The Three B’s

A trio of grandes dames ran Washington society for decades and left the city with three irreplaceable gifts.

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Mrs. Truxtun Beale greets the Chinese ambassador and his wife at her December, 1938, diplomatic reception at Decatur House.

Mrs. greets the Chinese ambassador and his wife at her December, 1938, diplomatic reception at Decatur House.

From the 1920’s to the 1960’s, Mrs. Truxtun Beale, Mrs. , and Mrs. reigned supreme as Washington’s leading hostesses. Because their surnames all began with the same letter, they were referred to as “the Three B’s.” A popular saying of the day was that when you first arrived in the city, you dropped your calling card at the Three B’s, and then you went to the White House.

Of the dowager social arbiters, perhaps the most formidable (some said imperious) was Mrs. Truxtun Beale, the former Marie Oge (1881-1956), a California heiress who was forever perfecting her guest list. The on dit was that “if you were invited to the Beales’, you’d made it.”

A 1949 Time article reported that Mrs. Beale “entertains with a rigid selectivity at Decatur House, the only house in Washington still lighted by gas and candle light.” Her most heralded function was the white-tie party she hosted after the annual White House diplomatic reception, which took place, conveniently enough, just across Lafayette Square from her residence.

Even though this lady had an impeccable reputation, her name had been associated with a scandal that never followed her to Washington. After a writer slandered her good name, her then-fiancé, Truxtun Beale, and a friend attacked and shot the perpetrator in his own home. When the man recovered and charges were dismissed, the couple repaired to Boston for a small, quiet wedding followed by a long European honeymoon to let the scandal die down. The incident seems to have been passed over when the Beales became prominent figures in the capital. (Mrs. Beale, who was so discreet that she rarely allowed her photograph to be published, remained above reproach.)

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