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Natalie Bayard Brown papers

Biographical Note

Born on May 12, 1869, to Major George Warren Dresser and Susan Fish LeRoy, Natalie Bayard Brown was a descendent of Peter Stuyvesant and Col. Nicholas Fish, a Revolutionary War veteran. Due to the death of their parents in 1883, Natalie and her siblings were raised in Newport by their maternal grandparents, Susan Elizabeth (Fish) and Daniel LeRoy. As a young lady, Natalie Bayard Dresser studied at private schools and was a popular member of Newport and New York Society. She attended numerous weddings, and was a bridesmaid on more than one occasion. In 1889, she was the maid of honor at her brother’s wedding.

Following the death of her grandmother, Susan Elizabeth LeRoy, in 1892, Natalie received an inheritance. This inheritance allowed Natalie and her sisters to reside in a Paris apartment on the Rue de Vernat. Her affairs at home were managed by her brother. She returned home from Paris in 1897, and her engagement to John Nicholas Brown (1861-1900) was announced shortly thereafter. President of the Lonsdale Company from 1893 to his death in 1900, John Nicholas Brown was the son of John Carter Brown and Sophia Augusta Brown, and grandson of Nicholas Brown. A well liked gentleman, John Nicholas was known for his generous contributions to a variety of religious, civic and charitable organizations.

The wedding took place at noon at Trinity Church in Newport, Rhode Island on September 8, 1897. Wearing a white satin dress and lace veil with diamonds, Natalie carried a prayer book and walked down the isle on the arm of her brother, Daniel LeRoy Dresser, to the wedding march of Mendelssohn. The church was decorated with white roses and lily of the valley, and the Rt. Rev. Henry C. Potter officiated, assisted by Rev. George J. Magill of Trinity Church, the Rev. E.H. Porter of Emmanuel Church, and the Rev. C. L. Richards of St. John’s Church of Providence. The reception and wedding breakfast were given by Mrs. Edward King at her home overlooking Narragansett Bay.

Following an extended honeymoon vacation in Europe, the couple set up a residence in Providence at 35 Brown Street. They summered in Newport, renting the Fearing Cottage, and in 1899, they moved to 931 Fifth Avenue in New York City. On February 22, 1900, a son was born to the delighted couple, and he was named after his father. Tragedy fell upon the family when John Nicholas Brown passed away in May 1900. Following the death of her husband, Natalie Bayard Brown returned to Rhode Island, and in the summer of 1900, her infant son was christened at Emmanuel Church, sponsored by his aunt Pauline Merrill and uncle William Watts Sherman.

The untimely deaths of John Nicholas Brown and his brother Harold Brown resulted in the culmination of wealth in the person of Natalie’s young son, John Nicholas. The inheritance was organized into trusts, the John Nicholas Brown, Minor trust and the John Nicholas Brown under will trust. The money, stocks, bonds and real estate holdings of the trusts originated from the Estate of John Carter Brown. The under will trust provided for Natalie, she was a beneficiary and received a dower. The minor trust was used to support, nurture and maintain her son, John Nicholas. The lion’s share of the wealth was concentrated in the minor account. Three advisors for each trust were appointed, and Natalie Bayard was designated guardian. Due to her position as guardian, Natalie Bayard was apprised of all transactions regarding the accounts. She was often included in the decision-making and informed of investment purchases, sales and strategies. Due to the provisions of the minor account, Probate Court was petitioned to approve or deny the sale of trust assets. Natalie’s attorney, William Sheffield of Newport, handled all of the petitions to the probate court, while George and Frank Matteson managed the investment portfolios for the various trusts.

The financial intricacies of the trusts and estates were managed by the Matteson family. Not speculative by nature, George and his son, Frank, invested in municipal bonds, blue chip stocks, real estate and mortgages. Presumably for accounting and tax purposes, special accounts were established. The Natalie Bayard Brown special account was managed by Frank Matteson at 50 South Main Street and Rhode Island Trust Bank. This account was used to pay for Emmanuel Church in Newport, various insurances, automobile purchases, taxes, investments and legal expenses. The Harbour Court Account was established to provide for the upkeep, maintenance and various improvements to Harbour Court after John Nicholas Brown reached his majority in 1925. The under will trust ended in 1925 and the minor trust was dissolved on John Nicholas Brown’s 21st birthday.

As guardian, Natalie Bayard Brown was an integral part of the family business until John Nicholas Brown reached his majority in 1921. At times, she assumed the role of director, board member or committee member of the following family businesses: Brown Land Company, Narragansett Land Company, Weybosset Land Company, and the Counting House Corporation. She was apprised of meetings, attended when necessary and at times voiced her opinion regarding certain capital development projects. She was very much interested in the construction of Turk’s Head and the renovations of the Counting House.

A very protective and loving mother, Natalie tried her best to shelter her son from harm, escaping to Europe when threats were made on his life and when pressure from the press was overwhelming. Due to his position and wealth, Natalie provided her son with the best of everything: housing, transportation, recreation, personal physicians, tutors and nannies. Overlooking Newport Harbour, the Dickey Estate was purchased in 1903 for Master John Nicholas, and Harbour Court was built on its grounds. Camp Yawgoo was acquired for his recreation in 1913. Young John Nicholas loved the sea and sailing, so his mother provided him with appropriate yachting vessels. An often-sickly child, Natalie tried to protect him as much as possible and hired a personal physician, Dr. Day to accompany them while traveling.

As a young child, John Nicholas Brown accompanied his mother abroad frequently. They spent a great deal of time in Europe, and especially in France where Natalie Bayard’s sister, Susan, the Vicountess d’Osmoy resided. They traveled extensively throughout Europe by automobile and train visiting famous and not-so-famous locations. On a trip to London in 1911, Natalie was present at the coronation ceremonies of George V and Queen Mary. Natalie was a seasoned traveler. She enjoyed socializing with upper class Europeans and visiting with friends and relatives. She appreciated the arts, and saw natural beauty wherever she traveled. She loved to shop, but hated the customs agents and had a real disdain for American importation regulations. In one instance, she tried to order bulbs but was told that since June there had been a new law prohibiting their importation into the USA. Another example of the freedom of my native land. Surely there is no country less free, we may not drink what we want, nor grow in our gardens what we want nor import sheep from other countries, these are only a few of the myriad annoyances connected with living in a Free? Country!

When travel to Europe was interrupted during the First World War, Natalie and her family traveled across the country by train and wintered in Pasadena, California. En route to California via the southern rail, they stopped and visited many of the cities and towns along the way. In search of natural beauty, Natalie and her traveling companions visited the Painted Desert, Petrified Forest, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon. In writing about the vastness and grandeur of the Grand Canyon, Natalie exclaimed, "words can not describe the beauty."

After the world war, Natalie resumed travel abroad, but this time taking it to a new level. Natalie and John Nicholas became worldwide travelers, and visited many exotic and little known places. In 1919, they departed for an extensive trip to Japan, where they spent the summer of 1919. Natalie admired many aspects of Japanese culture and society. She was quite impressed with its cleanliness, beauty, artwork, silk and gardens. In 1923, the Brown family departed for a Nile River journey. The paddle wheel ship, approximately 100 feet long, was specially outfitted to accommodate the height of the family members. On January 24, 1923, they witnessed the excavation of the Tomb of Tutankhamen led by Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvan, and actually saw items being removed from the tomb.

"...It was a thrilling hour spent beside this ancient Tomb realizing that we were looking at objects which had been buried for 3600 years, and were now being taken out in tact. ...They have only opened the first chamber and expect marvels from those beyond."

After the conclusion of the Nile River trip, the party departed for Palestine and visited the Holy Land. Natalie took communion near the site of the last supper, a very emotional experience for her. On the road to Calvary, Natalie exclaimed, "I felt as I stopped at each station of the Cross that I was truly doing a Lenten pilgrimage..." They visited all of the traditional Christian holy spots as well as the Jewish and Arab sacred areas. In 1929, Natalie and her traveling companions left New York bound for Europe, the Greek Islands and Turkey. In Athens, they saw the Acropolis and Parthenon. "One is too awed to speak at first by the overpowering feeling of the ages that have rolled by since that early civilization," commented Natalie.

With the collapse of the world financial markets and the rise of fascism and Nazism, Natalie turned her attention away from world travel and focused upon local activities and politics. In 1928, she campaigned and was an elector for Democratic candidate, Al Smith. During the campaign, Natalie frequently spoke at rallies on behalf of Smith and of her brother-in-law, Senator Peter Gerry. At a Democratic mass meeting at Machinists Hall, in which 1,500 people attended, Natalie Bayard Brown, as President of the local Women’s Smith for President Club, spoke:

"I want to tell you my friends, that I was born a Democrat. I may not have appreciated that responsibility at that time as I do now. My father was a Democrat before me. My grandfather and grandmother unfortunately were not so well brought up as I - they were Republicans..."

Although the election results were a disappointment, Natalie hosted a roast duckling dinner and entertained the Democratic workers who had toiled so hard on the election. The affair was held at the Viking Hotel in Newport, and Natalie, as toastmaster, proposed a toast for the health and success of the Democratic Party.

In 1929, the Newport County Women’s Democratic Club was founded and Natalie Bayard Brown was unanimously elected President. Speaking at the first meeting of the club in December 1929, Natalie expressed her belief that there was much to be accomplished and her hopes that all would be loyal to the party, the country and each other: "our watch words should be confidence, cooperation and loyalty," she said. In 1930, she became the first woman to serve on a jury in Newport County. During the election of 1932, Natalie supported the candidacy of Theodore Francis Green for Governor of Rhode Island and Franklin D. Roosevelt for President. After the election, she was appointed by Governor Green as a member of a five-person task force to study legislation for controlling the problems associated with prohibition. In the years that followed, Natalie’s enthusiasm for politics waned, and she became disillusioned with the Roosevelt administration in 1937 after the Court Packing scheme became widely known.

Although Natalie Bayard Brown became disenchanted with politics during the 1930s, she remained loyal to her country and enthusiastically supported the war effort of the 1940s. As a member and President of the Maple Leaf Club, she worked with other Newport women to knit sweaters, hats and mittens for the armed services. During the war, Natalie Bayard Brown was chair of the Women’s Committee for the Council of National Defense. In 1943, Natalie and her family traveled to Superior, Wisconsin, to christen the new navy frigate U.S.S. Newport.

An influential member of Newport society, Natalie Bayard Brown was interested in the well-being of Newport. The Civic League of Newport was founded in 1905 at the home of Miss Elizabeth Swinburne "to create a higher public opinion, to promote a better social order, to further municipal improvement." Natalie Bayard Brown served as its President from 1912 to 1922. During her tenure as President, the Newport chapter of the Civic league sponsored a civic welfare exhibit and rally at Rogers High School. These women championed the well-being of mothers and children, promoted the building of playgrounds, and the tending of school and home gardens. Natalie was proud of the accomplishments of the Civic League. Throughout her travels, Natalie assessed whether the areas she visited would benefit from the actions of a civic league. In 1915, while visiting New Orleans, she exclaimed, "...the only impression which remained was that the place must have been visited recently by an earthquake...no extraordinary revolt of nature produced it, just slovenly lack of civic pride and order the result of years of neglect and southern shiftlessness..."

Throughout her lifetime, Natalie was a member of many organizations and clubs. In addition to the Civic League, she was active within the community as a member of the Newport School Committee. She was President of the Newport Art Association, where her paintings—a product of her hobby and passion—were exhibited in 1947. She belonged to the Women’s Foreign Missionary Society, of which she was chair of the Jubilee held in Newport on March 21, 1911. She participated in the Providence Female Charitable Society and was an honorary member of the Rhode Island Association for the Blind. While residing in California, she joined the Pasadena Music and Art Association. Influenced by her interest in family history and genealogy, Natalie became a member of Society of Colonial Dames and the Knights of the Most Noble Order of the Garter.

During the course of her lifetime, Natalie was a devoted member of Emmanuel Episcopal Church. She paid for the construction of the new stone church in 1901-1902 in memory of her late husband. An active member of the parish community, Natalie purchased many of the interior furnishings. At the conclusion of World War I, Natalie donated a set of paintings to the church. In her will, she left to the Parish some property and a trust whose income was to be used for maintenance, as well as a $20,000 bequest for maintenance of the choir. In 1925, she was a delegate to the Episcopal National Convention held in New Orleans. She took extensive notes during the course of the convention and reported the results of the convention to the Episcopal community of Newport.

After a yearlong illness, Natalie Bayard Brown passed away on March 27, 1950, at Harbour Court. A long time resident of Newport and a pillar of the community, Natalie was a respected member of Newport’s fashionable and elite society. Perhaps best remembered for her construction of Emmanuel Church, her Democratic Party campaigning, and her work with the Newport Civic League, above all Natalie was a loving wife, mother, and devoted grandmother.

Biographical outline

Date

Event

1869 May 12

Birth of Natalie Bayard Dresser.

1883 April 4

Death of Susan Fish Dresser, mother of Natalie.

1883 May 27

Death of Major George Warren Dresser, father of Natalie.

1885 - 1886

Attended Mrs. Gilliat’s School in Newport.

1885 October 7

Attended the wedding and reception of Sophia Augusta Brown and William Watts Sherman.

1889

Maid of Honor at the wedding of Daniel LeRoy Dresser and Emma Burnham.

1894 - 1896

Rented an apartment in Paris with sisters.

1897 August

Engagement to John Nicholas Brown (1861 - 1900).

1897 September 8

Wedding and reception.

1897 - 1898

Honeymoon in Europe.

1898

Member of the Providence Female Charitable Society.

1898

Residence at 35 Brown Street, Providence.

1899

Rental, Fearing Cottage, Newport.

1899 November

Residence at 931 Fifth Ave., New York City.

1900 February 22

Birth of John Nicholas Brown (1900 - 1979).

1900 May 1

Death of John Nicholas Brown (1861 - 1900).

1901 - 1902

Construction of Emmanuel Church.

1902

Daniel LeRoy Dresser’s bankruptcy.

1903

Daniel LeRoy Dresser’s resignation as trustee.

1903

Purchase Dickey Estate.

1904 - 1905

Harbour Court construction.

1908 February 17

Depart for Europe/Italy motor tour.

1909 June 30

Depart for Europe/Germany motor tour.

1909 September

Visit sister, Susan, in France.

1911 May 29

Depart for Europe.

1911 June 23

See Coronation.

1911 July

Visit sister, Susan, in France.

1911

Building of Turks Head Building, Providence.

1911

Music Room addition to Harbour Court.

1912 October

Natalie Bayard Brown and Georgette Brown travel with Frank Matteson to visit western lands.

1912 - 1922

President of the Newport Civic League.

1913 January

Rhode Island Child Welfare Conference and Exhibit.

1914

Federal Taxes protest.

1914 December 29

Depart for western United States tour.

1915 January 10

Visit the Rio Grande.

1915 January 11

Visit the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest.

1915 January 13

Visit the Grand Canyon and drive along the rim.

1915 January 18

See the San Diego Exposition.

1915 January 20

Visit Tia Juana, Mexico-Customs incident.

1915 April 26

Visit Yosemite.

1915 April 30

Leave Yosemite.

1915 December 24

Christmas at Biltmore, NC.

1915 December 28

Black and White dress ball at Ashville.

1915 December 31

Visit New Orleans.

1915 - 1921

Director of the Brown Land Company with Frank W. Matteson and Robert H. Ives Goddard, Jr.

1916 January 5

Arrive in Pasadena, California.

1918

War effort, tax increases.

1919 June 24

Depart for Japan via Vancouver.

1919 July 11

Set sail on the Empress Asia.

1919 July 22

Reach Japan.

1919 August 5

Kyoto, visit Mr. Yamanaka.

1919 September 13

Leave Japan on Empress of Russia.

1920

Visit France.

1921 February 22

End guardianship of minor account.

1922 November 26

Visit Spain.

1923

Honorary member of the Rhode Island Association for the Blind.

1923 January 2

Left France for the Nile River Egyptian cruise.

1923 January 24

Valley of the Kings, visit Tomb of Tutankhamen, see excavation.

1923 February 21

Visit Cairo, see the Sphinx.

1923 March 1

Depart for Palestine.

1923 March 2

Visit Jerusalem, Mt. Olives, Wailing Wall.

1923 March 5

Visit Mt. Calvary.

1923 March 7

Visit Nazareth.

1923 March 14

Return to the Nile, bound for Sicily.

1923 April 8

Naples.

1923 April 13

Visit Mt. Vesuvius.

1923 April 16

Visit Rome.

1923 April 26

Leave Rome.

1923 April 28

Depart for Florence.

1923 May 11

To Bologna.

1923 May 14

Visit Venice.

1925 February

Settlement of John Nicholas Brown estate, end of trust under will.

1925 October

Delegate to the National Episcopal Convention, New Orleans.

1927

Settlement of Mlle. Rambaud’s estate.

1927 Jun

Summer in Europe.

1927

Purchase 181 Commonwealth Ave., Boston.

1927

Renovate 181 Commonwealth Ave.

1928

Elector for Al Smith.

1928

President Women’s Smith for President Club.

1928 November 1

Rally speech at Democratic Party mass meeting.

1928 November 20

Democratic workers entertained at the Viking Hotel in Newport.

1929 March 16

Depart for Europe and Greece.

1929 March 22

Paris, lying in state of Marshall Foche.

1929 March 26

Funeral of Marshall Foche.

1929 April 15

On board the Steam Yacht Iolanda.

1929 April 21

Visit the Acropolis, Athens.

1929 May 19

Depart for Crete.

1929 May 22

Visit Rhodes.

1929 May 24

Visit Cyprus.

1929 June 4

Visit Turkey, Customs difficulties.

1929 June 16

Leave Constantinople.

1929 June 28

Visit Bocca, Yugoslavia.

1929 July 3

Visit Trieste and to Venice.

1929 July 16

Left Venice and depart for Paris.

1929 August 15

Visit Plessis and Cluny.

1929 August 25

Visit London for three weeks.

1929 November

Elected President Newport Country Women’s Democratic Club.

1931 Mar

Visit California.

1932 Jan

Visit Paris.

1932 September 21

Elected Delegate to State Convention.

1932

Supports candidacy of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Theodore Francis Green.

1934 - 1937

Member Newport School Committee.

1940 - 1945

Member Maple Leaf Club.

1943 August 15

Christening of the USS Newport in Superior, WI.

1950 March 27

Death of Natalie Bayard Brown.