Mark Dempsey collection on Bessie Hall Dempsey, 1914-1985  PDF

Overview of the Collection

Dempsey, Mark, 1936-1994
Mark Dempsey collection on Bessie Hall Dempsey
1914-1985 (inclusive)
.42 cubic feet, (1 box plus one oversize folder)
Collection Number
1982.172 (accession)
Sound recordings, musical scores, photographs and other materials collected by Mark Dempsey documenting the life and professional activities of his mother, Bessie Hall Dempsey
Museum of History & Industry, Sophie Frye Bass Library
Sophie Frye Bass Library
Museum of History & Industry
P.O. Box 80816
Seattle, WA
Telephone: 206-324-1126
Fax: 206-780-1533
Access Restrictions

The collection is open to the public by appointment.


Biographical NoteReturn to Top

Mark Dempsey, son of Bessie Hall Dempsey, attended Queen Anne High School in Seattle and majored in drama at the University of Washington. He pursued an acting career in Hollywood and had parts in various films and popular television programs. In the late 1960s he appeared in New York theatrical productions including “Oh, Calcutta” and “Mata Hari.” Mark Dempsey returned to Seattle in the 1970s and was active in local theater until his death in 1994.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The collection consists of photographs, musical scores, 78 rpm records, family papers and articles that document the professional and personal life of Bessie Hall Dempsey. A series of photographs depict her early years as a student, ballet dancer and vaudeville performer. Other photographs show her posing in theatrical costumes created by her mother, Jessie Hall. A collection of sheet music with handwritten notations includes a separate series of original compositions by Bessie Hall. Newspaper clippings, obituaries and a detailed family history written by Mark Dempsey provide extensive background on her professional life and activities. The collection includes a 1964 Boeing technical report written by Bessie Hall Dempsey.

Historical BackgroundReturn to Top

Bessie Hall Dempsey was born in Arkansas on October 5, 1914 to Leroy Leister and Jessie Des Champ. When her parents divorced in 1918, her mother Jessie moved to Montana with Bessie and her older sister Irma Beatrice. Jessie Leister remarried briefly and changed her name to Hall. She operated a successful seamstress studio in Missoula and designed costumes for the vaudeville circuit. After her second marriage failed in 1922, Jessie Hall moved again with her daughters, this time to Seattle where the girls attended Broadway High School and were later enrolled at the Cornish School of Fine Arts. The family lived for several years at the Moore Hotel in downtown Seattle, which had an adjacent vaudeville theater at the time. Bessie and Irma Hall studied classical ballet, folk dance, music theory, composition and choreography. Bessie was an excellent student and also studied physics, mathematics and foreign languages. In the late 1920s Bessie and Irma began performing as the Hall Sisters in Northwest vaudeville theaters.

During the Depression in 1932, the family moved to California seeking show business opportunities. After the collapse of vaudeville and a permanent separation from her sister, Bessie Hall pursued a solo career in San Francisco and Los Angeles performing in ballets, nightclubs and movies under the stage name Yvonne St. Clair. In 1935 she married Lee Dempsey, a former first baseman for the New York Giants. Their son Herbert Lee (Mark) Dempsey was born in 1936. They were divorced in 1939.

Bessie Hall Dempsey then entered the University of Southern California where she earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering with a concentration in Aerodynamics. While attending the University, she supported her family by working full-time at the Bank of America. She graduated with honors and changed her name again, this time to B.M. Dempsey in an attempt to avoid the bias against women in engineering fields. She moved to Seattle in 1948 and was hired by Boeing Airplane Company as a Junior Engineer Class B, becoming the company’s first female engineer. She received several promotions at Boeing and in 1951 was the first woman elected to Tau Beta Pi, the honorary engineering society. Bessie Hall Dempsey worked at Boeing for nearly 24 years. During her Boeing career, she still enjoyed local amateur performing and lived on a Seattle houseboat with her son Mark. Bessie Hall Dempsey died in Seattle on September 16, 1971 after a long illness. She was 57 years old.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Alternative Forms Available

View selections from the collection in digital format by clicking on the camera icons in the inventory below.

Restrictions on Use

The Museum of History & Industry is the owner of the materials in the Sophie Frye Bass Library and makes available reproductions for research, publication, and other uses. Written permission must be obtained from MOHAI before any reproduction use. The museum does not necessarily hold copyright to all of the materials in the collections. In some cases, permission for use may require seeking additional authorization from the copyright owners.

Preferred Citation

Mark Dempsey Collection on Bessie Hall Dempsey, Museum of History & Industry, Seattle

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

The following section contains a detailed listing of the materials in the collection.

Biographical materials, 1930-1980Return to Top

Includes two biographical essays written by Mark Dempsey (1980, 1985); published newspaper obituaries for Bessie Dempsey; photocopies of clippings and photographs; and a photocopied contract between the Pantages Theater and the Hall sisters for performances in January 1930.

Photographs, circa 1920-1971Return to Top

Description Dates
1982.172.43: Jessie Hall lying down, with cat
Color ; 3.5 x 3.5 inches
1982.172.44: Jessie Hall standing indoors
Color ; 3.5 x 3.5 inches
1982.172.45: Jessie Hall standing outdoors
Black and white ; 3.5 x 5 inches
circa 1961
1982.172.46: Bessie Hall Dempsey standing outdoors
Black and white ; 3.5 x 6 inches
Handwritten on back: Suit and hat and bag designed and made by Jessie Hall - modeled by her daughter Bessie Dempsey. L.A. Ca. 1942
1982.172.47: Bessie Hall Dempsey posing indoors
Black and white ; 3 x 5 inches
Handwritten on back: Costumes by Jessie Hall, L.A. Ca. c. 1940
circa 1940
1982.172.48: Bessie Hall Dempsey in dance costume
Black and white ; 3 x 5 inches
Handwritten on back: Costumes by Jessie Hall, L.A. Ca. c. 1940Handwritten on back of duplicate: Yvonne St. Claire. Marimbaphone act. Exotic character dances.
circa 1940
1982.172.49: Irma Beatrice Hall in harem dance costume
Midland Studio, Chicago (photographer)
Black and white ; 8 x 10 inch
Handwritten on back: Beatrice Hall, Harem Dance, costume by Jessie Hall, Seattle, 1932
1982.172.50: Bessie and Irma Beatrice Hall with unidentified girl in costume at Cornish School
Black and white ; 7 x 10 inch
Handwritten on back: "Russian" costumes designed by Jessie Hall and worn by 2 daughters Bessie-Beatrice (middle girl not known). Costumes were white with bright red-green flowers - black piping - red leather boots. Cornish School - Seattle. c. 1926
circa 1926
1982.172.51:  Irma Beatrice Hall in costume by Jessie Hall
Ed. Sweeney Studio, Hollywood (photographer)
Black and white ; 8 x 10 inch
Handwritten on back: Costume by Jessie Hall, 1935Eleven ethnic dances listed on back.
1982.172.52: Irma Beatrice Hall in costume designed by Jessie Hall
Luc Denet , Chicago (photographer)
Black and white ; 8 x 10 inch
Handwritten on back: Costume designed and executed by Jessie Hall (very similar to yellow satin flowered scarf.)
circa 1932
1982.172.57: Bessie Hall Dempsey in fur-trimmed coat designed by Jessie Hall
Black and white ; 11 x 14 inches
circa 1920
1982.172.58:  Bessie Hall Dempsey in costume holding two cats
Hand-colored ; 7 x 11.5 inch
circa 1920
1982.172.59: Bessie Hall Dempsey close up
Black and white ; 11 x 14 inches
Handwritten on front: Mark was 5 years old, L.A. 1941
1982.172.60:  Bessie Hall Dempsey professional head shot
Black and white ; 8 x 10 inch
circa 1930
1982.172.61: Bessie Hall Dempsey in pink dress
Hand-colored ; 7 x 11.5 inch
Handwritten on front: In High School
circa 1920
1982.172.62: Bessie Hall Dempsey in harem costume
Hand-colored ; 7 x 11.5 inch
Handwritten on front: In High School
circa 1920
1982.172.64:  Bessie Hall Dempsey in costume
Walters Studio , Seattle (photographer)
Black and white ; 8 x 10 inches
Handwritten on back: Ivonne (Bessie Hall), 627 Taylor St. San Francisco 1931
1982.172.65: Bessie Hall Dempsey in costume designed by Jessie Hall
Black and white ; 3.5 x 5.5 inches
Handwritten on back: Bessie Hall modeling waltz costume designed by Jessie Hall, Seattle 1926
1982.172.66: Bessie Hall Dempsey in costume designed by Jessie Hall
Black and white ; 3.5 x 5.5 inches
Handwritten on back: Bessie Hall modeling waltz costume designed by Jessie Hall, Seattle 1926"
1982.172.67: Lee Dempsey holding sports poster
Black and white ; 11 x 13.5 inches
Handwritten on back: Lee Dempsey L.A. 1961 photo by Peter Caine
1982.172.68: Bessie Hall Dempsey with group
Black and white ; 7 x 16.5 inches
Handwritten on back: USC Los Angeles 1948Oversize

Sound recordings, 1939-1957Return to Top

Description Dates
1982.172.21: Maybe You'll Be There (Side A), Dark Eyes (Side B)
1 sound disc : 78 rpm ; 10 inches
Performed by Gordon Jenkins and His Orchestra, Decca Records, Inc.
1982.172.23: When Hilo Hattie Does the Hilo Hop (Side A), King Kamehameha The Conqueror of the Islands (Side B)
1 sound disc : 78 rpm ; 10 inches
Performed by Clara Inter with Al Kealoha Perry and His Singing Surfriders, Decca Records, Inc.
1982.172.24: Hawaiian Hospitality (Side A), Lovely Hula Hands (Side B)
1 sound disc : 78 rpm ; 10 inches
Performed by Dorothy Lamour with Dick McIntire and His Harmony Hawaiians, Decca Records, Inc.
1982.172.25: The Cockeyed Mayor of Kaunakaki (Side A), Beneath a Banyan Tree (Side B)
1 sound disc : 78 rpm ; 10 inches
Performed by Ray Kinney with Dick McIntire's Harmony Hawaiians, Decca Records.
1982.172.35: Unlabelled Oriole Records recording disc
1 sound disc : 78 rpm ; 10 inches
circa 1940
1982.172.26: Dempsey Girls with Dotti Provine, University of Washington Drama Department, Women's Century Club Theater, Seattle
1 reel : Magnetic tape
1957 May 26

Sheet musicReturn to Top

Description Dates
Manuscript sheet music
Original compositions by Bessie Hall Dempsey
1982.172.34.13: Danse Moderne, Opus 2
3 pages
Music for piano.
1930 May
1982.172.34.14: Danse Espagnole, Opus 1, dedicated to Elisa Cansino
12 pages
Includes parts for piano, clarinet, violin and drums.
1929 November
1982.172.34.15: Ballade in D Minor, Opus 6
2 pages
Music for piano.
circa 1932
1982.172.34.16: Lyubov, Opus 5
10 pages
With parts for piano, trombone, alto sax, drums and trumpet.
1982.172.34.17: Prelude, Opus 3
8 pages
With parts for piano, trumpet, bass, alto sax and tenor sax.
1982.172.34.18: Felicia, Opus 8
4 pages
Music for piano.
1931 August 10
1982.172.34.19: Sevilla, Opus 7
4 pages
Music for piano.
1931 July 2
1982.172.34.20: Lyubov, Opus 5
2 pages
Music for piano.
1982.172.34.21: Danse Espagnole, Opus 1
30 pages
Parts for piano, violin, bass, trumpet, trombone, clarinet, alto sax, tenor sax and percussion.
1982.172.34.22: Cape Dance, Opus 4
30 pages
Parts for piano, violin, trumpet, trombone, tuba, alto sax and drums.
Published sheet music
Published sheet music used by Bessie Dempsey.
1982.172.34.1-12: Various composers and publishers
12 items
circa 1925
1982.172.34.: Various composers and publishers
14 items
circa 1930

Miscellaneous, Return to Top

: ;

Description Dates
1982.172.29: Technical Report, Boeing Company Airplane Division, Summary of Longitudinal Stability and Control Data, prepared by B.M. Dempsey
87 pages
1964 October 8
1982.172.33: Binder with report on costume design, probably a school project by Bessie Hall
30 pages
Binder includes a four-page typewritten essay by Jessie Hall titled "Costume Design as Vocation," plus pages with fabric swatches, photographs, pencil drawings, designs and magazine clippings. Probably part of a Queen Anne High School school project about vocational interests of girls.
1931 April

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

  • Subject Terms :
  • Costume design
  • Performing arts
  • Vaudeville shows
  • Personal Names :
  • Hall, Jessie
  • Geographical Names :
  • United States--Washington (State)--Seattle
  • Form or Genre Terms :
  • Photographs
  • Sound recordings
  • Other Creators :
    • Personal Names :
    • Dempsey, Bessie Hall, 1914-1971 (creator)