The Dowager’s Diary – Week Eighty-Nine

October 25-31, 1916

“Florence Rhett lunched with me at the Cosmo Club, shopping, taxi to Penn Station. Bella and Maud, the maids, were with me.”  By the year 1916, Florence Rhett was long-retired from her position as traveling companion/governess to multi-millionaire, J.P. Morgan’s daughters.  But well before she took this prestigious position, she was a friend of the six Shippen sisters, who fondly referred to her as “Flossie.”  Florence Mason Rhett was one of ten bridesmaids, five wearing pale blue and five wearing pink, attending her friend, Kate Shippen when she married Hilborne Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt’s cousin on February 1, 1883.

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J. P. Morgan

When J.P. Morgan died in 1913 his will stated, “I leave the sum of $100,000 to Florence Rhett for her many years as a member of my household.” During her employment she was a traveling companion and governess to Morgan’s three daughters, Louisa, Julia and Anne Tracy Morgan, often accompanying them on extended European vacations. Florence Rhett lived at 122 East 34th Street.  She died a wealthy spinster on October 30, 1921.

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Will of J.P. Morgan

Back in 1883, it was nice of her employer, J. P. Morgan to give her the day off, but how could he refuse when she was going to what the New York Times, later described as “One of the most brilliant weddings of the season.” Mr. Morgan would also have been impressed by the guests invited to celebrate the nuptials.  Nine train cars were reserved to carry guests from New York City to the train station in Sea Bright, New Jersey located just across the street from the Shippen Family’s seaside cottage known as the “Anchorage.” Well-wishers included captains of industry, political leaders, philanthropists, millionaires and most of the Roosevelt Family.  Even though Hilborne Roosevelt was not a politician like his cousin, the future president of the United States, Teddy or a banker like his other cousin, Emlen Roosevelt, the director of the Chemical Bank of New York, he was one of New York City’s most prominent entrepreneurs. He owned the Roosevelt Organ Works. Located at 40 West 18th Street and Sixth Avenue, directly across the street from the exclusive, B. Altman Department Store, the company produced some of the most expensive and well-turned out organs in the world.  Hilborne Roosevelt ran the company until his early death of a lung disease in 1886.

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Elizabeth “Libbie” and Colonel George Custer at Fort Lincoln in the Dakota Territory

Hilborne was not as wealthy as the fantastically-rich financial mogul, J.P. Morgan, Florence Rhett’s boss,  but wealthy enough to leave his widow Kate and daughter, Dorothy with plenty of money, some of it coming from his organ business, inventions and patents as well as from the vast Roosevelt Estate. The family patriarch, Cornelius Van Schaak Roosevelt (1794-1871)  made a fortune importing transparent window glass, known as “French Plates” and buying up real estate in the once-rural  area of lower Manhattan. Kate and Dorothy enjoyed the fruits of the family wealth which afforded them membership in all of New York City’s most exclusive women’s clubs.  In addition to the Colony Club, Kate Roosevelt and her daughter Dorothy Roosevelt Geer were on the list of “ladies  who lunched”  at the Cosmopolitan Club.

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The Cosmopolitan Club Dining Room

Founded in 1909, just seven years before Kate and Florence’s fall luncheon on October 25, 1916, the private woman’s club was intended as a place where New York City governesses could gather and socialize on their days off.  In 1916, the club was located at its second location in a former stable at Lexington Avenue and 4oth Street. Today it is located at 122 East 66th Street on New York’s Upper East Side. Quite possibly Florence Rhett joined the club at the urging of the Morgan Family who wanted their loyal family governess to have a nice place to go on her day off.

Original members of the Cosmopolitan “Cosmo” Club included the author, Willa Cather; first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt; philanthropist, Grace Dodge; General George Custer’s widow, Elizabeth “Libbie” Bacon Custer; violinist, Katherine Parlow; the actress, Helen Hayes and anthropologist, Margaret Meade.

Yearly dues were twenty dollars and lunch cost forty cents with omelets, crabmeat salad, soup and finger sandwiches on the menu. Now that Kate Roosevelt’s good friend, Florence Rhett was an heiress, I was wondering who picked up the lunch tab, which for two would have totaled, eighty cents in 1916.

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

Photo One:
Sea Bright Train Station
From a postcard

Photo Two:
J. P. Morgan
wiki

Photo Three:
Will of J.P. Morgan
Clipping from Kate Roosevelt’s Diary

Photo Four:
Elizabeth “Libbie” and Colonel George Custer at Fort Lincoln in the Dakota Territory
Library of Congress

Photo Five:
The Cosmopolitan Club Dining Room
Library of Congress