Yeats, Bertha Georgie (‘George’) (1892–1968), scholar, occultist, publisher, and wife of William Butler Yeats (qv), was born 16/17 October 1892 at The Grove, Fleet, Hampshire, daughter of William Gilbert Hyde Lees , captain in the 4th Bn, Manchester Regiment, and Edith Ellen (‘Nelly’) Hyde Lees (née Woodmass). By 1898 her father had retired from the army and moved his family to London, where (except for the winter of 1901–2 in Florence) they lived in the Westminster and Kensington areas; they may have returned to Italy during 1906. She briefly attended St Stephen's high school in Clewer, Somerset, then from 1907 spent five terms at St James's school for girls in West Malvern, and from July 1908 a year at Miss Amabel Douglas's finishing school, 133 Queen's Gate, London. By 1907 her parents had formally separated, and in November 1909 her alcoholic father died. In February 1911 Nelly Hyde Lees married Henry T. Tucker, brother of William Butler Yeats's friend Olivia Shakespear, whose daughter Dorothy became her closest friend. Now part of an artistic London circle, she numbered among other friends the violinist Jelly d'Aranyi, the pianist Walter Rummel, and the poet Ezra Pound, whom Dorothy Shakespear married in 1914.
While living with the Tuckers at 16 Montpelier Square, Kensington, she studied at the Heatherley school of art, 75 Newman St., off Oxford St., London, and possibly spent one summer at Stanhope Forbes's school of painting at Newlyn, Cornwall. In 1913 she spent six weeks in Italy with Dorothy and Olivia Shakespear, returning to Rome for a month the following year; at other times the Tuckers and Shakespears frequently shared lodgings in the south and west of England, where they were often joined by W. B. Yeats, whom she first met in May 1911 and from then on occasionally encountered at séances. Shortly after her father's death she had embarked on a serious study of the occult, medieval philosophy, and comparative religions, making extensive use of the library of the British Museum, where she occasionally did research for Yeats, who also consulted her on astrological matters. She read medieval Latin and was familiar with literature in French, German, Italian, and Spanish. In 1914 she joined the Anthroposophical Society and on 24 July 1914, sponsored by Yeats, was admitted into the Stella Matutina temple of the occult Order of the Golden Dawn, selecting as her motto ‘Nemo sciat’ (‘Let nobody know’). She rapidly rose through the various grades of the order, within three years teaching neophytes alongside her sponsor. From November 1915 until September 1917 she also nursed part-time with the Voluntary Aid Detachment of the Red Cross.
It appears that Yeats and she first discussed the possibility of marriage as early as May 1915; however, he did not formally propose until 26 September 1917. On 20 October 1917 the marriage ceremony took place at Harrow Road registry office, Paddington, with Ezra Pound as best man. By this time she preferred to be called George and, although not a wealthy woman, brought to the marriage a private income equivalent to her husband's. On 24 October 1917 while in the Ashdown Forest Hotel, in an effort to divert her husband she attempted automatic writing, prompting more than three years of question-and-answer sessions covering 4,000 pages of script and, later, records of her trance sleeps. Their collaboration led to the powerful symbols and mythology of Yeats's later poetry and the philosophical system expounded in his A vision (1925). It was not until the second much-revised edition (1937) that, despite her objections, George's role as medium was described.
After a brief time at Stone Cottage, Forest Row, the Yeatses rented rooms at 45 Broad St., Oxford, from January to mid March 1918 before travelling to Ireland, where they supervised the restoration of Thoor Ballylee near Coole Park, the home of Lady Gregory (qv), finally habitable by early September 1918. As she would throughout their married life and in many different residences, George took full responsibility for decorating and furnishing to ensure the surroundings needful for her husband's poetry. In the autumn of 1918, while renting Maud Gonne's (qv) house in Dublin, George, pregnant and suffering from influenza, almost died. On 26 February 1919 she gave birth to a daughter, Anne Butler Yeats (qv), and after spending the summer at Ballylee, returned to Oxford to a house at 4 Broad St. In January 1920 she accompanied her husband on a five-month tour of the USA, when she met her father-in-law, John Butler Yeats (qv). On their return to Oxford she became close friends with Lady Ottoline Morrell and once again became involved in the affairs of the Golden Dawn. On 22 August 1921 William Michael Butler Yeats (d. 2007) was born in Cuttlebrook House, Thame; he later became cathaoirleach of the seanad (1969–73) and vice-president of the European parliament (1973).
In January 1922 she travelled to Dublin, selecting 82 Merrion Square, which would be their home for the next six years, while spending the summers at Ballylee. While assisting her husband in his senate duties, she was briefly honorary secretary of the Arts and Letters Club, then of the Dublin Drama League throughout its existence. Despite the stress of the political situation, she refused to leave Dublin even after two shots fired into the house barely missed her and her small daughter. When in July 1923 Susan Mary Yeats (qv) became ill, George moved the Cuala Industries to the ground floor of 82 Merrion Square and for almost ten years was in charge of the embroidery section; she designed bedspreads and other articles, and did some of the sewing and embroidery herself until the department was closed down in 1931. In 1928, when W. B. Yeats became seriously ill while in France, she rented and furnished a flat near the Pounds in Rapallo, sold 82 Merrion Square, and took a flat at 42 Fitzwilliam Square in Dublin, while the children attended school in Switzerland. In 1932 the family moved once again, to Riversdale, Willowdale, Rathfarnham, where they remained until after Yeats's death. In July 1939 she moved to 46 Palmerston Road, Rathmines, where she remained until her own death on 23 August 1968. To save costs, she installed the Cuala Press in the basement. Even before the death of Elizabeth Corbet Yeats (qv) she had taken greater responsibility for the Cuala Industries as one of the directors, and from 1940 was both publisher and editor of the press, appointing Frank O'Connor (qv) co-editor and director (1941–4). Sean O'Faolain (qv) also served as a director briefly in 1941. Until the supply of special paper finally ran out in 1946, she continued to publish books, including works by O'Connor, Louis MacNeice (qv), Patrick Kavanagh (qv), Elizabeth Bowen (qv), Jack B. Yeats (qv), and Elizabeth Rivers (qv). In 1936 she had anonymously edited Passages from the letters of AE to W. B. Yeats, and after her husband's death she edited for Cuala his Last poems and two plays (1939), If I were four-and-twenty (1940), and Pages from a diary written in nineteen hundred and thirty (1944). Despite financial difficulties caused by the war and customs tariffs, she kept the press going with prints and cards, frequently supplementing the income in order to support Susan Mary Yeats and the three remaining women assistants.
Throughout her married life this domestic Sibyl served as confidante, typist, critic, editor, translator, research assistant, and proof reader for her husband, negotiating terms with agents, approving the choice of translators and musicians, planning his itineraries, and nursing him through many illnesses. In addition, recognising their significance as a key to the artistic process, she collected, assembled, and dated his manuscripts and papers. On his death in January 1939 the full responsibility for his writing and reputation fell on her as literary executor, and for the next thirty years she steered the Yeats industry. She personally selected the materials requested by generations of scholars, eventually depositing most of the manuscripts of the published poetry and plays in the NLI, while continuing to decree what could be published from the manuscripts, when, and by whom. Between 1959 and 1962 four new volumes of Yeats's prose were published; although only the last, aptly entitled Explorations, bears her name as editor, she was intimately involved with the choice of selections in all. In 1965 she transferred ownership of Thoor Ballylee to the nation and in her will left the rest of the manuscripts of Yeats's published works to the NLI, a gesture described as one of the most munificent gifts since the founding of the state. She died 23 August 1968 and, as she wished, is buried at the foot of her husband's grave in Drumcliffe, Co. Sligo.