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Thursday, March 29, 2018

Life Downstairs at Staatsburgh: A Servant Wedding

Fans of the television series Downton Abbey may remember the slow burn of the relationship between the butler, Carson, and the housekeeper, Mrs. Hughes.  Finally, after many seasons of the show, and many more years of working together, the pair expressed their love for each other and were married (much to the delight of the show's fans!).

Romance between servants was usually discouraged, but it did happen.  Some left service after being married, but others continued like Anna and Mr. Bates (another married couple featured on Downton Abbey!).  Even here at Staatsburgh, we know the servants were not immune to falling in love.  Staatsburgh's butler was already married with children when he started working for the Mills family, but his daughter fell in love and married a footman!  Read their story below:

Carson & Mrs. Hughes (Photo: PBS/Masterpiece)

In 1887, 22 year old Frederick Thompson immigrated to the United State from England with his wife Eveline.  Shortly after arriving in the United States, they had two children, Daisy (b.1890) and William (b.1894).  By 1899 he was working for Ruth and Ogden Mills as butler.  He was the head of the staff at their properties in New York City, Staatsburgh, and Newport in addition to traveling with the family when they went to London and Paris.  His family usually traveled with him from home to home.  The Thompson family had a New York residence, a Newport summer home as well as a house on the Staatsburgh property.  When Thompson retired from service, he made Newport his permanent residence.

Frederick Thompson (1865-1929), Staatsburgh Butler & Father of the Bride
1921 Passport Photo

In 1903, a young man named Herbert Edward Stride immigrated to the United States from England.  He was born in Wimbourne, Dorset and traveled from Liverpool to New York on the same ship as Frederick and Eveline Thompson.  They were listed just a few names apart on the ship's manifest along with another Mills' family employee.  The Mills' NYC address was listed as Stride's destination so it is possible that Frederick Thompson hired him and he had already started working for the family in Europe.  His profession was noted as footman, and he had all the physical qualities of a good footman.  He was young, handsome, and 6' 2.5" tall.  The most desirable footmen were young, tall, and handsome so Stride fit the bill.

Herbert Edward Stride, 1921 Passport Photo

As he continued to work for the family, he met Thompson's teenage daughter Daisy.  We don't know anything about their courtship, but they must have really hit it off because they got married six years after Herbert arrived.  In 1909, 19 year old Daisy married 25 year old Herbert in a ceremony that was written up in the newspapers!  Of course the headline highlighted the fact that Beatrice Mills and her fiance, the Earl of Granard, attended the wedding, but it was somewhat unusual for this wedding to have a story in The New York Herald and The Washington Post!

New York Herald, January 8, 1909, p.9

The wedding took place at St. James Church in New York City and was officiated by Bishop Courtney.  The bride was escorted by her father, Frederick Thompson, and wore a white chiffon gown with veil of tulle and orange blossoms.  The entire Mills family attended the wedding including Ruth & Ogden, Ruth's mother, and all three children.  Beatrice Mills, who married the Earl of Granard just five days later, was in attendance with her fiance, which was noteworthy to the press who was fascinated by transatlantic titled marriages.

The reception was held at the Plaza Assembly Rooms on East 59th street and displayed the many gifts the couple received.  Many of these gifts were from the Mills family and mentioned in the newspaper announcement.  Ruth & Ogden plus Ruth's mother sent substantial checks, while Gladys and her husband gave a fruit basket of English silver lined in crystal.  The Earl of Granard gave them a pair of solid silver candlesticks.  After the reception luncheon and cake, the couple went on a honeymoon in the south. 

The 1910 census places Herbert and Daisy at the butler's house the Staatsburgh property, but by the 1915 New York State census they had moved on to a new employer and Herbert was promoted from footman to butler.  Together Daisy and Herbert moved to the employ of Mrs. William D. Sloane (Emily Thorn Vanderbilt) who was a sister of Frederick and William K. Vanderbilt.  She was a friend of Ruth Mills so one can wonder if Mrs. Mills was reluctant to lose a good footman or if she recommended Herbert for the job because he was such a well regarded employee.  There would have been no way for Herbert to advance with the Mills family with Frederick Thompson at the helm.

Portrait of Emily Thorn Vanderbilt (1852-1946) by Benjamin Curtis Porter

Daisy and Herbert stayed with Emily Vanderbilt through the death of both of her husbands, William D. Sloane in 1915 and Henry White in 1927.  During various points Daisy was referred to as both housekeeper and secretary, but it appears that the two worked together to run Mrs. Vanderbilt Sloane White's household both in New York and at her large country estate in Lenox, MA named Elm Court.

Elm Court, Lenox, MA (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Daisy and Herbert did not have any children and after spending more than 30 years in service, they retired to Newport where Daisy passed away in 1945 and Herbert in 1970.  They lived with Daisy's widowed mother, Eveline Thompson, and Herbert continued to share a home with his mother in law until she died in 1949.  Their home, on Gibbs Avenue, was known as Brent Lodge when it was purchased by Mrs. Thompson in 1930, but the trio renamed it Eveherdee after Eveline(Eve), Hebert (Her), and Daisy (Dee).  Eveherdee was a large enough household to run that the family actually employed their own servants.  After working for so many years, the family was financially comfortable.  They were not as wealthy as the Vanderbilts, of course, but when Henry White died he left Herbert $10,000 in his will.  He also inherited, through his wife and mother-in-law, money that the Mills family had left Frederick Thompson.  Newspapers later reported that Herbert received excellent stock advice from his employers and was able to build a small fortune.  When Herbert died, he left an estate of $1.5 million and with that money he created the Herbert & Daisy Stride Foundation, which provides funds to aid medical research and education in Newport.  The foundation is a wonderful legacy for two people who spent their life in service and were brought together by their relationship with the Mills family. 

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