As I have been out speaking to audiences about Juliette Gordon Low, I have often been asked about her two best friends, Mary Gale Carter Clarke and Abby Lippitt Hunter. In an effort to provide more information about them, this week’s blog focuses on Mary and the exceptionally rocky start to her romance with G. Hyde Clarke. If you own my book (as I sure hope you all do!), this information would have been on page 79—except it wound up on the proverbial cutting room floor. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a wonderful story—well, really it’s a shocking and sad story. I’ll let you be the judge.
To set this up: Jane Carter was Mary’s mother. She was a widow, because Mary’s father had committed suicide when Mary was ten years old. He apparently bequeathed his depression to his children, Mary among them. Hyde was the son of an established and wealthy family, the Clarkes of Cooperstown, New York. Mary and Hyde were deeply in love, but Mary’s mother did not approve of the match because Hyde had a reputation as a man-about-town. Jane had taken her daughter to Europe to put an ocean and some time between the young lovers, hoping that Mary and Hyde’s ardor would cool. She forbade them to correspond with each other. The Carters had barely gotten across the Atlantic when terrible news reached them:
In March 1883, Jane Carter received a letter from a man named David Gregory accusing Hyde of actions so scandalous that they were grounds for dissolving any understanding with Mary. A Dr. Gautier verified all Gregory had written. From Rome, Mrs. Carter penned a crushing letter to Hyde explaining that she had long heard rumors of his “gambling and dissipation.” But these new revelations meant she could no longer even “number him among [their] acquaintances.” Only Mary’s anguished note at the bottom of her mother’s letter gave Hyde any hope. It read, “It must be a terrible lie, oh write quickly and let us know it is so.”[i]
Hyde replied with alacrity, desperate to clear his name. Gregory and Gautier were his enemies, he began, and thus they put the worst possible spin on events. Apparently, David Gregory’s daughter Louise, a woman, Hyde alleged, whose “morality is of the worst sort,” had used him.[ii] “It was not till after a month’s solicitation on her part that I allowed myself to do that which she herself asked for and which I have had course to regret and repent of.” And he was not the only one. Hyde’s best friend, Philip Sherwood, was also the object of Louise Gregory’s attention: “She pretended love for him and he could have done the worst if he had been as foolish as I.”
It appears that Louise claimed she was pregnant and charged Hyde with the paternity. Hence the involvement of Dr. Gautier. The Gregorys threatened Hyde Clarke’s life, guaranteed they would see he never married, and hinted at legal action. Hyde’s father “offered to support her and her child, if such a thing were to happen. It never did,” Hyde swore. Further, he had never promised to marry Louise, who plainly stated that she loved another man. He contended that the Gregorys were cowards who did not pursue a lawsuit because it would have been too easy to demonstrate Louise’s failings.
Hyde’s exposition concluded with a reasoned and stern restatement of his commitment to Mary. He denied hiding anything from her. He had told her that he had lived a riotous life before they met. Hyde pointed out that the Louise Gregory saga was finished before he proposed to Mary. He was contrite. His greatest sorrow was the pain he had caused Mary. He believed himself worthy of a love as pure as hers. “My object in life is to make her happy,” he insisted and begged Mrs. Carter to consider proof of his character from those who loved him, like his father and Phil Sherwood, not from his adversaries.[iii] As he wrote in a separate letter to Mary, “Trust me that the pride of having a pure woman’s love is enough to make me see the follies of passionate youth.”[iv]
To Jane Carter, whose own husband ultimately surrendered to his demons, Hyde’s actions must have bespoken a similar kind of madness. Hyde’s confession surely reinforced her bedrock belief that a miserable marriage was a living death. To Mary, who loved Hyde but had been taught a moral code with no room for behavior like his—or Louise Gregory’s—Hyde’s confession tempted a re-emergence of her depression. Daisy’s yellow garter arrived just as the disclosures began. Mary would have donned hers with a dread urgency.
Jane Carter asked Daisy to join them in Rome, hoping she would act as a palliative for the inconsolable Mary. Unaware of the impetus for the invitation and feeling “like a champagne bottle with all the wires cut, ready to go off,” Daisy wrote jubilantly of how her mother’s intervention turned her father’s initial “no” into “yes.” Daisy did not believe that Mary could “realize my joy unless you have ever hoped for anything intensely and after utterly abandoning all idea of getting it suddenly find your wish about to be fulfilled.” Poor Mary certainly must have wept bitter tears upon reading that sentence. At least comfort was on the horizon, as Daisy planned to sail to Europe in early May.[v]
While Daisy made preparations to join her, Mary set out to change her mother’s mind. Initially doubting she could care for Hyde, Mary felt numb. She was not at all certain her feelings could be sustained. Yet Mary was a deeply religious woman. Hyde’s sin, as she called it, required both expiation on his part and forgiveness on hers. He clutched at the slender straw of hope, her belief that “our Savior is so merciful, so loving, so ready to forgive the truly penitent, that should I, a sinner too, condemn?” Mary wanted to honor her commitment to Hyde, but could not defy her mother. Jane Carter held fast to the position that the Clarke family’s “lax” morality was diametrically opposed to hers and did not foretell a congenial marriage.[vi]
Mary’s despair deepened when Daisy, unaccountably, could not travel to Europe, leaving Mary without her Little Flower to help her muddle through. It seems clear that neither Abby nor Daisy knew about the newest developments in the relationship between Mary and Hyde, for Daisy penned a letter to Mary in August containing a sentence that would have been cruel had she known the truth. Daisy wrote “Was it not dreadful that Mr. Phil Sherwood should have died so suddenly of heart disease in Hyde Clarke’s house.”[vii] Then she was on to another topic. Yet the unexpected death of Hyde’s best friend was heartbreaking. Jane Carter temporarily lifted the ban and allowed her daughter to write. Mary wanted to comfort Hyde in his grief and she regretted there was nothing she could do but pray.[viii]
Hyde and Mary were eventually married, and their first child would be Anne Hyde Choate, the second president of the Girl Scouts and Juliette Gordon Low’s goddaughter. Jane Russell Carter, who loved her daughter very much, would later spend a considerable amount of money helping Hyde and Mary hold on to heirlooms and treasures from Hyde’s home when financial troubles caused by Hyde’s father caused them to be auctioned off. Hyde Hall, in Cooperstown, is a national landmark and New York State historic site. It is open to the public. Here is the Hyde Hall website, where you can see photographs of the beautiful home. Be sure to check out the Hyde Hall facebook page, too.
[i] Jane Russell Carter to G. Hyde Clarke, 1 April 1883, Clarke Family Papers MS2800/6/3, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. Hereafter cited as CFP.
[ii] According to Anne Clarke Logan and Karen Lodinsky Nelson, Louisa Gregory was Hyde Clarke’s cousin. See their The Ladies of Hyde Hall (Cooperstown: Hyde Hall, Inc., 2009), 65.
[iii] G. Hyde Clarke to Jane Russell Carter, 18 April 1883, CFP MS2800/6/3.
[iv] G. Hyde Clarke to Mary Gale Carter Clarke, 22 April 1883, CFP MS2800/6/3.
[v] Juliette Gordon Low to Mary Gale Carter Clarke, 27 April 1883, CFP MS2800/6/4.
[vi] Mary Gale Carter Clarke to G. Hyde Clarke, 8 May 1883; Mary Gale Carter Clarke to Jane Russell Carter, 10 May 1883, and Jane Russell Carter to G. Hyde Clarke, 9 May 1883, all from CFP MS2800/6/4.
[vii] Juliette Gordon Low to Mary Gale Carter Clarke, 24 August 1883, CFP MS2800/6/6; Abby Lippitt Hunter to Mary Gale Carter Clarke, 18 February [n.y.], CFP MS 2800/21/7.
[viii] Mary Gale Carter Clarke to G. Hyde Clarke, 31 August 1883, CFP MS2800/6/6.