Saturday, June 5, 2021

Miss Leary’s Gilded Age Dinner

 The Party Details

"It was like a vision of fairyland when the guests left the dinner table and stepped on to the piazza and then to the garden.  The trees were ablaze with illuminations of every description, the walks being outlined with lamps of various colors.  Two large tents were erected at each side of the lawn, one for the men to smoke in the other where coffee was served to the ladies.  Japanese umbrellas were distributed about the lawn, which was completely covered with Turkish rugs."  

That is the opening of the story (shown below) which ran in the New York Times, September 4, 1900.  Miss Leary evidently had a desire to create a festive and global theme for the evening.  According to the Times, Miss Leary's party in Newport, was "one of the largest of the season" and it was held at her "cottage," which I imagine was a fairly good size. 

 The guest list was full of debutantes of the day, and the Newport elite.  The dinner was held in the honor of  "Miss Van Alen, and her sister Miss Sarah Van Alen, the daughters of James J. Van Alen."  The name "Van Alen" sounded familiar, so on a lark I decided to look  the Van Alens up.  That is when this simple article about a dinner party in 1900 changed into something completely different.

James J. Van Alen
Sportsman and politician James J. Van Alen commissioned
Charles Eamer Kempe and Dudley Newton to design and build “Wakehurst.”

The Van Alens were not your run of the mill family.  

He was appointed Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Italy on October 20, 1893, but declined the appointment

Van Alen was a widower, and according to many accounts, spent much of his time after the death of his wife in a depression.  From other accounts of his travel and social life, he seemed to be quite the ladies man and very outgoing.

 Here is what I found on Van Alen under Virginia University website's "Class & Leisure" Section on him. 

James J. Van Alen (1846-1923) was a sportsman, politician, and member of an old-monied New York railroad family. Van Alen solidified his status as a member of upper-class society by marrying Emily Astor, daughter of society matron Caroline Schermerhorn Astor and William Backhouse Astor Jr.
Like many upper-class Americans, Van Alen was fond of English culture and architecture. In 1882, he hired English architect Charles Eamer Kempe to design Wakehurst (1884-1887), a stone Tudor mansion modeled after Wakehurst Place, an English country estate in Sussex, England. The mansion stood at Ochre Point in Newport, Rhode Island.
Newport architect Dudley Newton oversaw construction of Wakehurst. Rooms were designed and constructed in England, then imported to Newport. The rooms featured English tapestries, antiques, and accessories. Landscape architect Ernest Bowditch, a student of Frederick Law Olmsted, designed the grounds.
Van Alen was known as a charming host who enjoyed speaking in Tudor English. An avid yachtsman, Van Alen joined fellow Newporters Edith Wharton and her husband Edward R. (Teddy) Wharton on a four-month Mediterranean cruise aboard The Vanadis in 1888.
Wakehurst is now part of the campus of Salve Regina University. 

The website breaks down the class structure of the era

Contributor, and Site Editor, Maura Graber has been teaching etiquette to children, teens and adults, and training new etiquette instructors, since 1990, as founder and director of The RSVP Institute of Etiquette. She is also a writer, has been featured in countless newspapers, magazines and television shows and was an on-air contributor to PBS in Southern California for 15 years. Her next book, “What Have We here?” will be available, July 15, 2021

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia

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