The Dowager’s Diary – Week One Hundred and Four

February 8-15, 1917

“To Colonial Dames meeting to arrange for war work.  A lot of talk and nothing accomplished.  Put up a flag in case of German-American war.”  That was Kate Roosevelt’s comment on February 9, 1917 and it sounded like she was not happy having wasted an afternoon that was ‘all talk and no action.”

2. photo, kate shippen roosevelt, colonial dames, interior, 1930s loc

Colonial Dames of New York, Reception Room, ca: 1930s

The Colonial Dames were not newcomers to war.  Steeped in history, the Colonial Dames’ roots go back to the Revolutionary War Era. It is composed of women who are descended from an ancestor who lived in British-owned America from 1607 to 1777 and was of service to the colonies by either holding office or  being in the military  One of the country’s most exclusive organizations, it was established in 1890 by Mrs. John King van Rensselaer and a group of her pedigreed pals when she suggested, “Let us found a patriotic society of women descended from Colonial ancestry.”

Grasping their genealogical charts, women with links to the original thirteen colonies lined up to be considered for membership.  Kate Shippen Roosevelt was one of the anxious applicants.

The Roosevelt name opened lots of gilded-gates for Kate, its name associated with President Theodore Roosevelt and his Dutch ancestors who made a fortune speculating in New York City real estate and importing plate glass from France, but the Shippens were no slouches when it came to a storied past.

3. photo, kate shippen roosevelt, edward shippen, pres. of pa. provincial council, uni of penn archives

Edward Shippen

Kate Shippen Roosevelt and her sister, Miss Ettie Shippen were shoe-ins when it came to being accepted as members of the New York City Branch of the Colonial Dames.  They are both listed in the register as “descent from Edward Shippen, President of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania.”

Edward Shippen (1729-1806) was born in Philadelphia, the son of a merchant who was active in the area’s economic and political life.  The large family spread out throughout the city, holding multiple public offices simultaneously.  Edward studied law under Tench Francis, Pennsylvania’s attorney general under British rule.  In 1753, he married his teacher’s daughter, Margaret Francis and the couple had nine children.  He became a member of Pennsylvania’s Provincial Council in 1770.

Through the years, the Shippens partook in the power their political affiliations offered but when the Revolutionary War broke out, they soon found themselves de-throned along with King George in America.  When the state of Pennsylvania was created at the end of the Revolutionary War in 1776, Edward Shippen lost his appointments as judge of the admiralty court and member of the governor’s council.

4. photo, kate shippen roosevelt, peggy shippen by daniel gardner

Peggy Shippen Arnold

Throughout the conflict Shippen managed to remain neutral, siding with neither the Tories or the Patriots.  When the British evacuated in 1778, Shippen took sides with the Colonists and resumed life as a jurist in Philadelphia.  His daughter, Peggy Shippen married Benedict Arnold.  When her husband was found to be a traitor, she returned to Philadelphia seeking refuge from wagging tongues in her family home.

Edward Shippen served as a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania until his death in 1806.  Kate Shippen Roosevelt was his great-granddaughter, forever linking her name with several important historic figures other than the Roosevelts.

5. photo, kate shippen roosevelt, colonial dames headquarters, 215 east 71st st...1931 photo samuel gottscho

Colonial Dames New York City Headquarters

Completed in 1930, five years after Kate Roosevelt’s death, the New York Branch of the Colonial Dames is headquartered at 215 East 71st Street in a home designed by Richard Henry Dana, Jr. to resemble the residence of an affluent citizen from the pre-revolutionary period.  The historic Van Cortlandt House in the Bronx serves as their museum.

I have been fortunate to see Kate Roosevelt’s diary, letters, newspaper clippings, photos, some of her clothing and furnishings and a few pieces of jewelry, now owned by her great-great granddaughter, Noel Geer Seifert, but have to wonder what happened to the  14 carat gold badge presented to members of the Colonial Dames.

6. photo, kate shippen roosevelt, colonial dames badge. hillwood museum

Colonial Dames Badge

A 1901 registry lists the rules, membership eligibility and an initiation fee of $15.00.  Yearly dues were $5.00 and badges were numbered like one-of-a-kind masterpieces.  They are described as “Consisting of a round disc with a center of light blue enamel and the figure of a colonial dame in gold, modeled in relief.  Around the center of blue enamel shall be a circle of white enamel with the Society of Colonial Dame of America written in gold letters.  Surmounting this shall be the modeled figure of an eagle in gold and blue enamel stare representing the original thirteen colonies.  The badge of 14 carat gold and enamel should be worn suspended by a silk ribbon of blue and yellow from a gold bar on which is the name of the state.  The ribbon shall be one and one-half inch wide.  The badge shall be worn by members on all occasions.  It shall be worn conspicuously on the left breast. National officers may wear theirs suspended from the ribbon around the neck”

Well with all of these rules and regulations, the Colonial Dames certainly sound like they mean business and I was a bit surprised when Kate Roosevelt described the meeting she attended in 1917 as “getting nothing accomplished.” In her defense, she, along with the rest of the country was getting ready for war, with no time to waste!

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

Photo One:
Cartoon
Library of Congress

Photo Two:
Colonial Dames of New York, Reception Room, ca: 1930s
215 East 71st Street
Library of Congress

Photo Three:
Edward Shippen
wiki

Photo Four:
Peggy Shippen Arnold
By Daniel Gardner

Photo Five:
Colonial Dames New York City Headquarters
215 East 71st Street
Library of Congress

Photo Six:
Colonial Dames Badge
Hillwood Museum