One hundred and twenty six years ago today–21 December 1886–Juliette “Daisy” Gordon married William M. Low in Savannah, Georgia. Her parents hosted the event–and while this is still a common role for parents today, in the nineteenth century such entertaining entailed duties that we don’t think about having to do anymore. Daisy’s mother, Nellie Kinzie Gordon, wrote a long letter to her Cousin Laura describing Daisy’s nuptials–the chores, the company, and an extremely important tidbit about the wedding rice. It is a wonderful historical document because of the terrific details. It is easy to imagine the hustle and bustle in the Gordon home (especially if you have been to Savannah to visit it). And the perspective of the mother of the bride is always entertaining.
For me, however, this document verifies that the rice thrown into Daisy’s ear went in the same ear as the one harmed earlier by the silver nitrate. This is critical for understanding Daisy Low’s deafness. Yet the rice incident is buried near the end of Nellie’s letter, which might mean one or more of several possible things. Discerning, weighing, and verifying all the potential meanings of the way Nellie wrote about her daughter’s painful episode is the job of a good biographer. At some point, the biographer must also decide upon the most likely interpretation.
Was Nellie trying to remain positive for her cousin? Was Daisy’s ear so often sore that one more earache was not worth mentioning immediately? In my biography of Juliette Gordon Low, you can read about other ailments that plagued Daisy around the time of her wedding. These, Nellie did not mention to Cousin Laura. In the interests of time, I’ll just provide the text of the letter, and you can make up your own mind!
Savannah, Jan. 13th 1887
My dearest Laura,
The last relay of visitors departed yesterday, and “a great calm has burst upon us.” I take the very first moment to write you, and tell you all about the wedding, etc., etc., In the first place, we had for a number of days, 18 people to sit down to every meal. Providing food for them was an undertaking I assure you, beside which, there was all the necessary preparations of the home for the wedding–Daisy’s preparations, the breakfast etc., etc. I had 2 cooks, 2 butlers 2 chambermaids—innumerable laundresses, 15 fires going all the time plus 21 beds to make up every day!
Daisy had insisted on my inviting Mary Clarke and her husband Hyde Clarke from Cooperstown. They came with a baby, 7 weeks old, who was being brought up on the bottle—and with a nurse only 16 yrs old—a green country girl who had never seen gas or been on a R.R. train! The baby became very ill immediately on its arrival, with a threatening of dysentery and then of cholera infantum. The Doctor ordered a wet nurse, at once, to save its life. I had to send a buggy 4 times a day for the wet nurse—until we could find a proper nurse who would come to the house and stay. Then the baby began to mend—but screeched night and day till it left here yesterday—having been here nearly 4 weeks.
I had besides, Willy’s sister Gulie [Gordon] Harrison—with her daughter Gulie who was one of the bridesmaids and two younger children; Nelly Kinzie from Chicago;…Mary Stiles; Wayne, Nell, Baby and Nurse; Abby Lippitt; Grace Carter; Courty Parker; and all our own family! I broke down once and went to bed. [My husband]…was absent at the Legislature the whole time except the very day of the wedding! So I had no aid from him. And…he had to go off twice to New York to see about the [Central of Georgia Railroad] Election….
The wedding was a grand success. The day was beautiful, the Breakfast delicious, and the house looked lovely. Daisy never appeared handsomer and her dress was exquisite—thanks to the superb lace you and Uncle gave her. The bridesmaids were all so pretty and their dresses so becoming. Everything went off without a hitch. At four o’clock the Bride and Groom left for St. Catherine’s Island, where they spent 6 days. There is a lovely house there all furnished and they sent down servants and provisions in advance, so that they were very comfortable down there.
Daisy’s [Savannah] house is a model of elegance and comfort.* [Daisy and Willy] gave their first entertainment [the] night before last—had about 75 young people—fine music, an elegant supper, and ended up [with a dance called a] German—The “favors” in the latter were beautiful, having been sent out from Philadelphia. They had 4 rooms open and the piazza all enclosed and hung with Chinese lanterns. It was a great success.
The wedding presents were beautiful. Willy Low gave her a [illegible] and star of diamonds from Tiffany and an immense travelling bag or dressing case with about 100 articles of solid silver in it, each one with her monogram J.M.L. on it, such as hair brushes, Railway lamp, scent bottles, mirrors, sandwich box, etc., etc., etc. Then the Low girls gave her a pair of magnificent bracelets—diamonds and sapphires and pearls.
We gave [Daisy] a…silver…Kettle, a chafing dish, gravy boat, and ice cream bowl—a silver mustard pot from Mabel, a tea strainer from Arthur, a grape scissors from Willy, a cream pitcher from Alice, a large Doulton China vase from Wayne and Nell. Then she had everything in silver on could mention and quantities of beautiful things for her house. She was delighted at the sweet letter from you and Uncle and is going to write you in a day or two.
Only one untoward accident occurred. Some fool undertook to throw rice into the carriage as the bridal pair drove away—a grain went directly into Daisy’s ear—the same she had such trouble with before. Her ear pained her so on her return from St. Catherine’s Island that Willy Low took her up to Atlanta and Dr. Calhoun^ with great difficulty extracted the grain which was already partly overgrown by a sort of fungus of flesh, and would have produced serious results if it had remained any longer. All the fools, you see, are not dead yet!
…Did you get a lot of Photographs? I sent some. If not, I will send more—so let me know. I will send some of the Wedding cake when Daisy and Willy go to England in February.
Well, good bye. I hope you are not tired out reading this long epistle. Willy joins me in ever so much love to you both. When Arch returns to his school our family will be reduces to three! Do write soon to,
Your loving Nell
* Today this is the Andrew Low House, a must-see for any Girl Scout or Juliette Low fan.
^ The ear specialist who treated Daisy after the silver nitrate incident.
Note: I have organized the letter into paragraphs and clarified some of the punctuation.
The photograph of Daisy and Willy Low on their wedding day is used with the kind permission of the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace in Savannah, Georgia.
The original letter is from the Gordon Family Papers, MS 2235, housed at the Southern Historical Collection in the Wilson Special Collections Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.