The Dowager’s Diary: Week One Hundred and Ninety-Seven

December 12-22, 1918

It never ceases to amaze me when I read something written by Kate Shippen Roosevelt in her diary and today was no exception. In the middle of December, 1918, she wrote, “Went to first meeting of Causeries du Lundi at Miss Seward’s home at 33 Madison Avenue. Mrs. General Custer read a charming paper on the end of the Civil War.” Talk about rubbing elbows with famous people, Mrs. Roosevelt was doing just that and by writing about these meetings, one hundred years later, she gives today’s readers a look back on history as seen through her eyes and from a different vantage point. The people she socialized with, to her were just friends, not yet the fabled figures they are today.

The first Monday of the month during the winter season, groups of women met to discuss topical subjects and present essays historical events. The club of women who were interested in educating themselves in an elite environment with like-minded socialites was founded in 1880. Causeries du Lundi is French for “Monday Chats.”

The meeting was held at the home of Miss Alice Seward, who’s father Clarence Seward was the nephew of President Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Seward and this month’s topic was the Civil War, of which the hostess and her honored guest, Mrs. Custer would have had lots to contribute.

Elizabeth and General George Custer

Mrs. General Custer was the widow of Major General George Armstrong Custer, who’s Army career included many military campaigns during the Civil War and also commanding the United States Calvary during many battles with the Plains Indians. He was massacred, along with his entire company at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in June, 1876.

Her marriage to the war hero spanned two wars, one he returned from a hero, in the last he was not so lucky.  His death was blamed on his own doing, making a strategic blunder which wiped out him and his column of soldiers.  President Grant publicly blamed him for the disaster.

Left nearly destitute after her husband’s death, Elizabeth Custer became an outspoken advocate for his legacy through her writings, books and speeches.  During the meeting of the Causeries du Lundi, her essay was on the Civil War, a history that was very kind to her husband and his illustrious career. Fearing that her late husband was being made a scapegoat, she steered away from discussing “Custer’s Last Stand” at speaking engagements, instead praising her martyred husband and promoting his leadership during the Civil War Battles of Bull Run and Gettysburg.

Libbie, as she was called, never remarried and lived to be nearly ninety-one-years-old. Remaining utterly devoted to her husband, her mission was to portray him leading his men into battle against overwhelming odds only to be murdered while heroically defending their position down to the last man.

She might well have been invited to present her essay at Miss Seward’s home upon the recommendation of Kate Roosevelt.& She knew that Elizabeth Custer treasured a letter from President Theodore Roosevelt in which he stated that her husband was “one of my heroes and a shining light to all the youth in America.”

Photo One:
Elizabeth Bacon Custer at the unveiling of statue to her husband by President Taft, 1910
Public Domain

Photo Two:
Elizabeth and General George Custer
Library of Congress