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Wednesday, June 12, 2019

New Book About Maria Longworth Storer

Submitted by Constance J. Moore

[Constance J. Moore and Nancy M. Broermann, who works in the Ursulines of Cincinnati Archives at St. Ursula Academy, co-authored the book Maria Longworth Storer: From Music and Art to Popes and Presidents. Here is part of the story from this comprehensive biography.]

Constance J. Moore 

Nancy M. Broermann

This year marks the 170th anniversary of the birth of Maria Longworth Storer, Cincinnati philanthropist, ceramicist, musician, civic leader, peace activist and mother. She was born in her grandparents’ mansion on Pike St in the Queen City on March 20, 1849. Her father Joseph, who was one of the wealthiest men in the country, took his family out of the dirty city to a hilltop estate called Rookwood that had a marvelous view of the Ohio River. It was there, surrounded by loving parents and equally intelligent and enterprising brothers, that little Maria blossomed into a precocious, creative young woman who longed to become an artist. 

Maria married Civil War veteran George Ward Nichols, who was nearly 20 years her senior in 1868. They seemed so happy in the early years. Both were talented pianists and artists. They had two children, Joe and Margaret in quick succession. Maria and George helped to plan the May Festival, the choral and orchestral gala that has been an ongoing success since 1873. Next, George wrote - and Maria illustrated - two books that were highly successful. But somewhere, somehow, their relationship fractured. 

By 1880 Maria had grown from a teenage bride to a talented entrepreneur who established the first woman-run international business in the nation, The Rookwood Pottery Company. She also was deeply involved in philanthropic activities. She opened and funded the first nursing school and pediatric hospital in the city to provide the highest level of care to vulnerable children. She underwrote a daycare center for indigent workers. With these activities, she spent more and more time away from home. 

When Maria built a “tandem” mansion on her property, people gossiped that the couple was living apart because they were either estranged or divorced. Other people mused that she built the house so she could meet her reputed lover, Bellamy Storer, on her property. What gossips failed to note was that George had been diagnosed with tuberculosis. Margaret, their daughter, said  her father lived in the second house so none of the family would catch his highly contagious illness.

Maria Longworth Storer, Vienna, March 1903 (Ursulines of Cincinnati Archives)
After George’s death it did seem strange that he was not buried in the Longworth plot in Spring Grove Cemetery or that Maria married Bellamy Storer only six months after his death. Many in high society were scandalized by these facts. 

in 1890, Maria served as a de-facto campaign manager for her husband’s successful run for Congress. Her great wealth, social connections and active support of her husband’s candidacy proved to be just what he needed to be elected. 

Once in Congress, Bellamy could count on his wife to invite colleagues and friends to lavish meals of excellent cuisine, laughter and good conversation in their beautifully decorated mansion near the Capitol Hill. Cincinnati friend, William Howard Taft, is believed to have brought Theodore Roosevelt to meet them at one of these banquets. 

The Storers and the Roosevelts hit it off quite well. The Storers were older and wealthier. They showered the young man with friendship, career advice and financial support. Bellamy served as godfather for one of Roosevelt’s sons; Maria loaned Edith, Roosevelt’s wife, a gown for an important social occasion at the White House. When the children were ill, she took them for carriages rides as a diversion from their sickness.

When Bellamy failed to be re-nominated for a third term, people gossiped that Maria’s conversion to Catholicism stirred up anti-papal sentiments against Bellamy. No matter, in 1896, Maria’s financial support and Bellamy’s campaigning for William McKinley’s successful bid for the presidency brought a diplomatic appointment to Belgium for the couple. 

After a successful two years in Belgium, McKinley appointed Bellamy as minister to Spain. Maria helped Bellamy with diplomatic duties, drafting letters and writing the president and secretary of state. She asked for personnel records and advised about naval vessel placements. How letters from the wife of a diplomatic official were received in Washington DC is not documented. However, she was sent the information she requested, so it is believed that McKinley had no problems with her involvement.

This all changed when her old friend Theodore Roosevelt took over the presidency after the assassination of McKinley. When she approached the Vatican about the promotion of St Paul’s Archbishop of Ireland to cardinal, gossip surrounded these visits. Newspapers suggested an American diplomatic couple was trying to influence Catholic Church administrative actions. It appeared they were violating the separation of church and state rules of the country. Roosevelt cautioned both the Storers they must not involve themselves in church matters in a public way.

With Bellamy’s assignment to Austria-Hungary, they all hoped the couple would quietly manage the affairs between the two countries. Maria again became a fixture in the newspapers. Whenever the couple visited the Vatican, negative comments were featured in the international press no matter how quietly the Storers attempted to keep their visit. In 1905, Roosevelt had enough. He wrote to Bellamy and stated in no uncertain terms that he would remove him from the diplomatic service unless Maria would cease her meddling. Ultimately, that is exactly what happened. 

Bellamy’s removal from office became an international scandal. Rather than sending a letter to the Austrian-Hungarian government recalling the diplomat, Roosevelt sent a cable firing Bellamy while the Storers were vacationing in Egypt. The news was so juicy it was leaked to the press. As they were making their way back to Vienna to pack up their belongings, Maria was interviewed several times by the press, challenging the precipitous firing. Later Bellamy wrote a rebuttal that again was released to the newspapers. Roosevelt responded in the press. Almost every day there was something salacious to titillate dinner conversation. The scandal lasted for months.

When Maria returned to America, she and her husband were ostracized from society, even in Cincinnati. For the next few years, Maria decided to avoid any tittle-tattle in the press by staying in Boston when in the United States. When Roosevelt ran for the presidency in 1912, Maria sent anti-Roosevelt letters, articles and political cartoons to newspapers and magazines about her former friend.

Maria Longworth Storer, France (Ursulines of Cincinnati Archives)
With the World War, Maria moved back to Cincinnati, but not to her Grandin Road mansion. She and Bellamy were given permission to build an apartment attached to St. Ursula Academy. They also helped build a beautiful chapel filled with Carrara marble sculpture and lovely stained glass windows. They loved the peace and serenity of their art-filled home. 

Maria deeply involved herself in multiple fund-raising efforts for war relief. She organized more than 17,000 Cincinnati women to send care packages and solicited funds for soldiers. This group raised more than three million dollars for Liberty Bonds and energetically provided resources for thousands of displaced persons after the war. 

Maria was impacted by the terrible loss of life the brutal war caused. She became an ardent peace activist who campaigned to have faith-based peace negotiations to end war forever. She wrote key political and religious figures in hope of obtaining their support. Few responded. 

After the war, the couple traveled to France to visit her daughter and grandchildren. In 1919, Bellamy suffered a stroke and later died in 1922. Maria decided to remain in France, close to her family, and never returned to the United States. When she developed what is believed to be dementia, her daughter said she was lost in her memories of her childhood in Cincinnati. Maria died in her apartment in Paris, on April 30, 1932, shortly after her 83rd birthday. 

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