Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Alice and Katharine--What's Their Deal?

So it is a known fact at Clermont that Alice Delafield Clarkson's dad Howard was close friends with her eventual husband John Henry Livingston.  The two men lived just a few miles apart, and they were distant cousins in the way that so many Hudson Valley elites were at that time.

Alice and John Henry got married in 1906.  Alice was 34 years old at that point (her husband was 58), and we at Clermont had always assumed that she must have known him most of her life.  Letters from the 1870s show that the two men were friendly and paid each other visits.  Alice even pasted one photo from 1900 into her scrapbook that was taken of Clermont's east porch, showing her future husband holding the reins to a carriage and another man, probably her uncle on the porch. Given that it is in Alice's scrapbook, it's a reasonable assumption that she was at Clermont that day and took the picture.

Katharine Livingston
But we also always wondered how well she knew John Henry's eldest (and at that point, only) daughter Katharine.  Alice and Katharine were only about a year apart in age, and while Alice had several sisters, Katherine had none.  It would not be uncommon for Katharine to play with the Clarkson girls.  Friendships between girls of similar ages and social standing were encouraged in the late 19th century--just like today.

Up until recently, there was only the one photo from Alice's scrapbook to ever suggest that the two women were familiar with each other before Alice married Katharine's dad.  But the recent donation of many of Katharine's family photos may lend support to the theory that the two girls were very well acquainted.

It all hinges on whether or not the guy on the right in this picture is Howard Clarkson and whether the girls on the bench are Alice's sisters.

It is hard to identify people in historic photos.  It just is.  If you've never seen somebody in person, matching up static features on a thumbnail-sized face is tricky at best.  We've got this photo that Alice identified as Howard Clarkson to compare it to.  From what I can tell, it seems possible.

The daughters are even trickier.  I'm comparing it to this photo from several years before, and the girls have definitely done some growing up, which makes it even harder.

But go with me here.

If that guy is Howard Clarkson, and these are two of his daughter sitting on the bench (though I'm quite sure neither of them is Alice), then they are all hanging out at Clermont quite casually, being photographed by Katharine.  There is some sort of friendship here.  These girls are messing around, sitting on the stairs, and lounging in the grass--not having polite tea and stilted conversation in the drawing room.

If Katherine knew the Clarkson girls, she knew Alice.

So why didn't Alice come along to hang out this day?  She and Katherine were so close in age, it seems likely they would have shared at least some interests.  Did the two girls not get along?  Or was she just busy or sick that day and didn't want to take a carriage ride over to Clermont?

And then that brings up another mystery.  When Alice married John Henry in 1906, there was some sort of estrangement between Katharine and her dad.  It was so bad that Katharine convinced her husband to move to England, pretty much ensuring they wouldn't have to see her dad for a good long while.  Family speculation has long linked the falling out to the marriage, but no one knows why.

Perhaps the answer lies in Katharine's relationship with Alice.  We know that later in life the two women had a strained and even contentious relationship.  Many of their arguments centered on money.  Had their relationship always been rocky?  Or did their troubles begin when John Henry announced his marriage to Katharine's childhood playmate?

Okay so we will probably know all the answers, but getting to the heart of these relationships is part of looking at the very real lives of the Livingston family--or really anyone in history.  I mean, contemplating the emotions that go along with a parent marrying your peer really makes me wonder what Katharine was feeling, and it makes her oh-so-human.  Sure the "truth" of the matter is hard to get at, but the questions and the speculation are enlightening in their own way.

1 comment:

  1. I thought I was the only one who couldn't tell who was who in old photos...