This story could also be subtitled “The Society Girl and the Mounted Policeman” … but more on that in a moment.
Where to begin? How about with a random search on a Goodwill website that took me to a scrapbook? In my never-ending quest for old photos that are crying out to be reunited with their families, I ran across a scrapbook. Some of the posted photographs looked interesting, so I bid on it, and won the auction. Several days later, a treasure dropped into my hands.
Louise Genesta Beavor-Webb, daughter of Alice May (of the Washington, D.C. May family) and John Beavor Webb, identified in the 1900 U.S. Census as a naval architect living in Nassau, NY and in Manhattan, on Park Avenue, no less! It seems Mr. Beavor Webb (born in Ireland) designed yachts, two of which, the Galatea and the Corsair (owned by J.P. Morgan) competed in the America’s Cup. Obviously, J.P. Morgan was a fan. They became friends – such good friends that Mr. Morgan left Mr. Beavor-Webb $250,000 in his will. To you and me, here in 2015, that is the equivalent of roughly SIX MILLION DOLLARS! That was some friendship!
John and Alice had three daughters – Louise Genesta (named after one of her father’s yachts, The Genesta), born in 1892; Edith Sybil, born in 1896; and Alice, born in 1898. The girls were raised in privilege, and all became accomplished horsewomen. This was a family who moved among the top society families, and, just as in 2015, their names were regularly in the newspapers. Back then, they called them “society pages” – today, we call it Entertainment Tonight and the Internet.
Louise was the first daughter to raise eyebrows. While riding along a bridle path in Central Park, she encountered a young mounted policeman, Thomas J. Leonard. Eventually, a romance bloomed, and the two were married in 1920. Those three sentences do not come anywhere close to conveying the newspaper coverage of this relationship and marriage. I found articles everywhere – and by “articles,” I mean half-page, above-the-fold, big headline ARTICLES.
But wait – there’s more! Barely a year later, Edith also “married beneath her” – another horseman! Edith married George Miles, who was the head groom at a nearby estate in New York. The newspapers were filled with stories of how she had followed Louise’s footsteps, and there was even an article about how horses had brought love and marriage to these two couples.
Alice, however, broke tradition – despite an article asking quite cheekily if she was looking for a horseman for herself – and married a banker, David Rees Richards.
Sadly, all was not sunshine and roses for the Beavor-Webbs as the girls grew up. John and Alice separated, and by the 1920 Census, they were living apart. The daughters lived with John on Park Avenue (31 Park Avenue, to be exact), and Alice was living elsewhere. They never divorced, but Alice was quite blatantly left out of John’s will, which was drawn up in 1916, according to the Buffalo, NY Courier Express of April 5, 1927. John died in March 1927, so he likely did not live to see his daughter, Alice, marry David Richards. I am not certain of when they were married, but believe it was some time around 1930.
The good news is, all three marriages appear to have lasted, and all three produced children. Louise and Thomas had a son, John (also called Jack), and a daughter, Alice; Edith and George had a daughter, Edith; and Alice and Richard had two daughters, Joan and Gwen. Which brought me to the big question – who put together this album, and how did it end up at a Goodwill store in Florida?
As I read articles about this family, I found it so curious that I could never find an obituary for any of the daughters. This seemed to be such a prominent family at one time – why no further coverage? The likely answer is that the changing times brought changing attitudes about what was interesting, and then, as now, newspaper readers were looking for the next hot story. The Beavor-Webb girls appear to have settled into happy marriages, raising their children – not enough scandal? – or maybe they fought to keep their names out of the public eye, for the benefit of their children.
I continued to research, and although I have not located anyone directly descended from Louise, Edith, or Alice, I found a tree on Ancestry.com created by Derrick and his sister, Judy, that seemed to line up with the names, dates, and places I was finding, so I fired off a message and kept researching. Very quickly, I received an e-mail from Judy in Australia – AUSTRALIA??? As we compared notes, we realized that my Beavor-Webb scrapbook was about the family of her grandmother’s cousin. So much information has been lost over the years – and she was over the moon about getting a crazy email from a random stranger in the U.S.! Together, Judy and I have pieced together some further details of the Beavor-Webb sisters and their families, although we know there is more discover.
As you read this, the album is making its journey from Atlanta, Georgia to Australia – full of lovely surprises for Judy, Derrick, and their family. Judy graciously allowed me to share some pictures with you, and some of her family’s details. If any of these names or faces are familiar to you, feel free to contact me, and I will put you in touch with Judy and Derrick.
Thanks for stopping by – it’s always such fun to tell these stories!