Thursday, January 28, 2016

Mr. & Mrs. Bernard H. Ridder

Mount Vernon, N.Y., 1910

After her father’s death, Nellie’s life meandered along. There she is, in the social pages of the Mount Vernon papers, the guest at numerous lawn parties for children. 

It’s pleasant to imagine her chasing bubbles from out of the shadows near the deep porches where adults, including her mother’s patron, spoke quietly.

The city’s first treasurer who subsequently became postmaster and vice president of the First National Bank of Mount Vernon, Clarence S. McClellan served as co-administrator of Daniel Hickey’s estate because Hickey died without a will. Claiming “no business experience,” Hickey’s widow petitioned the court for McClellan, a calm man with a large mustache, to join her.

As guardian of her underage children, Ellen Hickey would provide to the Surrogate’s Court an annual report of expenses made on her youngest daughter’s behalf until Nellie turned 21 in 1908.

In the meantime, the pince-nez’d Reverend Flynn, who had presided at Daniel Hickey Sr.’s funeral, watched over Nellie at the Sacred Heart Convent. There she struggled with catechism. Nellie had distractions.

Records of Surrogate’s Court show that Nellie sought medical attention at least twice monthly. Ellen Hickey must have felt both stricken and annoyed each time Nellie visited the doctor, which necessitated hiring a carriage. One can’t help but imagine Victorian-style woman’s troubles.

Robert Howe, M.D.                                   $  6.00
Wm. Stump, M.D.                                     $  3.00
Jos. J. Sinnott, M.D.
Services at Hospital                     $157.14
Visit                                                    15.00
Visit                                                     6.00
Visit                                                   40.00
Dr. J.J. Higgins
              Visit                                               $   5.00
              Visit                                               $ 10.00
J.J. Thomson, M.D.                                 $   5.00
It’s fair to conclude that Dr. Joseph John Sinnott – a young surgeon who graduated from Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1903 – performed an operation on Nellie when she was 21 years old.  

Dr. Sinnott might have made a good husband for Nellie but her mother likely hoped for a man who would amass greater wealth. To that end, Ellen Hickey invested persistently in her daughter’s appearance and social standing:

Mrs. H. Fowler, dressmaker                 $   6.00
A.S. Clark, dressmaking                         $ 55.19
Rosen & Yale, tailor                                $  2.00
M. Jenks, dressmaker                             $20.47
B. Altman & Co.                                       $35.45

M. Kereng, dressmaker                           $  7.25
R.H. Macy, dry goods                              $  4.44
Stern Brothers, trimmings                     $  2.04
Ufland Millinery Co.                                $22.00
The Manhattan hat shop owned by Moe Ufland was known widely for its extravagant creations: crown of French-blue fancy straw, having the side-crown covered with black poppy leaves, two black spires upstanding at the left back, as described in the Millinery Trade Review in 1914.

Trimmed up and unchaperoned, Nellie was sent off to mingle in places where she might find a husband. In Larchmont, N.Y., she stayed at the stylish Bevan House one block from the beach along Long Island Sound; at Lakewood, N.J., she luxuriated at the Laurel-in-the-Pines Hotel, a winter resort where trains purportedly arrived every 20 minutes from New York City. 

She wasn’t a gold-digger – the term came into use in 1915 to describe working-class women and showgirls who sought wealthy husbands – but it’s easy to imagine Nellie dressing for dinner, lounging in the lobby, hoping to catch someone’s eye.

Hotel Laurel-in-the-Pines, circa 1900 

That person would be Bernard H. Ridder, the newly-divorced son of the publisher of the Staats-Zeitung, the nation’s largest German language weekly newspaper. Bernard and Nellie Hickey eloped on December 31, 1915, two months after the death of Ridder’s father.

The old man did not leave his sons in a good spot. The company had lost money through risky investments in typesetting equipment, although Bernard and his brothers would get it back on track and build it into the large newspaper corporation, Ridder Publications. 

Meantime, back in Mount Vernon, Nellie’s mother moved to the nicer side of town. Eventually Daniel Hickey, Jr. followed their deceased father into politics, becoming a ward supervisor, supervisor of elections, and State Tax Appraiser. He and his siblings continued to live at home.

So the question is: how did Nellie and Bernard come to know each other?  

Very likely they met in 1915, through efforts to create a nationwide organization called Friends of Peace, which opposed U.S. entry to World War I. Its immediate demands were that the U.S. stop exporting ammunition to England and that England lift its blockade of German boats. Bernard Ridder and his father were among the group’s organizers.

In September 1915, Friends of Peace held its first big meeting, a two-day convention, in Chicago. 

Many who attended – including Nellie – were Americans of German and Irish descent who opposed any alliance between the U.S. and England. Labor unions considered joining in, but were scared off by the anti-U.S. rhetoric. 

In this way, Friends of Peace differed from pacifist groups like the Woman’s Peace Party.

One wonders what lesson Bernard Ridder took away from World War I, after which the family fell under suspicion for publishing pro-German propaganda. Two decades later, he would be drawn to Germany after Hitler rose to power, going so far as to meet and publish a sympathetic interview with the Fuhrer.

By that time, Bernard had divorced Nell.

See January 20 + January 24, 2016 posts.

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