Yeats, Susan Mary (‘Lily’) (1866–1949), embroiderer and designer, was born 25 August 1866 at Enniscrone, Co. Sligo, daughter of John Butler Yeats (qv), painter, and Susan Yeats (née Pollexfen). A sickly child, she stayed in Merville, Sligo, at the home of her grandfather William Pollexfen from July 1872 until November 1874, when her family moved to 14 Edith Villas, West Kensington, London. She and her siblings, William Butler Yeats (qv), Jack Yeats (qv), and Elizabeth Yeats (qv), were in the care of a governess, Martha Jowitt, for three years from 1876 and moved to a larger house in Bedford Park, Chiswick, in 1878, where she briefly attended Notting Hill school. Settled in Howth, Co. Dublin (1881), she was enrolled with her sister Elizabeth in Dublin's Metropolitan School of Art in 1883 and took classes at the RDS. When the family moved (1886) to Eardley Crescent, South Kensington, London, she became ill and was sent to her relatives, living eventually at Huddersfield in 1887 in company of her aunt Elizabeth and her mother, who had just suffered a stroke. She returned to the family at 3 Blenheim Road, Bedford Park, in 1888. In autumn that year she took French classes and became an assistant embroiderer under May Morris at Kelmscott House, home of William Morris. She worked there until April 1894. Leaving due to ill health, she worked briefly as a governess at Hyère in the south of France before contracting typhoid, returning to London in December 1896. Susan Mitchell (qv) lodged with the Yeats family from late 1897, and the two became close friends.
She moved to Dublin to live at Gurteen Dhas with her father and sister in 1902, and founded the Dun Emer Guild with Elizabeth Yeats and Evelyn Gleeson (qv) in 1903. Susan was responsible for embroidery; her major commission was the banners and vestments to adorn Loughrea cathedral. A skilful designer, she published an example of her work, ‘Fish and lotus’, in the Art Journal of 1906. Travelling to New York with her father in December 1907 to exhibit Dun Emer goods at the Irish Industrial Exhibition, she remained until June 1908, unable to persuade her father to come home. Her return to Ireland coincided with her and Elizabeth's split from the Dun Emer Guild to form Cuala Industries, where she was again responsible for embroidery, winning three prizes for her handiwork at the exhibition that accompanied the 1909 RDS horse show. She became close to her ward Ruth Pollexfen, daughter of her uncle Fred Pollexfen, and Ruth stayed with the Yeats sisters until Ruth's marriage to Charles Lane Poole in July 1911. Living frugally throughout the first world war, Susan helped Maud Gonne (qv) to find a new Dublin residence in 1918, and held a party with her sister to celebrate the birth of Anne Yeats (qv) in April 1919. Repeatedly ill from overwork, she was present when Free State troops raided Cuala Industries in May 1923 to arrest two young female employees. Permanently short of money, she made her way by occasional sales and commissions. Seriously ill in 1923, she was threatened by a tubercular lung and taken to a London clinic for treatment, from where she travelled to Calvados in France to recuperate, not returning to Dublin until 1925. Her involvement with Cuala diminished with her health; after her collapse in April 1931, the embroidery section was closed (January 1932) with W. B. Yeats paying off debts.
Living a secluded life throughout the late 1930s, she wrote a tribute to her sister that was published by the Cuala Press after Elizabeth's death in January 1940. Evidence of their intimate distance, the tribute suggests an affectionate disregard, a condition explained by their living together since 1902. By March 1941 X-rays established that her ill health was due to abnormal thyroid growth. Cuala Industries moved (1 January 1942) to the residence of George Yeats (qv) at 46 Palmerston Road, Dublin, but she continued to collect family history in scrapbooks of information. She also painted. She died on 5 January 1949 at home, and is buried with Elizabeth at the Old Churchyard, Churchtown, Dublin.