|The shape of things to come:
more scandals for the White family
I couldn’t understand why John Jay White, Jr. and his wife Grace, glittering New Yorkers with indisputable ancestry, decamped to Washington, D.C. in 1908.
Certainly, Washington had great appeal.
President Theodore Roosevelt and his wife Edith had banished the gloom, transforming the capital with modern manners both aristocratic and democratic. Progressive politics livened the discourse and expanded the realm of women activists.
Yet Grace and Jack would seem to belong in their Fifty-Seventh Street brownstone, or in Bar Harbor in the summer, or visiting their unhappily-married daughter Louise at her millionaire husband’s home at Blue Point, Long Island.
Born in New York City in 1861, “Jack” White and his two sisters and two brothers would inherit a fortune upon their father’s death in 1903, but for years before the windfall it was not necessary for any of them to have paid income. Most of the time Jack occupied himself with a few interrelated hobbies.
Around 1890, Jack and Grace started traveling together
through the western U.S. They joined the Women’s National Indian Association,
formed in 1879 to oppose the white settlement of the Oklahoma Indian Territory.* Captivated by Native
American design, the couple began collecting art and objects. Their collection
now resides at the National Museum of the American Indian.
|Parfleche saddle bag, Cheyenne, around 1900
(National Museum of the American Indian,
gift of John J. White, Jr.)
Increasingly, while Grace stayed in New York City where she volunteered as a public-school inspector, Jack went off to visit tribal leaders and officials with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He spent some time in Yellowstone National Park. Several of his photographs and articles appeared in popular magazines.
White's photographs of the construction of a lodge
Collecting wampum belts, Jack grew interested in currency. He became a booster of the American Numismatic Society and a member of the American Anthropological Association soon after its founding in 1902.
Surely the scholars in these fields regarded Jack as a dilettante but he took himself seriously.
Jack came by his third hobby, shooting big game in the
American West and East Africa, when wealthy men began the tradition of trophy
hunting during the 1890s.
|Jack White is at the far right in this photograph, which appeared in an article he wrote for Forest and Stream, 1910.
Unfortunately, Jack wasn’t well in mind or body, according to the masseur who treated him on Friday, September 20, 1907 at the Whites’ home in New York City. The house had been boarded up for the summer and Grace installed in Maine, but she unexpectedly walked through the front door at the very moment that the corpse was being removed by employees of the burial company.
It was a suicide, the masseur reported. The 40-year old woman, Marguerite Carter, lived in a studio on Twenty-Ninth Street where Jack visited often and paid the rent. With Grace’s approval, Marguerite often nursed Jack when he was drunk and upset. It was an arrangement that seemed to work all around, and Jack’s doctor, George V. Foster of New York Hospital, relied on Marguerite to care for his patient.
Grace told the Evening World: “I knew Mrs. Carter. I met her through charitable work. She was undoubtedly insane. There was nothing wrong between her and my husband. She called here to see him and when he would not see her, she killed herself.”
Marguerite had arrived around 8 in the evening with a
package she wished to give Jack personally. The masseur blocked Jack’s bedroom
door but Marguerite waited around. Finally, at 4 in the morning she shot
herself through the head. The package turned out to contain two $100 bills, a
pair of gold cufflinks, and a receipt for $700.
While Marguerite’s friends viewed her body and accompanied it to a crematorium, Jack suffered a breakdown. Dr. Foster came to the rescue. He was a great help to the Whites, fending off a police investigation that was launched when correspondence disappeared from Marguerite’s apartment under mysterious circumstances.
The doctor asked the coroner to write a letter stating that Marguerite’s death had been a suicide. He explained that the Whites wished to leave town and wanted an assurance they would not be stopped.
Now I understand why Grace and Jack moved to Washington in 1908.
|White accompanied Rainsford, rector of St. George's Church
in Manhattan, on several trophy hunts to Africa.
Four years later, their daughter Louise would follow Marguerite by taking her own life. Not a single reference to the 1907 scandal appeared in the extensive newspaper coverage that followed.
In 1914 Jack moved permanently to London and Grace carried on the pursuit of peace and women’s rights. He died in 1923 and she in 1937.
While Jack could be considered a philanthropist and Grace an off-kilter altruist, they are reminiscent of Daisy and Tom Buchanan, immortalized by F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby:
“They were careless people . . . they smashed up
things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast
carelessness . . .”
|Rainsford with his trophy, 1909
*Unfortunately, the WNIA also advocated for Indian boarding schools and the Dawes Act, both devastating to Native American culture and community.