Friday, May 21, 2010

Katherine: John Henry's Other Daughter

Alice and John Henry Livingston had two daughters, Janet and Honoria. But John Henry was married twice before he and Alice tied the knot in 1906. His first daughter Katherine L. was born in 1873, and she had moved to England by the time Alice and John Henry were married. Thus, she does not get more than a passing mention in the regular house tour. But her childhood at Clermont was one of Victorian-era ellegance and priviledge--interspersed with losses whose effects had powerful effects on her life.

When Catherine Livingston was born in the spring of 1873, it was only a few short weeks before her mother died of complications from the birth, and John Henry Livingston was left a single father at the age of 25. John Henry was avidly pursueing a law career, and for a few years Catherine bounced between her aunts: Mary Livingston dePeyster at Clermont and elsewhere with her mother's Hammersly sisters. Although the households were loving, with the Hammerslys she endured a rather "strict" Victorian upbringing, as she later recounted it to her daughter.

Thankfully for her, John Henry remarried Emily ("Bessie") Evans in 1880, and Catherine moved with the family up to Clermont. There they became a "blended family" of sorts as John Henry accepted the care of his nephew. His sister's husband and eldest daughter had died by 1875, and Mary soon died in 1876. Their only surviving child was Clermont de Peyster, now 12, who joined the family as Catherine's older brother. With John Henry's father and step mother living next door at Arryl House, the family snuggled into life on the Hudson River.

Catherine, Clermont, Bessie, and John Henry appear to have been a close, happy family with all of the things a well-to-do Victorian household could wish. The mansion was looking particularly splendid with fresh wallpaper and plenty of late 19th century brick-a-brack. Catherine had a nursemaid who may have been a relative of her father's beloved nurse Serena Minkler. A live-in language tutor was engaged to prepare she and Clermont for world travel in Europe, and six other assorted servants (almost all native New Yorkers instead of the Irish workers Mary had hired) were on hand to take care of the family's needs.

However Clermont dePeyster's early death as a teenager punctuated this happy era with further tragedy. Not only was he was the last of Mary and Fredrick's family, he was the closest thing Catherine had ever known to brother. The loss staid with Catherine through her adulthood. She always kept a photograph of him in her home.

Catherine had a busy life as a teenager. She gave up her nursemaid and took on a ladies' maid. She threw herself into piano playing with a certain aplomb, learned German and French, took dancing lessons (an invaluable skill for the socially-elite of the era), and went to the theater whenever the chance presented itself. In keeping with the growing trend of the late 19th century, she was an active young woman who road horseback, took swimming lessons (which cost $5 in May 1887 and in June merrited buying a bathing suit for $3.25), and played tennis on the Southwest lawn at Clermont or at the nearby Livingston enclave, the Edgewood Club. Expensive fees ($10 per month) were also paid for use of a gymnasium.

Beginning in 1887, when she was 14, Catherine started taking annual trips to the wealthy vacation haven in Bar Harbor, Maine. Here 80 room "cottages" perched on the rocky coastline beside rich hotels where bathers reclined in seawater pools (neatly lined with granite to avoid having to actually get into ocean with all of those unnerving sea creatures and barnacles). The social scene was bustling with the elites of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, providing the young lady with all of the opportunities she could want for dancing, fun, and flirtation.

Catherine stretched her legs beyond the social scene of the United States in 1890. On the 1st of May, she booked passage on a steamer bound for England. In June she made a number of new clothing purchases for the trip, bought a steamer trunk ($9) and a Kodak camera ($34.69), arranged for international credit, and set sail on June 26th.

She spent two years there and made subsequest trips thereafter, leaving the Hudson River Valley almost completely behind her. She changed the spelling of her name to Katherine, as Catherine with a "C" had been her mother's name. Katherine especially favored England on these trips and was even presented at court to Queen Victoria by her friend Lady Snagge.

But loss again poked its nose into Catherine's life. When she was 19, Bessie, whom she had known as a mother for 12 years, died. Three years later, her grandfather died in 1895 (leaving Clermont to her instead of her father, interestingly enough), and around this time John Henry began to join her in her travels.

The two travelled even more extensively together throughout Europe and even as far as India and Japan. The travels were not lonely ones. According to her daughter, "Often they joined friends from New York, Philladelhpia or Boston, or with English friends for their voyages."

By this time, Katherine (now affectionately known as "Kitty") was a grown woman. Particularly tall like her father, she was fashionable, well traveled, and well-monied--a good catch for a wife.

In 1900 she re-connected with homeland by getting married. Lawrence Timpson was part of the Hudson Valley elite and a Red Hook native. The John Henry gave his daughter away to Mr. Timpson in Tivoli at an elaborate ceremony in June of 1900. Her glamorous satin gown received newspaper coverage, along with the extensive floral decorations and music by Seidel's Philharmonic Orchestra.

They returned to Clermont for the traditional bridal breakfast (a Victorian predecessor to the modern reception) in Clermont's dining room. The recently-renovated mansion was thouroughyl decked out in lillies and white and pink roses. Breakfast was served in the dining room by "Sher of New York City."

Sadly, marriage did not seem to provide a all the comforts Katherine had hoped for in her life. Although she quickly gave birth to a son in 1901, life became tumultuous again soon after. Her mother-in-law died in 1902, and in 1905 an "estrangement" between she and her father again made her long to leave the Hudson Valley.

Katherine and Lawrence moved to England where life had been so exciting before. But eventually even her marriage could not provide the happiness she sought. She and Lawrence, who would not suffer the social indignity of a divorce, separated and lived their lives independently.

She patched up things with her father at some, giving Clermont to him, and in 1921, when John Henry and Alice brought their children to Europe, they spent a "seaside holiday" with Katherine in Berkshire (now Oxfordshire), north Devon. This would was just the second time that she met Janet and Honoria and for them it would have been the first time they had had to get to know their half sister and their nieces and nephews.

Katherine died in February of 1933 at the age of 60. She had filled her late life by taking an interst in "village wellfare," Berkshire, and studying history and architecture. She bought and renovated a house called Appleton and dug into gardening with the same zeal that Alice Livingston was employing at Clermont. She had lived through a time of great change and expanding opportunities for women, but bound her conservative upbringing and social standing, had pursued a course of life that was acceptable to the old standards. Nevertheless, she strikes me as an independent woman, quick to take control of her situation by changing it and always in search of a new adventure.


  1. The picture of the young girl holding the flowers is my grand mother. My mother has the picture hanging in her room. She also has the same photo of the side profile of Katherine.

    1. Was your GM, therefore, Rosamunde or Katherine (the Younger), please?
      Michael Livingston at

  2. I think that the child in arms is either John or Rosamund (twins), that the kneeling child is Robert. Katherine (the Younger) died in Devon in 1993, Robert in 1988, John in Somerset in 1997 and Rosamund in The Cape in 2004. Apart from Robert, born USA, all were born in the UK - the twins being born probably whilst Kitty was living at Appleton Manor.
    Michael Livingston

  3. The older boy is Theodore (born 1901, in the US), the girl is Katharine (sic), born 1903 in the US, the baby is Robert Clermont Livingston, born 1908 in England. The picture was taken later in 1908 after they had moved to Woodstock House, the Dower House for Blenheim Palace. The later twins Alastair and Rosamund (1915) were born in England.
    Robert C L Timpson Jr

  4. Do any of the correspondents on this blog have information about The Edgewood Club of Tivoli, a club founded by Livingston family members n 1884? Specifically, I am seeking to find out the year in which golf started at the club. Depending on that year, the club could be the oldest continually operating golf club in the United States. Thanks.

    1. Hi Tom, I'm afraid we still haven't found any correspondence that pertains to golf during this period. It sounds like an interesting hypothesis, but no more information has been found since we spoke last month.