Privilege and Politics
An intimage look into
Catherine Eddy Beveridge’s Life
As the daughter of a prominent Indianapolis family and the wife of Senator Albert J. Beveridge, Catherine Eddy Beveridge’s life was a window to some of the most important historical events and personalities of the early 20th century. Beveridge’s world spanned from Chicago, to Washington, D.C., to Russia where she debuted at Emperor Nicolas II’s court. Catherine detailed her memories in a dairy which her grandson, Albert Beveridge, III, recently published in The Chronicle of Catherine Eddy Beveridge (University Press). Bitsey Folger, a friend of Al Beveridge and his wife Madzy, sat down to discuss Catherine’s world of privilege and politics as a young woman in Washington society.
Bitsey Folger: I remember your grandmother very fondly. She had the most charming laugh and the only way to describe it was doll like. It tickled. Al Beveridge: I’m glad you mentioned that, her laugh just floated on the top and drew you in. It was one of her distinctive features.
BF: How do you remember her? How old were you?
AB: She was omnipresent. I don’t remember when I first heard her name anymore than I do when I first became aware of my father or my mother. We lived in adjacent houses in Indianapolis. Not the best arrangement, frankly, if you have a very strong woman like my grandmother. My mother felt totally intimidated by her and it would have actually, in retrospect, been better if we’d been a little more geographically spaced.
BF: A diary is considered to be personal history. Why did you
want to publish your grandmother’s diary?
AB: Are you suggesting I’m a voyeur or something? First of all, this was a diary once removed. My grandmother took her original diary, and on her own turned it into a narrative in the 1940’s. Then she combined it with memorabilia, photographs and everything else and just left it. I think the act of her turning it into a narrative already indicated something. It indicated maybe she wouldn’t object if people read it. The other reason I published it, is because my wife loved it so much. She gave it to individuals who said this is a terrific story. So, I was emboldened enough to publish it.
BF: Describe your grandmother when the diary begins, she
was a young woman.
AB: She was younger and she was really taught to be charming. She had to learn to draw, play an instrument and sing and make a little conversation. She was fluent in French and pretty fluent in German, she summered in Germany. She was taught to make people feel at home.
BF: Tell us a little about her trips to the White House.
AB: One thing I’ve always remembered was that she said that when Teddy Roosevelt entered the room, even if your back was to the door, and even if you didn’t hear anything, that the hairs on the back of your neck would stand up a little bit.
BF: When you’re reading about the romance, it’s all
very formal and you don’t really get a picture of him
AB: I do know that the marriage between her and my grandfather was opposed by her aunt and her mother. She was a very reserved person. You read in the book that at one point she says, ‘I was in love,’ and that was as much as you’re going to get. However, I do know from her closest friends that it was an extremely passionate relationship.
BF: Oh really?
AB: Yeah. Good old fashioned passion. It wasn’t just that he could read poetry but when my grandmother took the train from Washington to Indianapolis, a telegram would be waiting for her from him that he’d sent ahead saying “thinking of you” or “miss you very much.” The only thing they really fought about was my grandfather’s chain smoking. She couldn’t stand it.
BF: I love reading it and it’s really romantic.
AB: The other aspect of the diary that has come true is when the Senators and members of the House were in Washington, they stayed in Washington. They didn’t have airplanes. So they really got to know each other and it’s really one of the very sad things about our present situation. So many members of Congress who basically work only Tuesday through Thursday, frequently only have a little apartment here and so they do not enter into the social life of Washington, as they did back in the turn of the century.
BF: At the end you reference a “Dramatis Personae” with over 350 names, a number of which are familiar
AB: When I did the first draft of the diary and the footnotes and identified all the individuals, there were over 600 footnotes. So we took out all the personal names and put them in the back of the book. With the exception of very well known names, most of these people no one would know. Especially if you are in Washington, reading about Chicago, you might have a vague idea of who they were, but if you are interested we tell you who all of the contemporary McCormicks were. What is remarkable was that there was essentially an international community that knew each other and went to Europe together.
BF: But Washington is an extremely social city today,
I think society does march on so to speak. I have
some of my favorite excerpts from the book and I’m curious what yours are?
AB: I can’t imagine in the dead of winter going into the court of St. Petersburg for 1500 guests and seeing fresh asparagus on all the plates. I mention it was 1902 and fresh asparagus on all the plates. We’re all used to refrigeration but back then in St. Petersburg in the middle of winter. I have no idea where they got it from, whether they went to Turkey and got it I don’t know.
BF: She had a quote where she questioned her
mother’s decision to present her [to society] and she
thought it was too early.
AB: She said she had not yet put her hair up so that meant essentially they were in braids. And she was not yet seventeen, which is very, very young to be presented. My great grandmother and her sister, I think, were extremely socially ambitious. They were pushing this idea of being presented to all these courts which was unusual then. I mean U.K. wasn’t so bad, but to go to St. Petersburg to be presented was virtually unheard of for an American.
BF: If your grandmother was alive, and was born
in this era, what questions would you ask her about
going through this very personal experience.
AB: I would ask a lot of questions about her relationship with the Senator, Albert Beveridge. If I were an editor, I would take the ‘07 and ‘08 years and say please expand on the whole political scene a little more. I certainly knew a lot about her relationships with her son and her daughter which was not as happy as I indicate in the book. I would also ask her to come through, to be a little more extensive of how it felt to be a wealthy, very good looking young woman in Chicago and in Washington. She recites what she did but she doesn’t really give a great deal of how she felt about that.
BF: Where can people get the book The Chronicles
of Catherine Eddy Beveridge?
AB: Online www.univpress.com. Put in Beveridge and the book pops up.