The Dowager’s Diary – Week One Hundred and Thirty-Three

September 6-13, 1917

The second week of September, 1917 found the do-gooder dowager, Kate Shippen Roosevelt, in Philadelphia. Her father’s family, the Shippens, who were given land grants when Pennsylvania was still under British Rule long before the American Revolution, were from the City of Brotherly Love and Kate still had relatives living in Chestnut Hill, the swanky suburb of Philadelphia. In her diary, her visits to the upscale city are often detailed. The first day’s itinerary had her going to The Queen Mary Guild for some volunteering, to Wanamaker’s to do some shopping and having lunch her cousin, Anna Lewis’ house at 123 South 22nd Avenue.

Chestnut Hill Historical Society

The charitable organization she mentioned was similar to a “sewing circle’ where women assembled to knit and sew clothing and linens for the needy.  The society, originally known as the Needlework Guild began in England in 1895 when the matron of an orphanage asked Lady Wolverton for some help. She asked the wife of the Fourth Baron of Wolverton, the former Edith Amelia Ward, to provide 24 pairs of hand-knitted socks and 12 jerseys for the children in her care. When asked why the orphanage needed two of everything, the matron replied, “One to wash and one to wear.” Could that be where the phrase “wash and wear” came from, I wondered?

Lady Wolverton

Lady Wolverton enlisted all of her friends from the Edwardian Era and they supplied not only orphanages, but hospitals with clothing and bedding. In 1899, Queen Mary became their patron and, in 1914, the Needlework Guild became known as Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild and was responsible for sending thousands of garments and parcels to the troops fighting in World War One. The queen coordinated distribution of these handmade items from Friary Court at James Palace in London.

The Philadelphia branch that Kate volunteered at in 1917 was started by Mrs. Alanson Harpence after a  visit to England where she was first introduced to the charity. In 2003, Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra, the Honorable Lady Ogilvy became the Guild’s patroness.

In 2010, Queen Mary’s Guild’s name was changed to The Queen Mother’s Clothing Guild as a tribute to Queen Elizabeth, the mother of the present Queen of England. She was their patroness from 1953 until her death in 2002. Packing Week is still held yearly at St. James Palace in London where thousands of parcels are shipped to the needy.

Wanamaker’s Market and 13th Street, Philadelphia

After doing her bit for the troops overseas, making hand-knit socks and sewing bandages, Kate was off to buy some mass-produced items at the famous Wanamaker’s. Located on Market Street on the site of the abandoned Pennsylvania Railroad Station, it was the first department store in Philadelphia and one of the first in the country.

The palatial emporium was a shrine visited by those who worshipped the experience of buying, browsing, and being entertained. John Wanamaker, the store’s founder envisioned the store’s two million square feet of shopping space as a shopper’s paradise.

Wanamaker’s Grand Court and Organ

A seven-tiered grand court fulfilled Wanamaker’s dream to create more than a store. To complete his fantasy, the innovative merchant purchased the largest organ in the world to be the centerpiece of the cavernous space. Known as the Wanamaker Organ, it was built by the Los Angeles Art Organ Company for exhibition at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Containing 28,000 pipes, the organ cost $105,000 to build and bankrupted its manufacturer.

John Wanamaker at work

When the fair closed down, the “White Elephant” had nowhere to go and languished in storage until John Wanamaker purchased it in 1909 for the store he was building in Philadelphia. It took thirteen freight cars to ship it from St. Louis and two years to re-assemble. Despite its immense size, its tone was not adequate to fill the large marble-clad hall so John Wanamaker opened his own pipe organ factory in the store’s attic to enlarge the already massive instrument. William Boone Fleming was hired to supervise the 40 full-time craftsmen who made some of the  additional eight thousand pipes so large, a Shetland pony was able to pose inside for publicity photos.

George Ashdown Audsley

George Ashdown Audsley was the organ’s architect and I was wondering if Kate Roosevelt might have written him a nice note when he completed making the world’s largest pipe organ. He and her late husband, Hilborne Roosevelt, had something in common. They both designed and exhibited organs at a world’s fair. The world’s first pipe organ, won Roosevelt first prize at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition and Audsley’s the world’s largest, was exhibited at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Both organs cost a fortune to build and both lost their makers a fortune.

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

Photo One:
Rolling Bandages for Troops, World War One
Library of Congress

Photo Two:
Chestnut Hill Historical Society
Credit: Chestnut Hill Historical Society

Photo Three:
Lady Wolverton
Country Life Magazine, 1898

Photo Four:
Wanamaker’s Market and 13th Street, Philadelphia
Dept. Store Museum

Photo Five:
Wanamaker’s Grand Court and Organ
public domain

Photo Six:
John Wanamaker at work
Library of Congress

Photo Seven:
George Ashdown Audsley, Architect of the Worlds Largest Organ, 1904