters and a basement. Musicians themselves - Edith played the cello and Charles, the violin - the Ringlings installed an Aeolian-Skinner organ in the music room. For the sienna-colored marble floor of the 58-foot-by-30-foot formal living room, Edith designed a rug that was made in France. Adjacent to their home and connected by an arcade, the Ringlings built a home for their daughter, Hester Ringling Sanford.

Upon Charles' death, Edith Ringling inherited her husband's business interests. She made a name for herself when she used personal savings to repay the depositors of the Ringling Bank and Trust Company, when it closed during the Depression. As one-third owner of the circus enterprise, she was pulled into its operations. By the early 1930s, she became concerned about the leadership style of John Ringling, the last of the five brothers who had started the circus. Resuming her travels with the circus, "Mrs. Charlie" could be seen at nearly every performance and, between performances, reading, knitting or doing needlework outside a small tent near the big top. Between locations, she traveled in a private railroad car on the circus train.

Spoiling the joy she felt in the midst of the circus performance, Edith Ringling became embroiled in family conflicts over the operation of the circus. These continued after her death in 1953, and spilled over into disputes related to the disposition of her estate. Today, the New College campus includes the Edith and Charles Ringling Mansion, an ongoing legacy of the woman who, without fanfare, helped shape the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus.

By the time she died in 1953, she had become such a fixture at the big top that the press often called her the "Queen" or "Mother" of Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus.

Source Material: "Edith Ringling was a Force Behind the Circus"
Author: Ann A. Shank, former County Historian
Source: Sarasota County History Center
Photo Credit: Sarasota County History Center

Family Members


  • Created by: Tim Oliver
  • Added: 23 Jun 2013
  • Find A Grave Memorial 112784517
  • Charles Elias Disney
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Edith Conway Ringling (1869–23 Sep 1953), Find A Grave Memorial no. 112784517, citing Manasota Memorial Park, Bradenton, Manatee County, Florida, USA ; Maintained by Tim Oliver (contributor 47625525) .