The Dowager’s Diary – Week One Hundred and Seventeen

May 10-17, 1917 

It was the second week of May, 1917.  In the last month the United States had formally declared war on Germany and the country was immersed in rallying the troops and promoting patriotism. Grateful contingents of dignitaries were coming to show their appreciation and New York City was host to many of them. Just last week the French Marshall Joffre and France’s Prime Minister were welcomed with a parade down Fifth Avenue.

2. photo, kate shippen roosevelt, arthur balfour, prime minister, portrait, by lawrence alma-tadema, national portrait gallery

Lord Arthur Balfour

When the former Prime Minister of England, Arthur Balfour made his visit, his greeting was every bit as elaborate. Kate Shippen Roosevelt made note of it in her diary entry for May 11, 1917, “Walked up to Tiffany’s where from the second floor window, I saw Balfour and his party pass. They had just arrived in New York and were escorted by a detail of Squadron A (the Air Corps) and police owing to threats made by the Irish immigrants living in New York on Balfour’s life. He is guarded by 2,800 policemen and private detectives while he is here.”

3. photo, kate shippen roosevelt, tiffany, side entrance, 1905, nypl

Tiffany’s

In 1917, Tiffanys’ was located at 401 Fifth Avenue on the corner of 37th Street in the socially-sought-after neighborhood of Murray Hill in midtown. The world-famous jewelry company was established in 1837 in a small shop on Broadway in Lower Manhattan. In 1870 it moved to Union Square in its second attempt to keep up with other exclusive shops who were moving uptown along with their clientele.  Charles Tiffany kept a staff of seven whose jobs were simply to keep files on the wealthy socialites across the country along with photographs, newspaper clippings and details of their financial position. All this information was kept at hand so that when wealthy patrons entered the store they were immediately recognized, greeted by name and allowed to take their purchases without paying upfront. It was the earliest form of store credit. The building that Kate Roosevelt mentioned in her diary was built in 1905.  Its architect was Stanford White and the novelist, Henry James described it as “A great nobleness of white marble.”No doubt when Mrs. Kate Roosevelt walked through the doors, the staff immediately knew her name and took her right up to the second floor, maybe to do some shopping while she watched the Balfour parade pass by.Tiffany and Company moved to its current location on Fifth Avenue and 57th Street in 1940.

4. photo, kate shippen roosevelt, vincent astor, as young man, wiki

Vincent Astor

The next day she wrote, “I got out of town by motor. Got out just below Vincent Astor’s House where Balfour and Company are staying.  I saw them pass down the avenue from my motor. Balfour passed very close to us and gave us a charming bow and smile.  It is reported that Balfour has been quite encouraged by the warmth of his receptions as he had not expected to be well-received in New York. The French mission left yesterday. Balfour leaves tonight.” The Vincent Astor house, located at 217 Broadway was constructed on the site of the New York City’s first luxury Hotel. The three-hundred and nine room Astor Hotel was built by John Jacob Astor IV. When he drowned while a passenger aboard the Titanic, the hotel along with millions of dollars was left to his son, Vincent who eventually had the south side of the building demolished to make way for the New York City subway and constructed a much-less elaborate, seven story building known as the Astor House in 1913.

5. photo, kate shippen roosevelt, joseph choate, may 11, 1917, three days before death, wiki

Joseph Choate, three days before his death, May 11, 1917

Several days later, she reported, “Mr. Choate died, probably the result of his exertions in receiving the foreign missions. To his funeral at St. Bartholomew’s on Madison Avenue.”

In just a few days, the worldly-widow had gone to events welcoming and bidding farewell to so many world leaders it made her sound like a one-woman American Embassy.

Lord Arthur Balfour, the former Prime Minister of England, during World War One was the Foreign Affairs Secretary. Coming from a long line of politicians, his family was despised by the Irish for their opposition to Home Rule in Ireland and that explains why during his visit to New York City his bodyguards numbered in the thousands.

5. photo, kate shippen roosevelt, ethel roosevelt wedding day, in gown

Ethel Roosevelt’s Wedding

Joseph H. Choate was an esteemed Roosevelt Family friend and Kate Roosevelt was in his company many times. When cousin, Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter, Ethel married Dr. Richard Derby in 1913, both Mr. and Mrs. Chaote and Kate Roosevelt were honored guests.

Joseph Hodges Choate was friend and fellow-philanthropist with President Theodore Roosevelt’s father, Theodore Roosevelt, Sr.  He was a lawyer and diplomat who immersed himself in New York City life. According to David McCullough’s book, Mornings on Horseback, “The year following the Civil War, Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. helped start the New York Orthopedic Dispensary and Hospital.  With Joseph Choate, Pierpont Morgan, Howard Potter and others he founded the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History. It was in the front room at 28 East 20th Street that the original charter for the Museum of Natural History was approved on April 8, 1869.”

6. photo, kate shippen roosevelt, st. bartholomews, episcopal, madison and 44th loc

St. Bartholomew’s Church, Madison Avenue, 1917

Several generations of Choates and Roosevelts remained close throughout the years and made many happy memories together.  n the summer of 1874 when Joseph Choate visited the Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. Family at their rented home called, Tranquility, he wrote his wife, “I had a very delightful visit at Oyster Bay with the Roosevelts and wish you could see their pleasant way of life there. They are only twenty-seven miles from New York and in the midst of country which doesn’t correspond in the least to your idea of Long Island.  It is pleasant and well-wooded rolling country and apparently filled with quiet good people.”

When Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. built his own home, Sagamore Hill on Oyster Bay, the Choates were welcomed visitors and guests at many family celebrations. And now the Roosevelts would be guests at a solemn gathering for an old family friend at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church on Madison Avenue and 44th Street. It would be one of the last times the Roosevelt Family would see the inside of this beautiful church, designed by James Renwick.  Its current church on Park Avenue and 51st Street was built in 1918.

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

Photo One:
Mrs. and Mrs. Joseph Choate at Ethel Roosevelt’s wedding, 1913
Library of Congress

Photo Two:
Lord Arthur Balfour
National Portrait Gallery

Photo Three:
Tiffany’s
Public Domain

Photo Four:
Vincent Astor
Wiki

Photo Five:
Joseph Choate, three days before his death, May 11, 1917
Library of Congress

Photo Six:
Ethel Roosevelt’s Wedding
Library of Congress

Photo Seven:
St. Bartholomew’s Church, Madison Avenue, 1917
Library of Congress