Historians do much more research than can ever be published. None of the interesting intricacies about the life of Alice Parker, one of Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low’s nieces, will make it into my forthcoming book.
Eleanor was Daisy’s older sister. The two Gordon girls were very close, and once their youngest sister, Alice, died, they banded together to survive their mother’s deep grief. When Eleanor married New Jersey attorney Wayne Parker in 1884, Daisy was distraught at the thought of her sister leaving their home—even though she fundamentally liked Wayne.
Over time, Eleanor had her own difficulties and Daisy eventually became reconciled to being without her in Savannah. Then, of course, Daisy herself married. Although Daisy had no children of her own, she was a loving and enthusiastic aunt to all of her nieces and nephews.
Eleanor and Wayne Parker had five children. Their oldest was named Alice, in honor of Eleanor’s deceased sister. Alice Parker grew up to appreciate art, just like her Aunt Daisy, and when Alice began to paint seriously, no one encouraged her more fervently than Daisy did. Today, at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace in Savannah, Georgia, visitors can see two portraits created by Alice—one of her grandfather William Washington Gordon and another of her grandmother, Eleanor Kinzie Gordon.
Alice was not a problem child. Both parents doted on her, and her mother called her “the pride and joy of my life.” When Alice determined to marry, she chose a young man named Harry Hoyt, a portrait artist. This was not then considered a particularly good career. Still, Alice was 27 and old enough to know her mind, presumably, and Henry was the son of Henry M. Hoyt, who was President Theodore Roosevelt’s Solicitor General, and a descendent of a Pennsylvania governor. In other words, he came from a respectable family.
Wayne and Eleanor were very worried about Henry because they feared he would not be able to provide for their cherished daughter. At least, Eleanor wrote her sister, they did love Henry, whom she and Wayne had “known in knickerbockers.” Eleanor felt she “had every reason to trust his tact, unselfishness, and common sense. Rather unusual endowments for an artist,” she couldn’t help adding. Eleanor’s note also mentioned that Alice and Henry were planning an intimate wedding. This was odd. (1)
A letter from Daisy’s goddaughter Anne Hyde Choate makes clear why Alice Parker’s wedding to Henry Hoyt was small: a terrible, prolonged, and very public scandal in the groom’s family.
Henry’s sister, Elinor Morton Hoyt, had married attorney Philip Hichborn in 1906. Phillip was a Harvard graduate and the son of Rear Admiral Philip S. Hichborn. In 1912, however, Elinor Hoyt Hichborn was in love with a man named Horace S. Wylie. She eloped with him, not once, but twice. In March, Elinor was in Monte Carlo, living with Wylie (who had similarly abandoned his wife and children) while Philip Hichborn was in Washington with their children. On 28 March 1912, Philip had just returned from a stroll with his daughter when he learned that his wife had given birth to a child in Europe. At that news, he put a gun to his head and killed himself. (2)
Wayne was a long-serving U.S. congressman. Alice Parker was friends with the First Daughter, Ethel Roosevelt. The Parkers, the Hoyts, the Hichborns, and the Wylies travelled in the very best circles in the nation’s capital. The wedding had to be small in order to avoid further media coverage of the disgraceful behavior of Henry Hoyt’s sister and the tragic suicide of his brother-in-law. Alice and Henry were married on 16 April 1912 in front of only 25 people with no attendants for the bride or groom. After the ceremony, they went to Spain on a honeymoon to paint together. (3)
Their marriage was not to last. Alice and Henry separated at some point, and eight years after their wedding, Henry Hoyt inhaled gas and committed suicide–in part because Alice left him for a man named Harold R. Shurtleff. (4)
Alice seems to have been happier in her marriage to Shurtleff. She made a minor career of her art, with showings in New York City. Harold, a Harvard alum also interested in art and architecture, died in 1938. He helped to restore Colonial Williamsburg and is remembered today for his book entitled The Log Cabin Myth: A Study of the Early Dwellings of the English Colonists in North America. Alice Parker Hoyt Shurtleff died in 1951.
Elinor Wylie became a poet and married a third time, to writer Stephen Vincent Benet’s brother, William Rose Benet. William Benet, found Henry Hoyt after the suicide. (6)
One of Henry Hoyt’s brothers married the daughter of Senator William B. Bankhead, Eugenie, the sister of actress Tallaluh Bankhead. (7)
Martha Hichborn, Philip Hichborn’s sister, also had a sad life. It was in her home that Philip took his life. Martha married, against her will, the divorced Republican senator James G. Blaine of Maine. That marriage soured and she later remarried a man named Pearsall. When she died in 1933, she left her entire, and considerable, estate to her chauffeur. (8)
(8) “Milestones,” Time Magazine, 1 May 1933.