“No friend at court”

Hedwiga Gray diary1
Hedwiga Regina Shober Gray diary, entries for 5-7 February 1864. R. Stanton Avery Special Collections

Just as Morris Gray seems to have been a model child, so Regina Shober Gray’s only daughter, Mary (1848–1923), appears to advantage in her mother’s diary. Inclined to be timid – a tendency the robust Mrs. Gray tried to counter[1] – Mary Clay Gray[2] never married, although she did not lack for suitors, as seen in her mother’s diary entry for 16 February 1873.

And Mary Gray made friends, among them Laura Elizabeth Howe (1850–1943), Katharine Peabody Loring (1849–1943),[3] and Eliza Bordman Richards (1848–1924).[4] Laura Howe Richards, as she became, shared the Pulitzer Prize in 1917 for her biography[5] of her famous mother, Julia Ward Howe; Mrs. Gray regarded Mrs. Howe with some reservations, sensing in her an unseemly desire for public notoriety – a taste Mrs. Gray felt she shared with her husband, Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe.

Katharine Loring was close enough to the Grays to become K.P.L. in the diary. The sickly Alice James (1848–1892), with whom Miss Loring shared her life for several years, called on the Grays in their new house in Mount Vernon Place in 1884: “We found Mary Carey’s[6] card when we came home – also Alice James’s (sister of Henry James, the author).”[7]

Like Laura Howe, Elise Richards’s mother provides Mrs. Gray with much fodder for the diary. Cornelia Wells Walter (1813–1898) was Emily Adams’s aunt; of greater interest today is the fact that, before her marriage to William Bordman Richards in 1847, she was the first female editor of a daily newspaper, the Boston Transcript.[8]

Several entries from General George B. McClellan’s visit to Boston in February 1863 give a sense of Mrs. Richards’s style:

Sunday, 1 February 1863

Mrs. Richards has started a children’s subscription for a piece of [silver] plate to be presented to him at her house.

Tuesday, 3 February

Mrs. Richards came in early to-day to beg I would ride with her to the Tremont House[9] tomorrow to escort Mrs. Mc C.[10] – she had told Mrs. Mc that “she and her friend Mrs. G. would call and escort her to the house,” from a feeling that Mrs. Mc. would not like to come, Mrs. R. having had no opportunity to call on her; and “now I must not desert her &c &c” – so I acceded of course though I would much rather not be put forward so conspicuously in the matter.

Mary & Elise were busy all Saturday getting subscriptions. Mrs. R. wrote to Mrs. Mc C. telling that this piece of plate was selected by the children and asking if Gen. Mc. could grant them an interview, that they might have the honour of presenting it in person. The reply was that the Gen. would appoint the earliest hour when he would receive his young friends at the Tremont.

But this was not at all Mrs. R.’s idea. She was determined to have the éclat of receiving him in her house. She replied very courteously. “The Gen’l’s wishes and convenience were law to her, of course – but could he not spare ½ hour to come to them? Many of the children were too young, and being dressed too for a dance,” &c &c. Back came a note from the Gen.l himself. He would meet his young friends at her house at 1 p.m. on Wednesday. And she has got an autograph note from him, that will be invaluable years hence – and had the honour of receiving him as thoroughly as the most exclusive aristocrat of the committee!

Vive l’audace! Who but she would have carried the thing through so well – and unaided too – for she had no friend at court, and I rather think some of the committee were vexed at the interference. I myself doubted whether it were in good taste for her intrude into plans of the gentlemen whose guest he is.[11] But then, as some say, he is a public man; if a lady at Roxbury or the South End had got up the affair he would have accepted it, and no one would have talked of bad taste &c.

Friday, 6 February

Mrs. Richards’ presentation party went off splendidly. Mrs. R., Mrs. Otis,[12] and I, with F.C.G.[13] and George R[ichards][14] as a deputation from the young people drove to Tremont House at 20 minutes before one, and returned after few minutes of waiting and the necessary delay for introductions…

As we all went up stairs [at the Richardses’] in due order the music struck up “marching along” – and just as McC. stepped over the parlor door (which was draped with flags), the children gave three cheers with a will – and then 3 more for Mrs. McC., with clapping hands and waving hdkfs. It was a pretty sight – Charles Shimmin[15] and Emily Adams had marshalled round the room, tall ones back, little ones forwards – 150 young people of all ages, and very lovely ones too, most of them, and all prettily dressed.

Several mammas were there with whom Mrs. Mc. talked while Mrs. R. rapidly took the general round the circle, introducing every child by name – and with wonderful tact giving him a clue wherever it could be done, as to who and what they were – as – “the grandson of Como. Perry,” “Putnam, an old revolutionary name,” “Motley, niece of the historian,” Bowditch, Dixwell &c &c. I really looked at her with admiration – she did it so well and with not a moment’s loss of time…

The whole affair went off with brilliant success – and I was amused to see my grave reserved brother William G. as much carried away and interested as any one! The gentlemen stopped in the library for a glass of wine, which having set out doors to cool, was literally frozen – regular champagne frappé!

 

Notes

[1] Although she could also commiserate: “It would have made an immense difference in the … happiness of my own shy, reserved, young-lady life, had I known myself to be as fairly good looking & attractive as I have since heard people then considered me!” (Hedwiga Regina Shober Gray diary, R. Stanton Avery Special Collections, entry for 25 May 1884).

[2] Named for her grandmother Mary Clay (1790–1867), who was married to William Rufus Gray 1809–31.

[3] A family connection, as she was the diarist’s sister-in-law Sallie Gray’s great-niece.

[4] Usually referred to as Elise.

[5] Julia Ward Howe, 1819–1910: A Biography, written with her sister Maud Howe Elliott.

[6] Perhaps Mary Irwin Carey, the daughter of Mrs. Gray’s first cousin Susanna Budd (Kimber) Carey.

[7] Entry for 22 April 1884.

[8] The Harvard Graduates’ Magazine 20 [1912]: 707.

[9] Where the McClellans were staying.

[10] Ellen Mary Marcy (1836-1915) married Captain (later Major General) George Brinton McClellan in 1860.

[11] Including Mrs. Gray’s brother-in-law, William Gray (1810–1892).

[12] Eliza Boardman Henderson (1796–1873) was married to Harrison Gray Otis 1817–27.

[13] The diarist’s son Francis Calley Gray (1846–1904).

[14] Mrs. Richards’s brother-in-law, Dr. George Edward Richards (1845–1919).

[15] Charles Franklin Shimmin (1821–1891).

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward has been NEHGS’ Editor-in-Chief since 2013. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

3 thoughts on ““No friend at court”

  1. What a lovely, lively story. It makes me think (once again) that I need to capture my memories of my grandmother, the social center of our extended family when I was growing up. She, unlike Mrs. Gray, was a hard-working country woman, but had in common with Mrs. Gray an astute perception about other people. I no longer have her letters (delightfully written, misspellings and all), but I have memories of her stories and of the many large gatherings at her small farm that I’d like to pass on.

  2. Good stuff, Scott!!! Always fascinating in some way. The latest being that last week my wife was going through some boxes of old letters left by her mother, and there was a large manila colored envelope containing an old page of newspaper. On the outside of the envelope was penciled Vol 1, No 1 Daily Evening Transcript, Boston, July 24, 1830. Reading about Cornelia Wells Walter in your Mrs. Gray passages today sounded so familiar that I went to get that big envelope and sure enough; the editor was L. M. Walter. The apple surely does not fall far from the tree. My guess, without any research, is that L. M. was Cornelia’s father, she being 17 years old in 1830. and that having her own newspaper was de riguer for the family, male or female at some point between her father having this new venture in 1830 and her marriage in 1847. The Daily Evening Transcript is the father’s “niche” newspaper of the Boston waterfront: schedules of packets, schooners and brigs along the the Ma. coast to Nahant and Calcutta, hundreds of ads for laden goods on the docks–from rums and ports to lumber and silks, and sundry other items of interest. I’ve read the whole paper twice and I am sure I will again for the glimpse of “business as usual” on the Boston waterfront in 1830. Keep up the great work you are doing. Best regards.

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