Editor’s Note: My mother was schooled in Washington, DC until she turned 13. Then she lived with her father and his new family in Baltimore for her seventh and eighth grades. Before then, every year between May and September she and her grandmother, Elizabeth Agnes Burns Gwinn, would always depart the Capital and leave the hot and humid Washington summer to others. There was first an early trial run during my mother’s first two summers. As an infant she and her grandmother stayed at a hotel in Asbury Park, New Jersey with her grandmother’s daughter, Bessie Gwinn. With financial help from her father Richard Gwinn, Jr. and her grandmother’s other daughter, Mary Cornelia Gwinn, a house at 58 Sydney Avenue in Deal, New Jersey was purchased and run by her grandmother as a rooming house.
Her is my mother’s account on how this business supported the family, and was furnished and managed by her grandmother:
“Mama liked to go to Sloan‘s for their Washington auctions and much of the furniture came from there. She had no great amount of money and [her children] Mary and Richard [Gwinn] helped out , but she followed the custom of all impoverished southern families after the war and welcomed boarders. So various couples and families from New York stayed with us summer after summer. There were never too many and it was all very manageable and friendly. Three in help made this possible: William Johnson, waiter , gardener and handyman, Rachael Henderson, a great cook, and a maid changing each year. The other two stayed twenty years. As Deal had no stores, Mama and I used to go to market taking the trolley to Asbury. Otherwise I was pretty free to suit myself. She never permitted me to be used for household jobs or errands, and she encouraged my playing with the many children all around.”
During his bachelor years between 1901 and 1907, my grandfather Richard Gwinn, Jr. would visit his family in Deal in the summer. It was there that he had occasion to meet his second wife, Elizabeth Josephine Tack (1872-1946). She had joined her parents, Theodore Edward Tack (1837-1914) and his wife, Mary Cosgrove Tack (1850-1919) in several summer visits from their home in New York City. Richard Gwinn, Jr. and Elizabeth Tack were married in 1907 in New York City at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament, a red brick Italianate building erected on 71st Street, just west of the current church. Before long, my mother’s had three half-sisters: Betty, Martha, and Nancy Gwinn. Betty was born in 1908 in the home her mother grew up in, 122 West 82nd Street in New York City.
Martha was born in 1910 at The Saint Paul, at 103 East Mount Royal Avenue in Baltimore. This was in the downtown apartment building where Richard and Elizabeth Gwinn raised their family between October and April each year. From May until September each year, they would move to their house in the more suburban setting of 1809 Dixon Road, Mt. Washington, Baltimore. In addition to briefly living with her new sisters when she was 13 and 14, my mother tells in The Families of her many visits to The Saint Paul:
“I visited my father and the new family as often as I could and had enormous fun with the three sisters. It was a jolly and a musical household. Though I could never contribute to the singing, I added what levity I could, especially during my years at Trinity when we were never lacking in theatricals and jokes. I used to enjoy very much going to Lexington Market with Mother or, indeed, shopping at all. She not only knew all the strategic stalls and shops, but the interests and family events of all the people with whom she traded. She would have a gift for a new baby or a word of sympathy for the latest misfortune. We would take the streetcar back with a choice load of Maryland’s freshest, ripest produce. There, and at Mount Washington, she was a fine housekeeper and a most kind and affectionate person. I had the happiness and comfort of being her oldest daughter.”
Adjacent to the east of The Saint Paul apartments was The Mount Royal apartment building at 103 Mount Royal Avenue. Richard Gwinn’s sister Mary Cornelia lived next door there with her husband George West Page. Page was the brother of my grandfather’s Calvert Bank co-founder Will Page, and served several terms as Maryland’s Banking Commissioner.
My mother talks in The Families about her visits with Mary Gwinn Page and her husband:
“The newlyweds lived in The Mount Royal Apartments in Baltimore until Mary’s death in 1925. They were a calm and happy couple, readers and students, and they enjoyed each other. They were next door to the Saint Paul where we lived, and we often saw them on Sunday for dinner or a visit.”
Although The Mount Royal and The Saint Paul were separate apartment buildings at the time, they now appear to be under common ownership as the now small rental apartments of both are marketed together as The Mount Royal. The marketing touts the fact that the dozen international flags now outside The Saint Paul are in tribute to the buildings once serving as the International House of Johns Hopkins University.
When my mother was ready for high school, her grandmother’s focus on the best schooling available for her brought about a change in the routine. She explains this period this way:
“Mama paid great attention to my schooling. She knew that the public schools of New Jersey were among the best, and Asbury Park was outstanding. She expected me to study and do well. The idea of ‘not passing’ was a nightmare in elementary school. In high school, I had no obsession with college. because it was not until my senior year that I knew there was money for it. I had to make a sudden lurch. I took entrance exams in some subjects I had never even had–French for example! I was offered a scholarship to the College of New Rochelle, which I declined. Fortunately my Asbury marks were very good and I went one week late to Trinity.
After the usual beautiful autumns, when northeasters were piling up, Mama and I would shutter the house, have the water turned off, tell Mr. Carroll the policeman, and go south for the winter. Mama went to join [her children] Mary and Tom, and I to Join my father, stepmother, and Betty, Martha, and Nancy. Bessie went to New York to continue her teaching.
But when it came to high school, Mama and I spent the four snowy winters in Asbury. She said it was hard enough to switch about in grammar school–the subjects never fitted together, but it was idiotic to fool with such a schedule in high school. So she suffered the dullness of four bitter winters in a hotel in Asbury . I think for her the boredom was worse than the cold. But…I lived an inspired life of basketball and gay high school sociability. Rachel Guerin, Isabelle Goorley, Elza, Murial and I were State Champions [in basketball], and brought great honor to the Asbury Park High School! “