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The Dowager’s Diary – Week One Hundred and Eleven

March 27-31, 1917 

“In the evening to see Lilac Time at the Theater Republic at 207 West 42nd Street.” That was what was on the agenda for the last week of March, 1917 for Kate Shippen Roosevelt. The saying goes that “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb,” but not in Mrs. Roosevelt’s repertoire. As the month drew to an end, her remarks and social schedule were anything but docile. After announcing in her diary that she had attended a performance of the play, Lilac Time, she sliced into it with a cutting remark. “Dull, too much Jane Cowl.”

3. photo, kate shippen roosevelt, jane cowl, full length, loc

Jane Cowls, Publicity Photo

Based on a novel by Guy Fowler, Jane Cowl adapted the play in collaboration with Jane Murfin. On this evening, the sometimes actress, Jane Cowl was cast in the lead role, playing the part of a young French girl who falls in love with an American aviator during World War One. It had a sappy ending and maybe Kate Roosevelt was looking for something more realistic. It was March, 1917 and the impending war was not far from everyone’s mind, playwrights and newlyweds included.

4. photo, kate shippen roosevelt, church of holy communion with people outside, ephemeral new york

Church of the Holy Communion

The following day, Kate Roosevelt wrote, “I to Ina Kissel’s wedding.” According to the New York Sun, the nuptials were scheduled to be celebrated in May, but the wedding date was pushed up to March because the groom, Harvard-graduate, Henry Taft Easton, had accepted a commission to go overseas and join the allies on the battlefield. The ceremony was held at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion on West 20th Street and Sixth Avenue. Mrs. Roosevelt did not say anything more about the wedding or the reception held at the home of the bride’s father at 43 Park Avenue, but I was sure her feelings were nothing less than nostalgic. The Church of the Holy Communion was were many members of the extended Roosevelt Family worshipped, wed, and were waked. It was located just blocks away from where President Theodore Roosevelt was born at 28 East 20th Street. Five years after her husband, the organ-maker, Hilborne Roosevelt died, his widow, Kate Roosevelt donated a Roosevelt Opus 493 to the church while it was undergoing alterations in 1891.

5. photo, kate shippen roosevelt, hilborne roosevelt, in cameo, susan geer d'angelo

Hilborne Roosevelt died on December 30, 1886, just six days after his thirty-sixth birthday and the funeral was held on Sunday, January 2, 1887, at the Church of the Holy Communion.  According to newspaper accounts, “The church was filled with friends and employees of the Roosevelt Organ Works located on West 18th Street.  The service was conducted by the rector with the assistance of the church choir.  The Symphony and Oratorio Societies, which Hilborne had been instrumental in founding offered to provide the funeral music. Walter Damrosch, the celebrated symphony conductor would have been honored to take part, but the family requested a simple service.

6. photo, kate shippen roosevelt, organ first presbyterian church, brooklyn, 1882

Hilborne Roosevelt Organ ca: 1882

There were no designated pall bearers and flowers were requested to be omitted. The only floral contribution was a bouquet of lilies of the valley placed on the rosewood casket with plain silver trimmings. This flower was the same variety worn by Hilborne, just three years earlier on his wedding day. He was buried at the family plot in Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn besides his parents and grandparents.”   Cousin Theodore Roosevelt had just re-married and was in Rome, Italy at the time of Hilborne’s death. He sent his sincere condolences, “My very dear Kate, I will not intrude upon you by more than a line, to tell you how deeply Edith and I feel for you. May heaven help and guard you, my dear Kate.  Always, Theodore Roosevelt.” Theodore Roosevelt’s first wife, Alice Lee Roosevelt, is also buried in the Roosevelt Family plot at Greenwood Cemetery.

It is at times like these that I see Kate Roosevelt as more than a moneyed-matron, traveling in social circles that encompassed the J.P. Morgans, the Vanderbilts and the President of the United States. Widowed just three years into her marriage, and left with a young daughter to raise, Kate Roosevelt had to learn how to not only live in the lap of luxury, but to also to develop a backbone that would keep her there.

Sharon Hazard’s Dowager’s Diary appears on Thursday.

Photo One:
Greenwood Cemetery Entrance
Library of Congress

Photo Two:
Jane Cowls, Publicity Photo
Library of Congress

Photo Three:
Church of the Holy Communion
West 20th Street and Sixth Avenue
Museum City of New York

Photo Four:
Hilborne Roosevelt
Courtesy: Susan Geer D’Angelo and Noel Geer Seifert

Photo Five:
Hilborne Roosevelt Organ ca: 1882
Public Domain

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The Dowager’s Diary – Week One Hundred and Eleven


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