A Sign of Summer: The Mortlake House

Summer travel time is almost here and I personally long for a road trip somewhere. In fact, by the time this is posted I will be in the mountains of West Virginia. At any rate, this wanderlust probably goes back to my childhood riding through southern backroads with my 3 siblings in a big old ’56 Chevy wagon without radio or air conditioning—or seat belts, come to think of it. Locating suitable lodging was sometimes an adventure in the pre-Internet age, but my parents tried to find places that had the “AAA” sign, and maybe even a pool.

WPA file Mortlake House006

It’s easy to see how the house, beautifully framed by tall maples and elms, and with its several additions, could be used as an inn. This photograph was taken as part of the WPA’s “Census of Distinctive Buildings” survey in the late 1930s, when the inn was no longer operating.

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Service Bureau for Women’s Organizations

Today, October 24th, is United Nations Day and when I think about the United Nations, I always think about Eleanor Roosevelt because she was chairperson of the UN’s Commission on Human Rights. However, instead of writing yet another entry about Eleanor Roosevelt’s connection to this collection of G. Fox materials, I thought I would discuss an important organization that she supported: the Service Bureau for Women’s Organizations.

In January of 1945, the Beatrice Fox Auerbach Foundation sponsored a Woman’s Service Bureau in order to increase the effectiveness of women’s work through organized efforts. From the beginning, Beatrice Fox Auerbach was deeply involved in the organization. She was the first chairman of the advisory board for the Service Bureau and donated space on the eleventh floor of G. Fox & Co. for the Bureau’s director to use as her office. In fact, the Service Bureau was never far from Mrs. Auerbach’s mind. When traveling abroad, Mrs. Auerbach would speak with women in other countries about the Service Bureau and would often invite them to come speak at the organization’s meetings.

Perhaps one of the reasons that Mrs. Auerbach never took a vacation from promoting the Service Bureau while abroad was that her close friend and frequent traveling companion, Chase Going Woodhouse, was also a co-founder of the Service Bureau. Mrs. Woodhouse also served as the Bureau’s second director, a position she held from 1954 until 1981.

Under the adept leadership of Mrs. Woodhouse, the Service Bureau thrived as a clearing house for women’s organizations in Connecticut.  The agency also researched and developed program materials for use by those organizations.  The Service Bureau’s name was changed in 1970 to the Service Bureau for Connecticut Organizations to be more gender-inclusive.  In the library’s collection, we have two publications created by the Service Bureau as well as a number of their annual reports.

“My dear Friend”

Last week, I wrote about the friendship between Beatrice Fox Auerbach and Eleanor Roosevelt, as evidenced through their correspondence. I thought it might be fun this week to include a sample letter from the collection.

Here are the scanned images of a letter Mrs. Roosevelt wrote to Mrs. Auerbach on June 17, 1960:

Roosevelt Letter, page 1

Roosevelt Letter, page 2

If you have trouble reading her handwriting, you are not alone. It took three of us to decipher the line Mrs. Roosevelt scribbled at the bottom of the letter and we were only able to do it after comparing this letter with other examples of Mrs. R’s handwriting! We think it is in reference to her raincoat and says, “It is green + not elegant!” (Also, in case it’s not clear, on the first page, the word ‘leaving’ is replaced with the word ‘bringing.’)

This letter is typical of much of the correspondence between the two women. I chose this letter specifically because it offers a neat glimpse into the personality of Eleanor Roosevelt.

Hartford’s “First Lady” and the First Lady of the World

In many articles I’ve read about Beatrice Fox Auerbach, she has been nicknamed Hartford’s “First Lady,” probably because of her positive impact on its community. For similar reasons, Eleanor Roosevelt has been dubbed the “First Lady of the World.” And between 1946 and 1962 these two “First Ladies” corresponded with one another.

Their early correspondence is quite formal, as one would expect from people who are not well-acquainted with one another. Initially, they write to each other almost exclusively about establishing meeting times. These meetings all seem to center around the recently formed Service Bureau for Woman’s Organizations. (It was renamed in 1970 to the Service Bureau for Connecticut Organizations). In April 1946, Mrs. Roosevelt was a speaker at one of the Service Bureau’s first sponsored events and the correspondence between her and Mrs. Auerbach begins shortly after this event.

It is clear, after reading their correspondence, that the two women developed a genuine affection for one another as their involvement with the Service Bureau and other humanitarian causes continued to bring them into contact. While never completely losing an element of formality, the letters do become increasingly warm, friendly and somewhat more intimate.

These letters are extremely delightful in tone and content. The correspondence is especially noteworthy because it reveals a different side of Mrs. Auerbach that does not appear elsewhere in the collection.