20 December, 2013

Society Women Vie for Dictator's Scepter

I have many (if not all), of the news clippings about Edith Rockefeller McCormick that were written in the 1920s and 30s and saved by her protégé Edwin Krenn. This one comes to us from a Central Press article that was written and distributed in the fall of 1933. If I hadn't researched some of these ladies myself or known them through the recollection of writers (such as Arthur Meeker Jr.'s Chicago With Love),  I'd presume much of the following came from a piece of bubbly fiction:

CHICAGO, Oct. 9 - Chicago, used to seeing a battle royal for the crown of gangdom, now is observing a contest, clever and brilliantly fought, for the scepter of social dictator.

Three women are eager to seize the scepter. It has lain idle since the death of Mrs. Edith Rockefeller McCormick.

At the moment, Mrs. Howard Linn seems to have the odds. Mrs. Linn, whose portraits by Boutet de Monville and Frank B. Hoffman are internationally famous, flashed into the social spotlight as the unofficial hostess for the Republican and Democratic conventions. Her parties were the talk of the social town.

Mrs. Howard Linn (née Lucy McCormick Blair), sans white hair.


This striking, white-haired, brown eyed young woman has advanced to her present position on the theory that it takes either an amusing program of an amusing guest of honor, together with perfection in catering, to make a party worthwhile.

But Mrs. Linn has to reckon with Mrs. Charles Barney Goodspeed and Mrs. John Alden Carpenter.

Mrs. Goodspeed, wife of the trustee of the University of Chicago, and a conservative among the registerites, created a furor this summer when she finally bobbed her hair. Her picture is in the paper often.


Charles Barney Goodspeed, Mrs. Charles [Bobsy] Goodspeed, Gertrude Stein, Fanny Butcher, Richard Drummond Bokum, Alice Roullier, Alice B. Toklas, and Thornton Wilder. That's Bobsy up on the wall. (Photo:Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)  

When Mrs. Goodspeed is in town she presides as president of the Arts Club. When she is out of town she is apt to be doing almost anything in the line of adventure -- from invading the Gobi desert to roughing it in Arizona. 

Among the last of the parties of the brand which the "Tumultuous Twenties" produced was her party for 1000 guests at one of the most exclusive Lake Shore Hotels. 

For the most part, however, Mrs. Goodspeed's address is likely to be Cape Cod, Long Island, China, Japan, the South Sea Islands, or any other part of the world.

Mrs. Ellen Waller Borden Carpenter, who married John Alden Carpenter recently in the Cambridge, Mass., home of her uncle and aunt, the Kingsley Porters, most closely approximates the former day picture of a social leader.

During a former marriage to the then fabulously wealthy John Borden, her stone chateau, which faces the McCormick house, was a society stronghold. She and Mrs. McCormick were close friends. 


The Borden family mansion at 130 E. Bellevue Pl. (originally 89 Bellevue) at Lake Shore Dr., designed by Richard Morris Hunt (1884). Ellen Waller Borden would receive it as part of  her divorce from John Borden in 1924. It was located directly across Bellevue Pl. from Edith Rockefeller McCormick's 1000 Lake Shore Dr.


Well liked and admired as one of the most gracious figures of society, Mrs. Carpenter's drawing room has continued as the center of philanthropic plans since the marriage of, "Chicago's best known widow and most prominent widower."

If Mrs. Linn has an advantage over Mrs. Goodspeed and Mrs. Carpenter, it may be because of her resourcefulness and her "pioneering." She has so far defied precedent that she has entirely given up a town residence and has established the Linn menage in the most northerly of suburbs - Lake Bluff.  Further, she has now hit upon a unique plan to benefit her pet charity - Olivet Institute - by arranging a treasure hunt around the world's fair and the city. Each guest must pay an admission charge. 

At heart, though, Chicago still reveres the mightiest social dowager it ever had, the late Mrs. Potter Palmer. Her castellated pile on Lake Shore Drive was the palace from which the queen issued undisputed orders.

Then, later, there arose the dynasty of Mrs. Edith Rockefeller McCormick, with her Napoleonic gold service and her patronage of the arts and the opera. 

No "outsider" has a chance for the throne. All contenders, past and present, have been of Chicago blood royal.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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