And then there was the week, probably in the summer of 1901, when Walter Watrous parked his mistress in the Silver Bay Hotel, for a stay that had nothing to do with the YWCA.
Walter Watrous was tall, dark and handsome, and pleasant-mannered as well. But in 1899, after his wife left him for another, he turned his back on New York City and his life as a popular “clubman” – a member of the Tuxedo, Metropolitan, Lambs, Westminster Kennel, Carteret Shooting, Staten Island and Racquet clubs – retreating to Lake George where he owned land and cottages along the lakeshore. Walter had been connected with a lumber company, but rarely went to the office; his chief occupation had been asking his mother for money. In Hague, he fished and spent time with his family – a young son, Livingston, his brother Harry and their mother.
But although Walter vowed never to marry again, he did feel the need for companionship, to put it politely. He was a gentleman, but no saint. He combined his yearnings and disinclination for work with an overindulgence in alcohol, and was thus somewhat vulnerable.
Companionship found him in the person of Katherine Ballou, a beautiful young woman with expensive tastes, elastic morals and manipulative tendencies. Born Katherine Bowley in San Francisco, she had been seduced in the first bloom of her beauty by a railroad magnate named Alfred Sully, who persuaded her to live with him in a casual way, as Mr. and Mrs. Belden, and gave her three children to remember him by. He ultimately settled $3,000 a year upon her for their care. Parting from Mr. Sully, she put her children in private schools and went east.
She next married Stephen Winchester Ballou, said to be elderly and wealthy; he died within a year. She was then engaged to a young California physician who took her to Europe, but she instead married Walter Floeckner in Germany. Back in New York, she discovered Walter Watrous – lonely, wealthy and unwise. The new Walter paid for Katherine’s divorce from the old Walter and they sailed for Europe as “Mr. & Mrs. Walker.”
But upon their return, it was clear that Hague was no place for Katherine Ballou. She could hardly wear fine gowns in Hague, and besides, Walter’s mother would not approve. And so Walter put up his lover in an apartment in New York City, a house in Saratoga and hotels in Atlantic City, giving her $1,300 a month to get by, and an open account with a dressmaker. Katherine also kept a cook, a maid, a coachman and a footman.
When Walter and Katherine were apart, she sent letters to “Dear Little Sweetheart” and “My Darling Wallie,” signed “Bebe.” In return, he sent letters to “Bebe Dear,” “Sweet Kate,” “Sweet Lips” and “Beauty Eyes.” One of her letters read, “My Darling Walter, You must be having a good time fishing. I cannot wait until Thursday to see you. My thoughts of you are so strong that at times I can feel you kiss me. I will not let you get an inch away when you return, but will glue myself close to you.”
Walter strained continually to keep both his mistress and his mother happy, trying to spend a majority of his time with each, extracting money from his mother and lavishing it on Katherine, and often drinking himself into a stupor wherever he was. It was more than his body could bear.
In June of 1903, Walter died at a hotel in Atlantic City, and his startled family read in his death notice that he was survived by a widow of whom they had not been aware. “Katherine Watrous” arrived at the funeral in New York, sat by the coffin and wept, and through her lawyer said that she expected to inherit the entire estate. Harry W. Watrous, brother of the deceased and executor of the estate had other ideas, and the will. Walter had left “Katherine Floeckner” $5,000, stated clearly that he had no widow, and the rest went into trust for his 14-year-old son, Livingston Watrous.
Katherine at first insisted that she and Walter had been married, then that they had a verbal agreement, and in the end the family paid her $11,000 to go away.
The details however would have remained private had not a dressmaker, Rachel Oatman, found herself owed $5,825. She took the estate to court, saying that Walter Watrous had paid the other bills and so his estate needed to pay this one. The suit began in 1903; the estate was ruled liable in 1906, but appealed and was ruled not liable in 1907.
Much of the legal sparing centered around whether Katherine Ballou was the common law wife of Walter Watrous, or if she was living with him in “meretricious relations.” In response to questions, Katherine Ballou and/or Katherine Watrous told all, although by the time of the appeal, she claimed to be Katherine Brown, the wife of one William S. Brown, a wealthy young importer and broker from Philadelphia and New York.
Her deposition during the appeal process was enlightening.
“There was a spangled gown; there was a black velvet gown; there were all sorts of gowns; there was a brown velvet gown. I cannot remember all these things. There was a gown of white mull, mull and real lace; there was a black crepe gown, it had real lace on it; there was a blue gown, crepe; there was a gray crepe de chine and lace. I said I wanted a set of Russian sables and he said, ‘All right, go and order them.’”
“He lived in the house with me on and off… He had to stay with his mother a great deal. He stayed more at his mother’s house at nights, but he was at my house all day and sometimes at night.”
When asked if Mr. Watrous had ever “loafed” at her house, she said, “He loafed everywhere.” And then Silver Bay was read into the record:
“I did live at the Silver Bay Hotel at Lake George. I do not remember the name I lived under; I guess it was Ballou. I will not say that I did not live there as Mrs. Watrous, because I do not remember…
“I was at Silver Bay for one week. Mr. Watrous used to come there every day and take lunch with me. I had a friend there with me, a young lady. He used to drive there every day and have lunch and take me out rowing and driving.”
In the end, the estate won the suit, Rachel Oatman got stuck with the bill and life moved on. But it’s worth keeping an eye on Katherine for a few more years.
In September of 1906, William Sanderson Brown sued for divorce, his attorneys noting, “It is alleged by Brown that when the marriage ceremony was performed in Hoboken he was not in a condition to know the significance of passing events.” Indeed, although Mrs. Brown held a valid marriage certificate, the couple had never announced their marriage or lived together.
Mrs. Brown counter-sued, saying her husband begged to keep the marriage secret lest his father disinherit him, and that Mr. Brown had been unfaithful to her. In the end, Mr. Brown was granted his divorce and Mrs. Ballou received another cash settlement. As a part of the deal, she promised to go to Europe and stay there, and also “to refrain from in any way reminding Mr. Brown of her existence.”
In May of 1913, Katherine made one more appearance on the front page. Her daughter, Katherine Cecile Belden, sued E. Clarence Jones, a banker, for breach of promise, saying he had failed in his promise to marry her. The paper noted, “Miss Belden, who brings the suit, is the daughter of Mrs. Kathryn Ballou-Watrous-Fleckner-Brown-Travers.” A few months later, Miss Belden, when announcing her engagement to another man, said she hadn’t realized the Jones lawsuit would actually go to court and thought it would be settled quietly. Her mother’s experience should have told her otherwise.
“’Beautiful for situation,’ is the universal exclamation of those who come to the Silver Bay Hotel on the banks of Lake George. All its beauty has been made yet more attractive by the stimulating uses to which the hotel has been put by its generous proprietor, Mr. Silas H. Paine. The series of conferences held at this historic point during the summer for college girls, Young Women’s Association workers, Young Men’s Christian Association leaders, and the missionary conferences, have given it the character of a convention resort.”
– “The Silver Bay Conference” by Secretary Charles H. Daniels, D.D. in The Missionary Herald, September 1902
I confess to never having heard the phrase “Beautiful for situation” exclaimed by anyone, ever, at Silver Bay, much less universally, but it did prompt me to look for an explanation, which came from Psalm 48:2, in the King James Version, “Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King.”
“As I write, the songs of the various college delegations are borne in turn to me from the green before the hotel; every evening the girls gather there immediately after dinner in delegation groups and spring on one another their new songs, chiefly in celebration of Silver Bay, which they have prepared during the year; each evening, too, some dramatic stunt, of the burlesque order usually, is offered by one of the delegations…
“Just now the hundreds of clear, blending voices are singing together the Silver Bay song to the tune of ‘A Perfect Day:’
“Tis the hour when gather as one big clan
When the sun sinks low in the west,
And the night creeps down o’er the mountain tops
As we sing songs we love the best;
“Though our Alma Maters receive our praise
For the gifts we can never repay,
We learn right here of a broader love,
Tis the Spirit of Silver Bay.
“For at Silver Bay all good-will abounds
And we meet on common ground;
As the years go by we shall not forget
The friends that we have found;
“Come cheer Silver Bay as the shadows fall
Let us think what we mean when we say
That the spirit of Love means a world of peace
Tis the Spirit of Silver Bay.
– From a letter written by the Rev. Francis T. Brown of Yonkers, N.Y., excerpted in The Yonkers Statesman, July 6, 1916.
They met at college and fell in love. One was a teacher and the other a student. And both were women.
The professor, Mary Emma Woolley, taught Bible history and literature at Wellesley College. The student, Jeannette Augustus Marks, was 12 years her junior. At first, each was afraid to tell the other how she felt. But in 1900, Mary was offered the presidency of Mount Holyoke College, and the prospect of separation forced them to speak, and to discover that they both felt the same way. After Jeannette’s graduation, they were together for more than 50 years.
It was not always easy. Upon her arrival at Mount Holyoke, Mary created a teaching position for Jeannette, who began as an English instructor. Although the women had separate quarters, students and faculty members talked. Jeannette, fortunately, was the real deal, a prolific writer who published 20 books in her lifetime and created a theater group on campus. And Mary was revered as a scholar and administrator. During her 36-year presidency, she led efforts with other women’s colleges to raise funds, academic standards and public support for women’s education. Mount Holyoke became one of the best colleges in the U.S. as she built a strong faculty, attracting scholars from prestigious schools.
The two women summered at Jeannette’s family home, Fleur De Lys, on Lake Champlain, probably the one place they could truly be themselves. And their mutual devotion did not dissuade the YWCA from inviting Mary to speak at Silver Bay summer conferences; she did so on at least three occasions, in 1903, 1919 and 1926.
Sadly, Mary Woolley’s time at Mount Holyoke ended badly. Male trustees felt the college had been “overfeminized” and insisted upon appointing a man as president after Woolley’s retirement. Woolley never visited the campus again. She moved to Fleur De Lys and lived there with Jeannette until her death in 1947. Marks died there in 1964 at the age of 88.
* * *
Mary Emma Woolley holds a special place in my heart because of her Brown University M.A. thesis, “The Early History of the Colonial Post Office.” And Jeannette must have been great fun; here are two quotes from one of her books, Vacation Camping for Girls (1913):
“In the autumn I camped alone for two weeks in a log cabin. I say alone. I was not alone, for I had three friends with me – a collie puppy, a blind fawn, and a year-old cat. There were the best of companions—for better I could not have asked. I never heard a word of faultfinding, and I was witness to a great deal of joy. It is a curious fact about camp life that if a girl has weak places in her character, if she is selfish or peevish or faultfinding or untidy, these weaknesses will come out. But my four-footed friends were good nature itself, young, growing, happy, contented.”
“Don’t cut your foot with an axe. It will not add to the pleasures of camp life.”