Thursday, December 3, 2015

BOISSEVAIN | Reunion April 16-17 Amsterdam (Updated March 26, 2016)

December 3, 2015

Dear Relatives!

We so far have received 40 registrations for the reunion. (As of March 16, 2016, the number has risen to 120.) Many relatives from outside the Netherlands have signed up. Therefore we ask residents of Holland to put the date in their calendar and register via the email address below.

For catering and organizational reasons we would like to know ahead of time how many people we need to accommodate. Fairly soon we will provide a list with the names of the relatives who will definitely participate.

The M.V. Boissevain at work in 1961, evacuating people from a volcano.
A 1991 stamp.
Tentative Program
Saturday, April 16

1 PM Welcome, tea, coffee (covered by registration fee) 

2 PM Formal reunion meeting
  • news about the Boissevain Foundation
  • short reading about maritime Boissevains
  • present Boissevain Award
  • practise Boissevain Song
  • auction of Boissevain books
3-5 PM  Drinks & bites (covered by registration fee)

6 PM Dinner (paid by participants'  credit cards or cash)

Sunday April 17

Visit to Pampus Island

The fort on Pampus Island was commissioned in 1895 and was armed with four Krupp 240mm (9.5") guns deployed in two hydraulically operated cupolas of two guns each. Electric lifts brought shells and cartridges up from the magazines on the ground floor. These guns fired a shell weighing about two-thirds of a short ton (280 kg) for a range of up to eight km. Each gun had a crew of an NCO and six gunners, who could get off one shot every six minutes. Pampus was one of only four forts in the Amsterdam Defence Line armed with large-caliber guns. The other three forts were the forts near IJmuiden, Velsen, and Spijkerboor. The island was restored in 2004 and is a much-praised-by-TripAdvisor half-day trip.

Reunion Fee

The Jantjes and Charletjes in 2006. The grandson of 
Charles Boissevain is holding the card. Aviva
 is behind him to his right.
The charges for the drinks, dinner and Sunday program will be paid at the time with credit cards or cash. 

The Boissevain Foundation only charges a basic amount–10 (ten) euros per participant, which includes tea/coffee at 1 PM and drinks & bites after 3 pm on Saturday. Children up to 12 years old are free. 

This is because we want as many relatives to be present for as many events as possible, even if they can come just for a short time.


Registration has started. Please let us know which part of the program you will attend and how many people.


T: +

Annemie, Aviva, Barbera and Charles Boissevain

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


This post was devoted to an unusual letter that was being posted for the family for the first time 95 years later, because of its emotional nature of the content.

Some of the descendants of Robert (Robby) Walrave Boissevain (1872-1938) and Rosie Phibbs (1875-1937) are still sad about the fact that Robert left his wife Rosie and their six children behind in Holland and moved to England and then to the United States in search of a new career and a new life.

This post has been merged with another one and is kept up to preserve links.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

BOISSEVAIN Gen7 | Eugen–Tough and Tender (Updated Dec. 8, 2016)

Edna St. Vincent Millay and Eugen 
Boissevain. Married in 1923, he died in 1949, 
same year as his sister Olga, my grandmother. 
Edna died in 1950. 
Nov. 8, 2016 update – The questions posed below are starker now that we have lived through a long and dark campaign between a New Woman with a long career in public service and a man who speaks of women in coarse terms.

Nov. 17, 2015–If the New Woman is one  who can do anything and is free to make her own choices among many options, how describe the corresponding New Man?

It's not so clear. Fatherhood is getting new respect, especially when the Mother is on the company CEO track.

We may know it when we see it. People Magazine, seeking to award the title of Sexiest Man Alive, has selected "tough and tender" David Beckham. Queen Elizabeth II seems to agree with the selection.

Multiple Male Masculinities

The "tough and tender" label fits the theory of multiple "male masculinities".  "Maleness" characteristics can appear to be contradictory:
  • A "real" man is a warrior, someone who shows no weakness or fear in the face of danger, and who protects his family.
  • But a good man is compassionate and empathetic, as in a gentleman or priestly figure–a listener who respects the fears of others and seeks to help at the deepest level.
Sexy=Tough &
There should be no contradiction. Someone who is good to have around the house needs to show two faces: a public one, ready to do skilled battle with hostile outsiders, and a private one ready to show empathy to insiders, the denizens of the place.

Hence the attractiveness of the gruff man like Darcy who shows his soft heart warily to the woman he loves.

It's hard in real life to find men who fully combine these seeming opposites. We may just see only one face. Or a man's public face is cowardly in the face of having to decide between two unattractive financial choices, or having to go through all the paperwork for the annual tax filing. Or he is beastly unappreciative about something his partner has prepared for him.

Men Who Supported Genius Wives

Laura Miller went on a hunt for "men who supported genius [women]"–i.e.,  the Great Literary Husband. She had better luck than Diogenes did in his hunt for an Honest Man. As reported in Salon in February 2014, Miller picks out Virginia Woolf's husband Leonard, and certifies him as Great Literary Husband #1. Next, she considers George Henry Lewes, who was good to George Eliot; but the two of them weren't married to each other, so Lewes gets the thumbs-down.

Finally, Miller finds Eugen Boissevain, who was married and devoted to two literary women, Inez Milholland and Edna St. Vincent Millay... and not at the same time. Miller makes him Great Literary Husband #2, and then ends her quest. Two men, Leonard and Eugen. Woolf and Boissevain, rarae aves.

What Was So Special about Eugen Boissevain? 

On August 8, 2015 I talked with an expert on American landmarks, Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel. She could see Eugen Boissevain as a landmark husband, and asked me:
What was it about Mr. Boissevain that attracted these two women, Inez and Edna?
Her question has interested me. Eugen's two marriages were very different. However, in both he balanced the two qualities of strength and empathy, warrior and priest. A successful businessman, marketplace warrior, with feeling. The physical and emotional needs of his two wives were very different. Eugen was brave and focused in facing them. For example:
  • He forgave them both in advance for any indiscretions with other lovers and told them he would battle to win them back. Inez used this Get Out of Jail Card once and found herself unexpectedly distressed by her own infidelity. Edna used it many times, with little apparent concern on either side.
  • In Inez's case he told her he was prepared to follow her into the next life when she died. It was her wish that he live on and find someone else.
  • In Edna's case he was prepared to take addictive drugs as a way to a better understanding of her persistent addictions.
These offers were not easy to make. They required from Eugen a combination of tenderness in understanding his wife's needs and a toughness in facing death or addiction. Eugen was unafraid of what he might find out about himself when he hiked up to see Carl Jung and went through the wringer with him. Jung himself appears braver and more honest than Freud if, as reported, Jung was willing to be analyzed by Freud, but Freud was unwilling to be analyzed by Jung.

We know that Guglielmo Marconi was in love with Inez Milholland and was engaged to her until his mother forbade the marriage. Marconi passed Inez on to Eugen, according to my mother: "You are strong enough for this woman. I am not." Inez's father was crushed that she did not marry Marconi, but the Irish woman Marconi did marry (with the blessing, this time, of his Irish mother) led a lonely life because Marconi readily chose working on his radio to being with her. Inez said something like: "The radio is wonderful but I wouldn't want to be married to it."

Upton Sinclair and many other men also swooned over Inez. Edmund Wilson, Max Eastman and uncountable young poets were in love with Edna. Eugen went after both of these women with determination.

Why did Inez, a feminist whose friends did not expect her to marry at all, decide that Eugen was the man for her so quickly in 1913? Why did Edna pick him in 1923? [It is my intent to write a fuller story about this. I have been preoccupied with a biography of Will Woodin and the story of the Boissevains.]

Eugen Boissevain
Married well and then again.
First Inéz, for the women's vote,
Then 'twas Edna, the poet to quote.
(Clerihew by JT Marlin.)

Eugen Boissevain's Childhood and Education

Oom Eugen is what my mother called her Uncle Eugen Jan Boissevain. He was married to two of the best-loved women of the first half of the 20th Century.

Eugen Jan Boissevain was born on May 20, 1880 in Amsterdam. His father was the editor of the Algemeen Handelsblad, the leading Dutch newspaper of the late 19th-early 20th century. Charles' father was from a Huguenot family that escaped from the Dordogne after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV.

His mother Emily Heloise MacDonnell was from an Anglo-Irish family in Dublin. Emily's mother – Emily Moylan MacDonnell – could trace her ancestors back to Edward III via two out-of-wedlock births. Emily McDonnell was a remarkable woman who lived all her life in Holland without ever giving up her English language or her Irish ways that Dutch considered wild or at best unconventional. My mother called her grandmother "an Irish rose among the tulips".

Like his other siblings, Eugen was brought up at Drafna, in Naarden-Bussum to the east of Amsterdam, early on by Polly, the family nurse and governess, and then by tutors, and finally in a private school.

As a youth, Eugen was a noted rower, having gotten as far as the Henley Regatta, the World Series of rowing. He was urged to contend for the Diamond Sculls, the stiffest of rowing competitions.

Through a connection of his father Charles, who had published a diary of his visit to the United States, Eugen visited President Theodore Roosevelt at the White House in 1901 and developed an affection for America. In 1912 he started working for Guglielmo Marconi, who had been engaged to marry Inez Milholland and was dissuaded by his Irish mother (related to Eugen's mother), who feared he would emigrate to the United States.

Marriage to Inez Milholland

On his second visit to the United States in 1913, Eugen met Inez and decided to follow the example of his brother Robert and make his home in America. Robert was the first of four children to emigrate to the United States and worked first as a shipping manager for United Fruit (now Chiquita) and then did his own importing from Java of coffee and other products, a business that became very successful.

Eugen met Inez through his brother Robert and through Marconi. Inez and Guglielmo were engaged for a few months after a whirlwind romance on the first Cunard liner to have a wireless-based newspaper.

Eugen and Inez, c. 1914. That is not their daughter.
They did not have children.
During dinner at the Holland House in New York in 1913, Eugen was smitten by Inez and, like Marconi, initiated a whirlwind shipboard courtship. But this time it was Inez who proposed, before the Mauretania steamed into London. They married on July 14 in London, at the Registry in Kensington. They intended to keep the marriage secret and have another formal wedding later, but someone spilled the beans and Inez's father learned of the marriage by reading about it on the front page of The New York Times. Its editorial called Inez "the fairest of the Amazons" and said that the suffragette Milholland was nabbed by "a Hollander".

Inez said she proposed to Eugen three times on board the Mauretania in 1913 before he agreed to a "secret" wedding in London.

Three years later she reportedly died of what would be called today a Vitamin B12 deficiency, but no one knew then what that was.

However, she could have died of the medicines she received on her whistle-stop tour in 1916, with her sister,Vida. Various doctors prescribed doses of strychnine and arsenic. Cumulatively these treatments could have been fatal medicines.

She was also given blood transfusions that could have carried illnesses. She died after a six-week illness in a Los Angeles hospital with her agonized father and husband by her side, competing for her last moments and then for the care of her body, which was brought back to her birthplace in Lewis, N.Y. and is buried there. I have visited the grave site.

Eugen as a Widower, 1916-1923

After Inez's death, Eugen plunged into seven years of money-making, fundraising for progressive causes, and being active on the New York social scene. He would not remarry for seven years.

Eugen was connected with  Mary Elo Pinchot Meyer, daughter of Amos Pinchot (younger brother of Pennsylvania Gov. Gifford Pinchot) and Ruth Pickering Pinchot.

Amos was a funder of Max Eastman's radical-left journal The Masses and a founder of the ACLU. Like the very different G.K. Chesterton, Amos championed the rights of individuals and small groups against excessive power, private or public. Ruth was Amos' second wife; they married in 1919. After studying at Vassar and Columbia, she became a journalist and worked for The MassesThe Nation and New Republic. She was also very active in the woman suffrage movement.

Florence Deshon and Max Eastman. Eastman introduced
her to Charlie Chaplin and Deshon became Chaplin's lover
for a while. Both Eastman and Chaplin had space in Eugen's
home on St. Luke's Place during his 1916-23 widowerhood.
For many years–between the death of Inez Milholland in 1916 and Eugen's marriage to Edna St. Vincent Millay in 1923 – Ruth "shared a house" with Max Eastman, his sister Crystal Eastman, and Eugen Boissevain (I believe that Eugen owned the house and they rented from him).

Crystal, Inez, Edna and Ruth were all Vassar graduates. Crystal and Inez both attended NYU Law School. (Inez was admitted by the Harvard Law School faculty to study there in 1909, but the administration overruled the faculty, a story told by Phyllis Eckhaus in the Harvard Magazine.

Inez married Boissevain in 1913 but died tragically three years later while on a campaign against Woodrow Wilson for not supporting what was called the Anthony Amendment. After her death, and after a delegation of the National Woman's Party was belittled by Wilson, he changed his mind and supported the amendment. It became the 19th Amendment in 1920.)

Amos and Ruth Pinchot had two children - Mary Elo Pinchot, who married Cord Meyer, and Antoinette ("Tony") Pinchot, who married Washington Post Publisher Benjamin C. Bradlee.

By his first wife, née Gertrude Minturn, Amos Pinchot had two prior children, Rosamond Pinchot and her younger brother Gifford ("Long Giff") Pinchot (not to be confused with their uncle the forestry pioneer and Governor of Pennsylvania). Their cousin was Edie Sedgwick, the sunny center of the group that formed around Andy Warhol.

This photo is identified elsewhere
 as Mary Pinchot, but "Stepper"
says it is model Lee Miller (muse
of Man Ray), war correspondent
 and food writer for Britain's Vogue.
Regular visitors to the Amos-and-Ruth-Pinchot home included Mabel Dodge, Max and Crystal Eastman, Louis Brandeis and Harold Ickes.

Mary Pinchot was a smart (Brearley and Vassar) and beautiful socialite. Her sister Antoinette (Tony) Pinchot married Washington Post publisher Ben Bradlee.

Mary was adventurous. She reportedly took LSD with Timothy Leary at Harvard in 1962, the year I graduated (Leary and I were on the front page of the Harvard Crimson in different stories on the same day).

Mary Pinchot met her husband Cord Meyer when he was a U.S. Marine Lieutenant. He became a World War II hero, losing an eye. But he became a pacifist after he left military service.

Mary P. at Vassar.
They married and both were at the creation of the U.N. in San Francisco in 1945 (as was my father, E. R. Marlin, who was there to represent the Budget Bureau).

A  few years later, worried about the spread of Communism, Meyer worked for the CIA's Operation Mockingbird under Allen Dulles. The couple had three children, but the middle child was killed in an auto accident and one fallout from that seems to have been that the marriage ended in divorce.

Mary Pinchot two years before
her death.
Pinchot is said to have used marijuana or LSD or both with JFK in the White House. JFK reportedly wanted to marry her during his presidency.

In October 1964 she was killed professionally (one bullet to the head, one to the heart, at point-blank range) walking on the C&O towpath in Washington. Details of the unsolved murder are here and a brief video is here.

Mentioned by Burleigh on the same page of her book as Eugen Boissevain are Max Eastman and Inez Milholland. Also mentioned in the book is Edna St. Vincent Millay, Eugen's second wife, who grew up in Maine.

Boissevain & Co.

Eugen worked with his brothers Robert and Jan Boissevain, important coffee from Java. From 1917 to 1928, money-making seemed to be easy. The Dutch had the edge in Indonesia, and coffee-drinkers wanted Java coffee. The markup was huge. Eugen said he couldn't believe how much people were willing to pay for the lowly coffee bean.

The S.S. Boissevain was named for the three brothers, who operated their business as Boissevain & Co. Eugen's older brother Robert was the first to emigrate to the United States and lived in upstate New York on a chicken farm. Jan married an actress and they moved to the Cap d'Antibes in the French Rivera. According to Max Eastman, Eugen raised the money for John Reed to go to Russia as a reporter during the time of the Russian Revolution.

Eugen lived in New York City on St. Luke's Place. His tenants included Max Eastman and Charlie Chaplin ("le Charlot").

Eugen was described as follows by Alyse Powys, in the dedication of his novel Impassioned Clay to Eugen, as quoted in Nancy Milford's Savage Beauty (p. 318):
Handsome, reckless, mettlesome as a stallion breathing the first morning air, he would laugh at himself, indeed laugh at everything, with a laugh that scattered melancholy as the wind scatters the petals of the fading poppy. ... One day his house would be that of a citizen of the world, with a French butler to wait on the table and everything done with the greatest bienséance, the next the servants would have as mysteriously disappeared as bees from a deserted hive, and he would be out in the kitchen washing the dishes and whistling a haunting Slavic melody, as light-hearted as a troubadour. He had the gift of the aristocrat and could adapt himself to all circumstances. ... His blood was testy, adventurous, quixotic, and he faced life as an eagle faces its flight.
Eugen Boissevain and his four brothers and their
mother, Emily Heloise MacDonnell Boissevain.
Eugen went into business with two of his brothers,
Robert and Jan. 
Eugen's Best Friends

Five men loom large in the period of Eugen's widowerhood:
  • His brothers Robert and Jan Boissevain worked with him to build up Boissevain & Co. into a major business, buying coffee in Java and shipping it to New York City. A steamship was named after them. They had a fleet at their disposal and a top-floor office in the Whitehall Building in lower Manhattan. 
  • Max Eastman, editor of The Masses, was engaged in anti-war activities until the U.S. Post Office essentially shut down his magazine. Eastman stayed in Eugen's house on St. Luke's Place in Manhattan, presumably a tenant. Eastman later writes glowingly about his friendship with Eugen in his book Great Companions. The circle around Eastman that included Inez Milholland and Eugen also included Sherwood Anderson, Eugene O'Neill (whose daughter Oona married Charlie Chaplin), Upton Sinclair (who had a crush on Inez), Amy Lowell, Mabel Dodge, Floyd Dell, Carl Sandburg, Crystal Eastman and Boardman Robinson.  
  • John (Jack) Reed (Harvard '10) was part of the group clustered around The Masses. In 1915 he met the leftist journalist Louise Bryant. He said: "She is coming to New York to get a job with me, I hope. I think she's the first person I ever loved without reservation." They were married that year. They spent that summer in Provincetown, at the tip of Cape Cod, with a group of other writers from Greenwich Village that included Floyd Dell and Theodore Dreiser.  Several of them established the Provincetown Theatre Group at the end of a wharf.  Bryant wrote: "Never were so many people in America who wrote or painted or acted ever thrown together in one place." Other writers like Eugene O'Neill and Edna St. Vincent Millay joined the group in later years. Reed sought money to go to Russia in 1917 to cover the Russian Revolution. Eugen spoke with some of his New York City friends and, according to Eastman, was the person who arranged Reed's funding. Reed wrote back with enthusiastic reports: "I have seen the future." He died in Moscow of an illness in 1920 and is one of only two Americans buried in the Kremlin wall, the other being Bill Haywood, who was Chairman of the American Communist Party and died in 1928 in Moscow.
  • Charlie Chaplin was also a resident of Eugen's house. Born in 1889 four days before Adolf Hitler (his first film with dialog would be The Great Dictator, in which he made fun of Hitler). Chaplin would have been 27 years old when Eugen became a widower in 1916. He was already becoming very well known. In 1917, Chaplin signed with Mutual for $10,000 a week, plus a $150,000 bonus under a contract that required him to make 12 films annually with creative control. In 1918, he signed with First National for $1 million for eight films.  Chaplin founded United Artists Corporation in 1919 with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and director D.W. Griffith. Chaplin after World War II was accused of Communist sympathies and left the United States. He returned in 1972 for a special Academy Award for “the incalculable effect he has had on making motion pictures the art for and of this century.” The Queen in 1975 knighted him Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin. He lived two more years.
I am still poking around among source materials for this period of Eugen's life – including some unique letters that have been entrusted to me to put into context – and would welcome contact with anyone else who is doing research in this area.
Marriage  to Edna St. Vincent Millay

In 1923, Eugen attended a party of two friends in Croton-on-Hudson where the guests were asked to engage in skits. He was paired with Edna in a charade about city slickers tricked by sly country bumpkins. They were hilarious and they enjoyed each other's performances. This was their first real meeting (a prior meeting with Edna and Norma was perfunctory). The scene, in which two people fell in love in front of an audience, has been written about in several places.

Edna and Eugen were inseparable after that. They were married later that year at Croton-on-Hudson, New York, in a ceremony performed just before she underwent a serious operation. Eugen had been looking after Edna for some time before their marriage.

Eugen continued his business of importing coffee from Java with his two brothers until the Crash of 1929. They also dealt in sugar and copra imports. After 1929, he retired and focused on supporting the career of his wife as a writer and public reader of poetry.

A bio of Edna reports that the farm at Austerlitz was purchased by both Edna and Eugen. If they both chipped in money, the proportions would have been uneven. She was not well off in 1923, despite her Pulitzer Prize, and he prospered greatly since the death of Inez in 1916. The family was well entrenched in the banking and shipping business in Holland – something that was still very important in the 1920s.

Eugen came to own a house on St. Luke's Place on the Lower East Side in New York City that was at the center of progressive activity and then the Jazz Age after World War I – Eugen's tenants or housemates included Max Eastman and Charlie Chaplin. Eugen still owned in in 1921, when his brother Robert (Robbie) stayed there. Selling that house would have been enough to buy up a lot of property in the Adirondacks in 1923.

Eugen Jan Boissevain's grave, in the Millay Colony.
He bought the property in 1923. Photo © by JT Marlin.
Yet at the Millay Colony grave site, when I visited in about 1978 with my wife Alice Tepper Marlin, the graves of Eugen and Edna were labeled on the map of the Millay Colony as "the Millay graves". No mention of the non-Millay at the center of the acquisition of the 600+-acre property.

The chatelaine of the estate, Norma Millay Ellis, had no love of Eugen because during his lifetime he guarded Edna from Norma.

According to my mother Hilda van Stockum, who had good sources (Eugen and Hilda's brother Willem were good friends), Edna banned any other woman but herself from setting foot on their Ragged Island on the coast of Maine. It was strictly off-limits to other females. I was told by my mother that Edna asked Eugen to enforce the ban on any other women showing up. Eugen asked her: "No other woman? What about Norma?" Edna answered: "Especially Norma."

Norma describes Eugen in her Introduction to Edna's Collected Sonnets as a "Dutch importer", which was Bunny Wilson's description of him in The Twenties. Wilson meant it as a put-down, showing his jealousy of a rival for Edna. Norma may have repeated the description for the same reason. But Boissevain & Co. was more than an importing business – it was a shipping company, in a family that had been in shipping for more than a century, with more than one ship named after the family.

Like most investors in American business, Eugen's net worth took a nosedive in 1929, the reported year of his retirement in his New York Times obituary. He turned his attention to becoming Edna's speaking agent to make money in a less risky arena.

Eugen did a good job of booking and Edna did a good job of reading her poetry. She is said to be only one of two U.S. poets in the 20th century who made a living from their poetry, the other being W. H. Auden.
E. L. Bragdon, the long-time Radio Editor
of The New York Sun until 1942, praises 
Eugen's speaking voice. Source: Anne 
Boissevain's photo album.

The Radio Editor of the New York Sun until 1942, E. L. Bragdon, praised Eugen's speaking voice and said he had a natural talent for radio (see clip).

It could be that Bragdon liked the gravelly sound of a smoker, which Eugen was. (He had specialized in selling Turkish tobacco to doctors in 1913.) The smoking doubtless contributed to the fact that Eugen became sick from lung cancer in 1949.

From Steepletop Eugen was taken to Deaconess Hospital in Albany, where the doctors found cancer in his right lung. He rallied from the operation, and appeared to be recovering, but the hospital reported that he then suffered a stroke, which we now know is another side-effect of smoking. He died August 29, 1949, at the hospital.

The NY Times says he was survived by "a brother, and four sisters, in Europe". Only Jan, I think, survived him. Several of his siblings and their spouses died during World War II. His sister Olga, my grandmother, died the same year he did, in Montreal. His youngest sister Teau had died years earlier in 1922, so several Boissevain children died way out of birth order.

Edna and Inez - Similarities

Eugen had two marriages that had some common features. Both of his wives were talented, beautiful and famous – and both were impulsive feminists who nonetheless married him For Keeps.

Both marriages took place within weeks of the couple's first connecting. (I'm not counting the first time Eugen met Edna, when her sparkle was dampened by the presence of her not-so-beloved sister Norma, as described by Floyd Dell in Homecoming, 1933. and by me here.) Eugen's story is a good antidote to the hookup culture exemplified by Tinder that is described vividly (don't read this if you have a frail digestive system or are feeling queasy) in an article in Vanity FairIf it were a movie, the article would be rated R or X.  After seven years of bachelorhood, Eugen was married again in 1923, to Edna St. Vincent Millay. She was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Dorothy Parker, one of Edna's many admirers, once said:
Millay did a great deal of harm making poetry seem so easy that we could all do it but, of course, we couldn't.
Both Inez and Edna were feminists. Edna once went to hear Inez speak at Vassar on feminist issues as an alumna. In 1928 Edna dedicated to Inez a feminist poem she had written in 1923.

Neither woman professed interest in marriage. Yet both were aggressively interested in Eugen, who himself professed not to be interested in the institution of marriage.

Differences - American Involvement in Europe's Wars

But they had very different attitudes on some things. My Dutch relatives fell in love with Inez when they met her, and her first name survives in Holland, surely from her connections with Eugen's family. The family was not so keen on Edna personally, although they greatly admired her poetry.

My mother described Eugen's first marriage with Inez as one between "two wild horses galloping together in a field" whereas his second marriage with Edna was one of "slavish devotion, with him carrying her upstairs."

On peace and war, they were polar opposites.
  • Inez was a fierce opponent of the United States joining the Great War in Europe - she had studied in Berlin in preparation for admission to Vassar, and was a pacifist at heart, although a warrior on behalf of women's rights. She sent pacifist reports back from Italy when she was sent there in the summer of 1915 as America's only female war correspondent. As a result, she was declared persona non grata by Italy and she had to leave. 
  • Edna was a fierce advocate of the United States entering World War II once the Nazis invaded Holland, since she had gotten to know many of Eugen's Dutch relatives and took the invasion of Holland personally.
Eugen was equally willing with both of his wives to accept their past and future infidelity. He promised to win them back and he considered it a pleasant challenge.
  • Inez preached free love but during her marriage to Eugen she was unfaithful once and, as is reportedly common among married women who have been unfaithful, felt unexpectedly guilty about it. 
  • Edna wrote poetry about her undying love to many younger male poets (never to two of them at the same time, to my knowledge, but it would not surprise me if I later find out she was writing love poems to two of them at the same time). She thereby may have helped their careers. But in the wake of her addictions to alcohol and drugs, she was in fact indiscriminate in her infidelity.
Despite her prodigality with her sexual favors, Eugen and Edna were married for 26 years, until 1949, when he died after an operation for lung cancer, from a post-operative stroke. (He had been a smoker.) Edna died a year after her husband, in 1950 - she was famously found by a friend, the woman who described herself as the "Postmistress" of the small Austerlitz, N.Y. post office.

The Neglect of Eugen's Memory

Dorothy Stickney as Millay, at
Stanford in 1973.
Looking up Dorothy Stickney's "Lovely Light" one-woman show on Millay's poetry (see 1973 program), I ran across another such show featuring Millay by Julie Carlson, in Mill Valley, Calif.

In April (National Poetry Month) 2014, Carlson read out a collection of Millay's letters and poems.

The Carlson poetry reading is described as "partly the story of two poets", Edna and her life-long friend Arthur Ficke, who lived near Eugen and Edna in Austerlitz:
It is meditation on life, death, passion, art and of course, love, as we follow Miss Millay from the age of 20 to her death in 1950. (My emphasis added.)
Arthur Ficke was a romantic, and, like Lord Byron, a poet who committed suicide. The way these stories are told, that gets Ficke lots of points for passion. George Dillon was another poet with whom Edna had an affair; this one is said to have produced Edna's book of poems, Fatal Interview.

Eugen and Edna, on board ship, c. 1924.
However, the younger poets with whom Edna had affairs were many, and her husband was singular. She always came back to him. He had a passion, Eugen did, for Edna, forgiving her everything in advance. There is a passion - "and of course, love" - in a man who helped her live through her addiction to morphine and offered to join her in taking the drug, just so that he could better understand her addiction.

Pity my great-uncle didn't get even a footnote in the poetry reading announcement. That was a pretty long marriage, the only one for her although many men were crazy about her and wanted her to marry them–like Edmund ("Bunny") Wilson, author of To the Finland Station, whom I met in 1961 in Cambridge, Mass.

My mother told me stories about Edna:
  • That she once asked Eugen to drive back from Harmon to New York City to pick up her satin sheets, and he did it. 
  • That he used to carry her upstairs whenever she felt tired. 
But who wants to listen to a story of a devoted husband, when stories about affairs with lovers are on offer? Ironically, stories of devoted wives like Zelda Fitzgerald and Jane Vonnegut are popular; but there are few signs yet of an equivalent men's liberation audience to support a plain vanilla story of a devoted husband.

Edna St. Vincent Millay and Eugen
Boissevain on their
honeymoon, 1923.
In the biographies of Millay, her infidelities are acknowledged–they were well known–but in one of them Eugen is also identified as having a lover (lovers?) on the side, without further information. I am curious to find a source and name(s) for that.

Such infidelity was not true of his marriage to Inez, who had a one-night infidelity with an Italian soldier when she was a news correspondent in Italy. Eugen laughed off the infidelity (his family motto is Ni regret du passé...), but Inez said later she was surprised by how extreme was her subsequent regret about it.

After Eugen's death, Edna had a nervous breakdown. She was hospitalized and released, but continued to use alcohol heavily and–although off her morphine addiction–took Seconal, a barbiturate, with a prescription.

What makes students of Edna's life think she might have committed suicide in 1950 is that a glass of wine was left upright on the top step of the stairway. When found by her friend the Postmistress, according to Nancy Milford, her head was on top of a notebook page with a penciled draft of one last poem. The final three lines had a ring drawn around them:
I will control myself, or go inside. / I will not flaw perfection with my grief. / Handsome, this day: no matter who has died. / First Fig...
Before she died, Edna wrote Eugen a farewell note: "All I ever did for you was survive you. But that was much."


This post is expanded from what I originally posted as information about my great-uncle Eugen Boissevain on the Boissevain Family website in 1999. Links to other chapters of a planned biography of him in the pipeline are here. If I live long enough. If not, maybe someone else will pick this up. My notes for a bio of Eugen are posted here and here.

Julie Carson Program: Her web site.
Hilda van Stockum Quotes: Personal recollections.
"Millay Graves": Map of the property provided on author's first visit to the Millay Colony in Austerlitz, NY.
Obituary of Eugen Boissevain: New York Times, Aug. 31, 1949.
Quote, Millay's last poem: Nancy Milford, Savage Beauty.
Quote, Alyse Powers: Nancy Milford, Savage Beauty.
Mary Pinchot: Nina Burleigh,  A Very Private Woman, a biography of Mary, p. 40.
Rosamond Pinchot (Mary Pinchot's half-sister): Gaston, Bibi (2009), The Loveliest Woman in America: A Tragic Actress, Her Lost Diaries, and Her Granddaughter's Search for Home, HarperCollins.


Letters of Emily Heloise MacDonnell: See post on this blogsite. I have all the originals of these letters as the executor of my mother's estate.
Album and Certain Letters of Anne Deterling Boissevain, given to her sons Fergus and Alfred and subsequently entrusted to me. They should go eventually to a library or museum with other material on the poetry of Millay or the suffrage contribution of Milholland, or both.

© John Tepper Marlin 2013-2016. For permissions or other information, contact the author at

Related posts: Men's Leagues for Woman Suffrage . EUGEN JAN BOISSEVAIN Posts

INEZ | 5A. Nov. 17, 1915 - Ford Peace Ship

Inez on Ford Peace Ship.
November 17, 2015 – On or about this date, 100 years ago, the Ford Peace Ship was organized. On November 8 an editorial appeared in the Detroit Times noting that 20 national peace organizations – of which the oldest was the 100-year-old American Peace Society – had met in San Francisco the previous month.

The conference was envisioned a year earlier. The plan that emerged from the October conference was to have meetings around the country and then call on President Wilson.

Wilson was not responsive. In fact before the ship left his administration challenged their activity. On November 27 the New York Times on page 1 said that Ford Peace Ship could be prosecuted under Section 6 of the U.S. Penal Code if it attempted to encourage troops to go home.

When business leaders were involved in opposing the Vietnam War, they were therefore picking up on a thread that has goes back at least to 1815 in the United States. It goes back further to Scotland's Adam Smith, who argued that armies and church hierarchies were a burden on economies because they didn't produce anything but extracted the products of other people.

Inez Milholland Boissevain was a good candidate to be involved in Henry Ford's effort to end the War to End All Wars. She was hired in the spring of 2015 by the New York Tribune and Colliers Magazine as a war correspondent in Italy – the first woman to take such a job. However, the Italian government did not like what she was sending back to the United States and she was declared persona non grata.

Ford's idea was to charter a large ship and go to Europe to pursue peace. I have a large file on this topic assembled by someone who started a biography of Inez Milholland and then moved on to another topic.

Inez signed on to the Peace Ship (or "Peace Ark") on November 29. She sent him a telegram  saying "Will come with faith, with hope, and with conviction."

As of late on December 3, all of the participants on the Peace Ship had passports except for Inez Milholland Boissevain, whose passport was denied because she "is married to a foreigner".

Inez eventually made it onto the ship, where she found the organization of the group was a "patriarchy".

The ship, the Oscar II, sailed off with Inez. But by December 26 she decided to leave the ship in Stockholm. A news report of her departure explained:
She said the Ford peace plans had been nebulous and vague and that she realized this before he Oscar II left New York. She had hoped that something definite and concrete might develop in the way of of an idea as to what the expeditionaries intended or even hoped to do, but that nothing of the sort had materialized.
"Instead," said Mrs. Boissevain, "there have been bickerings and misunderstandings."
Henry Ford called it quits in Sweden. He wrote a 1 million kroner check to the Swedish Government and went home.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

BOISSEVAINS | Before 1940 (Updated Dec. 15, 2015)

The posts that are pulled together here tell the story of the Boissevains and a few closely related families – notably the van Halls and van Lenneps. The family flourished in the second half of the 19th century and the first three decades of the 20th. The Kaiser had allowed Holland to remain neutral in the Great War. The Boissevains found out about Hitler's dirty business dealings early because they were personally affected by the bankruptcy of I. G. Farben in 1936. Other members of the family somewhat better positioned overseas, especially those children of Jan and Charles Boissevain who emigrated to the United States, which recovered steadily after 1933. The Dutch expected a blockade as in WWI and were ready for a blockade. They did not plan for an invasion from Germany. Hitler did.

Why the Boissevains Left France (

The Boissevains left the Dordogne in France after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. They were mostly Huguenot business and professional people who lived around Amsterdam. The Ur-Boissevain was Lucas Bouissavy, who married Marthe Roux. Their son Jérémie had a son Gideon Jérémie, whose grandson and namesake (via Daniel) Gideon Jérémie is a central person in the ancestry of the Boissevain family. This Gideon Jérémie had two sons who flourished especially, Jan and Charles.

2 Jan and Charles Boissevain

The 11 children of Charles

Holland had been neutral in the Great War and prospered after it. In the 1920s, the Boissevain and van Hall families were well off relative to the rest of Europe. Amsterdam - One house at Corellistraat 6 was the home of Jan "Canada" Boissevain, whose father has been consul-general for the Netherlands in Montreal. His wife was Mies van Lennep Boissevain. Their children included Gideon Willem ("Gi") and Jan Karel ("Janka") Boissevain. Eindhoven. Haarlem. Hattem. Naarden. Zandvoort. Zwolle. Homes outside of Holland included Switzerland, Austerlitz, N.Y. and Washington, D.C.

3 Boissevain Businesses in Holland

Jan and the Banking and Shipping Businesses. Charles and the Handelsblad. The creation of the Concertgebouw and hiring of MengelbergBoth Jan "Canada" and Bob Boissevain were in the fertilizer industry and in 1936 I. G. Farben repudiated contracts with foreign partners, bankrupting their Boissevain partners. 

4 Boissevains in Java

5. Boissevains in USA - Robert and Jan

The Jantjes and Charletjes are the relatives I know best.  Many of their offspring left Holland. Robert left because of a split with his wife Rosie [4A]. He formed a business with Jan and Eugen [4B], Boissevain & Co.

6. Boissevains in USA - Eugen

7. Boissevains in USA - Olga's Children Hilda and Willem

Olga followed her daughter Hilda to Washington. Willem followed them. There was cooperation across the Atlantic. Hilda van Stockum illustrated a book on windmills for Jan den Tex. In return, den Tex assisted Hilda decades later when she wrote The Winged Watchman. She later wrote another WW2 book, The Borrowed House.

8. The Nazi Rise in the 1930s and Its Impact on the Boissevains

The Crash of 1929 precipitated a loss of confidence in capitalism that led to the rise of Hitler. Speculators helped create the instability that paved the way for Nazi ideologues and other extremists. Hitler had less than 3 percent of the vote in 1928. He got 18 percent in 1930 and 37 percent in 1932. FDR fixed the mess in 1933, but it was too late to save Germany and the world from the Nazis. Dutch businesses dealing with German firms were soon affected.

9. Holland on the Eve of the German Invasion

1940. In May, Holland was invaded and changed forever.

The above is a summary of posts on The Boissevain Family Before World War II. Other posts/chapters are listed with links in The Boissevain Family in the Dutch Resistance, 1940-45 (

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

BOISSEVAINS USA | 3A. Robert, Jan, Eugen, Olga (Updated Mar. 26, 2016)

Boissevain & Co. was located at the top of the Whitehall
Building, the big building in the left foreground,
overlooking the piers and NY Harbor. It flourished
in the 1920s. Source: Anne Deterling Boissevain's album.
The following post overlaps with a later one that includes more Boissevains in the USA.

Four of Charles Boissevain's 11 children emigrated to the United States:

Robert Walrave Boissevain was shipping manager for the United Fruit Company and knew the business. He seems to have been the moving force for the New York City firm of Boissevain & Company. He was also the first to emigrate to New York City. His firm became extremely successful in the postwar, 1916-29, era.

Jan Maurits Boissevain assisted Robert by going to Java and negotiating with the coffee growers.

Eugen Boissevain appears to have focused on the selling of the coffee that they imported. He had ideas for delivering milk and fresh coffee at the same time.

How Boissevain & Co. (New York) Worked

Guglielmo Marconi hired Eugen
 and introduced him to Inez, Marconi's
ex-fiancée who became Eugen's wife.
In 1912 Robert W. Boissevain was general European freight and passenger agent of the United Fruit Company in London, where Eugen was working for Guglielmo Marconi. Robert had left Amsterdam, where he had a family with six children. He had problems with his wife that are discussed elsewhere. He first left Holland for London and then moved to New York City.

In 1913, Robert was appointed general traffic manager for United Fruit in New York City, succeeding W. A. Schumacher, who was lured away by a dispatching company. (Source: Exporters' Review - Volume 15, p. 39).

The following year,  Robert W. Boissevain resigned his position as general traffic manager of the United Fruit Co.

The same year, Jan Maurits Boissevain, his brother, went to Java to look at coffee farms.

At this time, we know that Eugen was in the business of importing tobacco from Turkey, and he was not doing terribly well given shipping problems on the Atlantic, a topic of discussion with his father-in-law John E. Milholland.

Eugen eventually joined his brothers in the business of importing coffee from the Dutch West Indies, and after Inez's death in 1916 this business began to be extremely successful. During the 1917-23 period, Eugen purchased a house on St. Luke's Place with space he rented to Max Eastman and Charlie Chaplin. Robert stayed there in 1921.

By the 1920s, the brothers became very wealthy. Eugen said once he couldn't believe why people would pay so much for the coffee that he bought so cheaply. One answer is that through his Dutch family connections he had access to the Java coffee supply, which wasn't so available to non-Dutch people.

M.S. Boissevain (1937), plying trade routes to
the Dutch West Indies and East Asia.
In February 1922 Boissevain & Co. moved into the Whitehall Building, overlooking New York Harbor. They were first in Rooms 2627 and 2628, on the 26th floor. In 1928 they moved up two floors and took six rooms – 2826 through 2831.

Their expansion in 1928 was their peak. Wally van Hall came to New York City in August 1929 and expected to get a job in shipping. It may have been with Boissevain & Co.

The October 1929  stock market crash meant huge losses for the company and its value. The company continued during the Great Depression but its profitability was reduced. Eugen describes himself as retiring from the business in 1929. World War 2 disrupted supply lines and after that  the Dutch gave up their Indonesian colony. Under Sukarno, it became harder for Dutch traders to make as much money.

Boissevain & Co. continued, but its best days were over. Robert spent his time on his chicken farm and Eugen devoted himself primarily to looking after Edna (who had several addictions) and booking her speaking engagements.

See photo from 1937 of one of their ships, the M.S. Boissevain.

Personal History of Robert W[alrave] Boissevain

Robert Boissevain was born March 12, in Amsterdam, Netherlands. His father was Charles Boissevain, editor of the Algemeen Handelsblad and his mother was Emily Heloïse MacDonnell, the Irish rose among the tulips as my mother called her.

For ten years, Robert was with the Dutch Navy, honorably discharged in 1900 as a Luitenant-ter-zee. After discharge he married Ethel Rose (Rosie) Phibbs (1875-1937) on September 25, 1900, in West Brompton, London, England. From 1900 to 1905 he was buying agent for J. Daendels & Co., Batavia, Dutch East Indies, where the first three of their six children were born.

He had six children by Rosie Phibbs: Theo[dora] Jacoba, b. August 14, 1901, Batavia (West-Java), d. January 31, 1958, Amsterdam, Netherlands. Cornelius Alfred, b. 28 December 28, 1902, Semarang, d. June 24, 1963. Frederick William, b. September 13, 1904, Batavia, d. June 23, 1943, Canada. Hester (Hes), b. October 23, 1905, Naarden, d. February 18, 1999, Zoetermeer, Netherlands. Adrienne, b. April 27, 1908, Amsterdam, Netherlands, d. February 23, 1988. Kathleen, b. September 27, 1909, Blaricum, Netherlands, d. August 26, 1930, Singapore.

From 1905 on he was a Director of Labouchere, Oyens & Co., Bankers, Amsterdam. In about 1912, he left Amsterdam and lived in London, separating from and then divorcing Rosie Phibbs. From London he went to New York. He worked first in New York City, then – after accumulating some capital in the shipping business – moved upstate to create a chicken farm.

His second wife was Anne Willemina Deterling, May 27, 1919; they were married in Brooklyn, N.Y. They had two children - Robert Fergus, b. November 27, 1920, Paris, France, d. May 5, 1997, Florida. Alfred Gideon Jeremie (Al), b. February 7, 1923, New York, N.Y.; living now in Bloomington, Ind.

From 1908 to 1912 Robert was Director, Royal West Indies Maildienst ald. 1912-14. He was General Manager, United Fruit Company, New York, N.Y.  from 1915 to1918. He was a Director of Boissevain & Co. in Soerabaja, Dutch East Indies. In 1918 he became a Director of Kerr Steamship Co., New York, N.Y. 1921-1930; Directeur, Comp. Commerciale Nord-Americaine, Paris, 1921-38; and President, United Steam Navigation Co., New York, N.Y. He died April 23, 1938 in Montreal, Canada.

Letter from Rosie Phibbs
Robert W. Boissevain with three daughters,
Kathleen, Hes and Attie. Source: Anne
Deterling Boissevain's album.

Posted below is an unusual letter that is being posted for the family for the first time 95 years later, because of the emotional nature of the content.

At the last Boissevain Reunion in Holland, I met some of the descendants of Robert (Robby) Walrave Boissevain (1872-1938) and Rosie Phibbs (1875-1937). They seemed still resentful of the fact that Robert left his wife Rosie and their six children behind in Holland and moved to England and then to the United States in search of a new career and a new life.

This letter may help bring closure.

Robert told my mother, his niece, many years later when she was visiting him on his chicken farm in Essex County, N.Y.

He told her that he still felt the weight of having left his children in Holland. I wrote down my mother's quote from her uncle at the time, and I believe I posted it many years ago. It was to the effect:
I have made a good life in the United States, but, oh! What anguish I left behind!
His children by Rosie seem to have remained in communication with him. I found a good photo of him with his three youngest daughters in Anne Deterling Boissevain's album that I have posted above.

My mother said that Robert got into a spiraling contest with Rosie, who took her case to the court of public opinion in Holland and won, but meanwhile lost Robert as he escaped by leaving Holland. This would have been after the birth of his sixth child. Robert told my mother that his mother Emily never said a harsh word to him about his having left Rosie and Holland – even though, my mother told me, Robert and Rosie's children were Emily's favorites because they were the most Irish.

In the interest of providing a better understanding of Robert and Rosie to his grandchildren and their descendants, I am posting here a letter from Rosie to Robert that is among papers entrusted to me to disseminate when I think the time is ready, as best as I am able.

The letter is dated December 15. It appears to have been written in 1920, the year when Robert Fergus was born by Anne Deterling. In the letter she congratulates Robert on having found Anne and wishes the best for their "wee son" Robert Fergus (1920-1997). Rosie died in 1937, and Robert died a year later.

I think this letter puts both Rosie and Robert in a better light than do the bare facts of his flight from paternity. Here are the first and fourth pages:

If someone wants to type this up I will post a typed version, but the letter's penmanship is itself of some beauty and the way the letter is written shows the intensity of the emotion of forgiveness that Rosie must have been feeling when she wrote it. Here are pages 2 and 3.


Wally van Hall came to New York in August 1929: Aad van Hall, his son, email to Charles (twin of Hester) Boissevain, March 2016.

Letter from Rosie Phibbs to Robert Boissevain: Anne Deterling Boissevain's album.

© 2015, 2016 by JT Marlin.  This is part of a book in the pipeline.

INEZ | 10K Page Views

Who knew that a blog about a person who died 99 years ago could get 10,000 page views so fast? 

Thank you for reading. 

Here are the top ten most-read posts during the last month.

Boissevain Family Reunions - 2016 Will Be the 11th...
Oct 2, 2015
Boissevain Reunion 2016, April 16-17 - Second Noti...
Nov 1, 2015
Constant Husband - Eugen Jan Boissevain (Superseded)
Jul 17, 2014
Edna the Queen Bee of Ragged Island, Maine
Oct 26, 2015
October 27 - First NYC Subway Opens (Will Woodin s...
Oct 27, 2015
Eugen Boissevain in Burleigh's "A V. Private Woman...
Aug 28, 2015
Eugen Boissevain - What Did He Have that His Wives...
Nov 9, 2015
Suffragette, the Movie, Addresses Issues Still Wit...
Oct 30, 2015
John E. Milholland's Role in the Founding of the N...
Nov 10, 2015
Aviva Boissevain's Urgent Appeal for a School: You...
Aug 21, 2015

MILHOLLAND | John E. and the NAACP

Jean Milholland (L) and John E. Milholland (straw hat R),
in Holland in 1913 after Inez married Eugen Boissevain.
November 10, 2015–This post is inspired by the appointment of Cornell Brooks as President of the NAACP, the death on August 15 of former NAACP Chairman Julian Bond, and the recent production of a play by Clare Coss on Mrs. Mary White Ovington and W. E. B. Du Bois. It is also inspired by a visit I made with Alice Tepper Marlin to the Reginald Lewis Museum in Baltimore last Sunday.

There I picked up a well-documented biography of Ovington by Carolyn Wedin, entitled Inheritors of the Spirit: Mary White Ovington and the Founding of the NAACP (Wiley, 1998).

At the time of the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Booker T. Washington was the primary organizer of African Americans in the United States. He favored long-term projects like schools that allowed for gradualism in advocacy, a kind of Fabian advocacy of civil rights. For example, he was okay with the concept and goal of segregation, i.e., separate but equal communities, according to Wedin (p. 131).

W. E. B. Du Bois, a sociology professor at Atlanta University, was opposed to segregation and wanted faster movement toward civil rights for people of color. In 1903 he wrote a challenge to Washington in an essay "Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others" in his book Souls of Black Folk. Du Bois founded the Niagara Movement, an organization by and for black people, and would become the first employee of the NAACP.

My purpose here is to explore the role in this process of John E. Milholland, whose role is left out in some of the NAACP's own histories of its origins. John E. Milholland and Mary Ovington helped Du Bois create the NAACP (p. 95) as a successor to the Niagara Movement that included whites.

Milholland's status as an American was recent. He was born in upstate New York but his father, an Irish immigrant, was forced to return temporarily to Ireland after a fire. On their return, John E. was able to attend NYU thanks to the generosity of a Congressman who saw a young man of promise. John E. then became a reporter for, and subsequently editor of, the Ticonderoga paper. Following that, he came to New York City to write for an then edit the Tribune, which was a liberal Lincoln Republican newspaper that was headed for years by Horace Greeley, whose statues may be found near City Hall and in Greeley Square.

Milholland was a second-generation Scots-Irish Presbyterian who was in the first decade of the 20th century at the peak of his wealth. He was modestly prosperous when he worked at the Tribune and his  brother headed the printer's union. Between them they settled a strike and he may have been rewarded for that.

At any rate, Milholland soon after invested in a pneumatic tube company based on the expertise of B. C. Batcheller. He became President of the Batcheller Pneumatic Tube Co. and became very wealthy based on Wall Street's ratcheting up in paper securities the value of his future prospects.

With his new wealth, Milholland was able to pursue his Presbyterian religion-inspired vision of a world in which wealth was more equally distributed and civil rights were widely respected. He worked first with Booker T. Washington but became impatient with Washington's gradualism. Following critiques of Washington by Du Bois in 1900-01, Milholland decided to shift his financial resources away from Washington and toward Du Bois.

There is a direct connection between Milholland's religion-fired activism on behalf of African-Americans and the rapid loss of his fortune. Milholland attacked for racism Woodrow Wilson's Postmaster-General–the same man with control over lucrative contracts that were the basis for with the Batcheller Company's prosperity. His gifts to, and statements on behalf of, the cause of civil rights had an immediately negative impact on his business. He and his family paid dearly for their support of civil rights and the NAACP.

The 1904 edition of Polk's directory shows the Batcheller Pneumatic Tube Company as a going concern with Milholland as President and B. C. Batcheller on the board. In 1905, the company had offices in New York City and Philadelphia as well as in London, Paris and Berlin. By the Poor's directory of 1917, John E. Milholland was replaced as President and no longer on the Board.  Instead, his son-in-law Eugen Boissevain was on the board. 

Milholland's wealth acquired in the pneumatic tube business financed the expenses of Mary Ovington in working with the poor and disenfranchised blacks in New York City and states in the Deep South (Alabama and Georgia). Milholland's money was an important enabler for Ovington's work for the NAACP.

Milholland met Ovington in early January 1905 at a Sunday supper at Greenwich House in Manhattan. She conveyed to Milholland her interest in working on low-income housing and he offered to take her idea to Henry Phipps.  Phipps had just walked away with $2 billion (in 2015 dollars) from the creation of America’s largest corporation, Carnegie Steel, in 1901. Just as railways and railway-car manufacturers had been rolled up into giant companies in the prior two years, Carnegie Steel acquired J. P. Morgan's steel mills and thereby allowed the three largest shareholders in Carnegie Steel to cash out.

Two of those steel magnates are well known – Andrew Carnegie and his designated Chief Operating Officer Henry Clay Frick. The third one, Henry Phipps, was the less-known bookkeeper. Phipps had a social conscience because he had grown up in poverty in Pittsburgh. He was a strong supporter of  Teddy Roosevelt-era progressivism. From his new fortune Phipps took $1 million (equal to about $30 million today) and by 1906 began construction work on "improved tenements" to be located on the far east side of Manhattan at 31st Street. Several iterations of the Phipps Houses were eventually built – they would become the oldest and largest nonprofit affordable housing in New York City.

Ovington proposed that a settlement-house component be included in the first, Tuskegee Model Tenement. Although Henry Phipps was initially receptive to the idea, he backed away from it at the last minute – probably because in February 1908 he opted suddenly to side with Booker T. Washington's all-deliberate-speed approach to social change (Wedin, p. 93).

Unexpectedly without a patron for her work, Ovington went back to the man who had found Phipps for her, John E. Milholland. She became a regular visitor to Milholland at his office and his apartment at the Manhattan Hotel. She said she didn't get as much time with Booker Washington as Milholland did because she was "a woman of verity moderate means who, if she subscribed at all to his school, would not be able to get beyond the ten dollar bill" (Wedin, p. 67).

Ovington visited the Adirondacks for several weeks in July and September 1905. Her biographer believes she visited Milholland at that time and supports the idea that Milholland was having an affair over several months and that it was with her (Wedin, p. 67).

Besides the Phipps tenement, Milholland and Ovington worked on the Constitution League, which was a forerunner of the NAACP. The first offices of the NAACP were at the offices of the Constitution League, at 500 Fifth Avenue – at 42nd Street overlooking the New York Public Library – in Manhattan.

Milholland's activities in support of Du Bois were not unnoticed by Booker Washington. According to Du Bois' biographer, Washington threatened to use his contacts with the U.S. Post Office to terminate the Batcheller Company's large contracts for delivering mail by pneumatic tube (Wedin, p. 70), and his threat became a reality in 1916 at the time of Wilson's reelection.

In 1905-06, Ovington was the link between Du Bois' Niagara Movement and Milholland's Constitution League. Her work in this arena would pay off when she started working for Du Bois and then assembled lists for the "Call" to create the NAACP in 1909.

First, Ovington brought Oswald Garrison Villard into the Du Bois camp, with several articles in the New York Evening Post, which he owned, reporting first on Du Bois' Niagara Movement meetings  at Harper's Ferry in mid-summer of 1906 and then in August on Washington's Negro Business League in Atlanta with a subtly inserted Du Bois perspective (Wedin, pp. 74-76).

A month after the Negro Business League meeting in Atlanta, the worst race riots of the decade occurred in this city. The Du Bois followers saw this as a failure of Washington's League. Milholland promised to pay Ovington's expenses to report on the riots and poverty in Georgia and Alabama and  Du Bois supported Ovington in this project.

Ovington reported from the south until March 1907. Conditions, she said, were much worse in Atlanta than had appeared in the newspapers. No white man had gone to jail for killing a Negro. Whites freely purchased firearms whereas "colored fathers, in their homes, were forced by the militia to give up their means of defense" (Wedin, p. 80).

The year 1908 was a difficult one for Mary Ovington because as mentioned the commitment that she believed Henry Phipps had made to her was suddenly withdrawn. A crystallizing moment for her was an article by a white journalist, William English Walling, "Race War in the North," in the Independent of September 1908. Walling was the first person to throw down the gauntlet to all Americans, to fulfill the promise of Abraham Lincoln. As Ovington wrote at the time:
Here was the first person who had sent a challenge to white and colored to battle, as the abolitionists had battled, for the full rights of the Negro. Drums beat in my heart. (Wedin, p. 106).
She immediately sent a letter to Walling, but several months went by and he did not answer. After she heard him speak in New York City, she went up to him and proposed that they create a new organization. She followed up with a second letter, and this time Walling answered, suggesting they meet with Charles Edward Russell. In January 1909 she arrived at Walling's apartment. Russell did not show up, but sent Henry Moskowitz in his place.

At that meeting, the NAACP was created. They drafted a "Call" for a meeting, to be issued on Lincoln's 100th birthday. The only one of the original three who was able to make the "Call" an interracial one was Ovington, based on her many contacts during the period when she was traveling around with the support of Milholland. The signers of the Call – 53 people in Ovington's version, 60 in Villard's – did not all know one another, but they all knew Ovington (Wedin, p. 106).

An invited interracial organizing meeting of 300 people met in the Charity Organization building. An informer for Booker Washington reported that those present included: "Du Bois, Waldron, Walters, [Upton] Sinclair, Max, Barber, Wibecan, Dr. Moselle, Bulkeley, [John E.] Milholland, Ida Wells..." A public meeting at Cooper Union attracted 1,500 people. The resolutions "sounded much like those of Milholland's Constitution League and Du Bois' Niagara Movement". Ovington was distressed that the platform was "denounced by nearly every white man", while "a large number of colored people thought it unwise". A Committee of Forty was created to pursue the organization of the NAACP. (Wedin, pp. 110-111).

The Wikipedia entry on the NAACP once said that it was founded by black men and Jewish men, which based on Wedin's account would eliminated any recognition for the huge role of gentiles and women, including Milholland and Ovington. The historical record that Wikipedia keeps for each entry should show that I corrected the statement on May 18, 2008. Here is what I wrote on the web site that I was then contributing to.

5/18/08 John E. Milholland Added to NAACP Entry in Wikipedia as First Treasurer. Until today, the Wikipedia entry for the NAACP omitted Milholland from its description of the founders. The founding was scheduled for February 12, 1909, the 100th anniversary of Lincoln's birth, and this is considered the founding date of the NAACP although it actually took place in May. The entry reads as of today: "On May 30, 1909, the Niagara Movement conference took place at New York City's Henry Street Settlement House, from which an organization of more than 40 individuals emerged, calling itself the National Negro Committee. Du Bois played a key role in organizing the event and presided over the proceedings. Also in attendance was African-American journalist and anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells-Barnett, co-founder of the NAACP. At a second conference, on May 30, 1910, members formally called the organization the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and elected the first officers (as reported by Mary White Ovington): • National President, Moorfield Storey, Boston • Chairman of the Executive Committee, William English Walling • Treasurer, John E. Milholland (Lincoln Republican and Presbyterian from NYC and Lewis, NY) • Disbursing Treasurer, Oswald Garrison Villard • Executive Secretary, Frances Blascoer • Director of Publicity and Research, Dr. W. E. B. DuBois."
As mentioned, the National Negro Committee was first located in John E. Milholland's Constitution League office at 500 Fifth Avenue. After Villard was persuaded to come aboard, the office was moved to space that he provided. The NAACP name was not established at the second annual meeting, on May 12, 1910. It expanded the Committee of Forty to 100, with a requirement that each of them give or raise $100. The Executive Committee was set at 30 members. The first Executive Committee created officers of the NAACP – Walling was Chairman, Milholland was Treasurer and Villard was Disbursing Treasurer.

On June 28, 1910 six members attended an Executive Committee meeting. Milholland moved and Ovington seconded a motion to hire W. E. B. Dubois as director of the Department of Publicity and research of the NAACP. Later in life, Dubois remembers Ovington, Walling and Villard as the founders of the NAACP. But if Ovington was the engine that drove the creation of the NAACP, the fuel to run it was provided by Milholland. The NAACP spelled the end of the Niagara Movement, because Du Bois saw quickly that an organization with establishment sponsors could generate more money to pay for staff, starting with himself. By the third and fourth meetings of the NAACP in Boston and Chicago in 1912, the NAACP was well established (Wedin, pp. 120-135).


Carolyn Wedin, Inheritors of the Spirit: Mary White Ovington and the Founding of the NAACP (Wiley, 1998).

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