WWHP Travels to Newport, Rhode Island!

Review by Margaret Watson, WWHP Steering Committee member
WWHP at Newport Art Museum
WWHP at Newport Art Museum

Saturday, June 28, dawned bright and beautiful as thirty-three members of the Worcester Women’s History Project boarded the bus that would take them to Rhode Island. In the morning we toured the Newport Art Museum. The building was initially owned by the John A. Griswold family. This fine old home, built in the premier American Stick Style, is now a National Historic Landmark. A newer and smaller building, the Cushing Gallery, has been erected more recently on that site. It is now owned by the Art Association of Newport. The Newport Art Museum boasts a fine permanent collection, including works by Gilbert Stuart and Catherine Morris Wright. In June works by Richard Morris Hunt were on display. The exhibition was titled "A Very Simple Charm."

In the early 1900’s the Art Association of Newport was formed. Its founders were very much interested in the advancement of women in the arts. Maud Howe Elliot, daughter of Julia Ward Howe and herself a well-known author, was a founding member of the Art Association of Newport. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, noted sculptor, also joined Maud in promoting the arts created by women. Interestingly, the twin daughters of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Eliza and Harriet, were active in the Art Association of Newport.

Lunch was served at the La Forge Restaurant, a well-known restaurant located on the grounds of the Tennis Hall of Fame. It has been owned by the Crowley family for thirty-eight years and boasts a menu offering traditional Irish cuisine.

We were then given time to explore and shop at the various establishments along Bellevue Avenue. We continued our tour along the streets of Newport and stopped at Rough Point, the home of heiress Doris Duke. This mansion was built over a four-year period and completed in 1892. Frederick William Vanderbilt was the first owner of this English manorial-style home. He sold the mansion to William Bateman Leeds Sr., and the estate passed to Leeds’ widow who sold the mansion to James Buchanan Duke in 1922. Buchanan had made his fortune in electrical power and tobacco. He was a benefactor of Duke University. Upon his death, the estate passed to his widow and ultimately to his only surviving child, Doris, who was only twelve years old at the time of her father’s death. In the early 1950’s Mrs. Duke ceased to visit Rough Point, but the home became a favorite of Doris, who made the house her residence in summers most years. She also owned homes in Hawaii and New York but travelled extensively. Doris refurnished Rough Point according to her eclectic tastes, including Asian, Indian, English, and American furniture and art, as well as pieces from the Continent of Europe. Many original and important paintings and sculptures grace the halls and rooms of the mansion. Her bedroom boasts a fine collection of furniture inlaid with mother-of-pearl.

During our visit, we viewed a special exhibit of Doris Duke’s clothing collection. The dresses were varied, ranging from the simple "little black dress" to more lavishly decorated gowns. Once called the richest woman in the world, Doris had the means to indulge her tastes and even become a fashion setter as the world watched.

Doris Duke was an animal lover. She owned ten dogs (all at once) who were brought to her bed-room each morning by the butler who also served breakfast at the same time. She also owned two camels, Princess and Baby, who browsed on the grounds surrounding the mansion. During one hurricane, Miss Duke moved the camels into the solarium for their safety, and one camel, upon seeing her own reflection in the mirror, took a bite out of the frame. The damage is still visible.

Doris Duke had been married twice, once to James H.R. Cromwell and then to Porfirio Rubirosa, but she left no surviving children. Her estate was left to various individuals, including her butler, but the bulk was left to philanthropic organizations, including animal protection agencies. Doris Duke was unique. Her mansion has been preserved as she furnished it; nothing has been added or subtracted since her death in 1993. Rough Point is currently owned by the Newport Restoration Foundation.

The tour of June 28 proved to be a unique, well-organized, and valuable experience. Thanks go to CJ Posk and Hanna Solska for arranging this wonderful trip.

Published Date: 
June 28, 2014