Saturday, February 4, 2012

Sepia Saturday: Nellie Grant, White House Bride

Ellen “Nellie” Wrenshall Grant was the daughter of Ulysses S. Grant and his wife Julia Dent. Nellie was born on the Fourth of July in 1855 in a place called Wish Ton Wish near St. Louis, Missouri. She was U.S. and Julia Grant’s only daughter; they also had three sons.

Library of Congress - Brady Handy Collection

She was a child of privilege. She was 13 when her father was elected President of the United States and the family moved into the White House. Her parents believed Nellie needed a proper education, so they chose Miss Porter’s School in Connecticut. Her father escorted her to Connecticut, because he believed that his wife would be unable to withstand Nellie’s pleas to come home. However, by the time he arrived back in Washington, D.C., she had sent three telegrams expressing her unhappiness and it was her father that relented. He sent an escort to bring her back home.

Library of Congress/Brady Handy Collection - LC-BH826- 2313

Because of her family’s prominence, Nellie was in the limelight. The public was fascinated by the teenage girl living in the White House. Washington D.C. socialites were said to be shocked when she danced the night away at a society ball when she was 16. She was pursued by a number of suitors. So her parents decided that she would be well-served by a quiet trip abroad in the company of suitable chaperones.

Her experience was probably not what her parents anticipated. She was received at court by Queen Victoria and celebrated at numerous garden parties in England. At 17, on the voyage home aboard the steamer Russia, she met 22-year old Englishman Algernon Sartoris while her chaperones were in their cabin, indisposed with seasickness. Algernon and Nellie fell madly in love.

The young lovers agreed to wait to announce their engagement for a year at the insistence of President and Mrs. Grant, who were not impressed with Nellie’s groom-to-be. The young couple was married in a White House wedding in May 1874 held in the East Room. 

Library of Congress - Brady Handy Collection

The marriage proved quite unhappy. Algernon was a womanizer, alcoholic and gambler, He was often absent from the couple's home and appeared publicly in Europe and the U.S. in the company of other women. By some accounts, Nellie Asked Algernon for a divorce and he refused, so she was resigned to being his wife until he died of pneumonia while living in a hotel on the isle of Capri in 1893. Other accounts (including the PBS series American Experience) assert that Nellie and Algernon were, in fact, divorced prior to his death. 

Whether divorced or widowed, Nellie had a comfortable -- if not altogether happy -- life She often traveled, making transAtlantic voyages a number of times. 

The couple had four children. The first, Grant Grenville Edward Sartoris, was born in July 1875 and died of convulsions when he was 10 months old. Their second child Algernon Edward Sartoris was born in 1877. As a young man, he served as a U.S. Army Captain and also as Consul to Guatemala. He married Cecile Noufflard in Paris in 1904 and died three years later. Daughter Vivien May Sartoris was born in London in 1879. She married Frederick Roosevelt Scoval in Ontario in 1903 She died in 1933. Daughter Rosemary Alice Sartoris was born in London in 1880. She married George H. Woolston in 1906 in New York City and died in 1914.

Nellie lived for years in London's fashionable West End, both with and without her scoundrel husband. After his death, she returned to the U.S. and was readmitted to citizenship by the Congress. She had lost her citizenship by virtue of her marriage to an Englishman. 

Library of Congress - Brady Handy Collection

She announced her engagement to Frank Hatch Jones on June 21, 1912. They were married on her 57th birthday (June 4, 1912) in Coburg, Ontario. Several months after their wedding, she suffered a stroke. She lived as an invalid the rest of her life. Nellie Grant Sartoris Jones died on August 30, 1922 in Chicago. She was buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois. She outlived all but one of her children. 

  For other Sepia Saturday participants, click HERE.
p.s. The theme for this week is apparently DOGS.
I think Algernon qualifies (with apologies to the canine world).


L. D. Burgus said...

That was an interesting story. My wife says that Grant himself was an alcoholic. It is amazing that she outlived all but one child. Great post.

Bob Scotney said...

Obviously a lady determined to go her own way. Shame she picked a 'dog' as a husband.

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

This is all so fascinating ... I knew nothing about this. It sounds like she had a difficult time, but I hope that she found some happiness. Thanks so much for posting this for us today.

Kathy M.

Rob From Amersfoort said...

Interesting story, thanks!

Southwest Arkie said...

Very interesting! I learned something new today.