Scope and arrangement
These are the diaries of a New York City socialite, the daughter of Grace Birmingham and George Matthews. Her father was a grandson of John Matthews (1808-70),one of the founders of the soda water industry whose firm became one of the leading suppliers of soda water and soda fountains in the U.S. The diaries, written in a bold legible hand, record (in 31 octavo volumes) the daily life and activities of Mrs. Ashmore from the time that she was a child of eleven in 1896 until shortly before her death at age eighty-eight. They thus cover a wide and interesting span of time and show in intimate detail the life of an American woman of wealth and fashion who came to maturity in the decade just before the Great War.
Of principal importance is the record of the period up until 1918 which is given in considerable detail. (Beginning in 1919 a “5 year diary” is used with the consequent sacrifice of space and content). An indefatigible traveller throughout her life the diarist begins with an account of her life in London and in Paris (1896-97). There is a fascinating account of her visit to St. Petersburg(1901) where the people all seemed very poor and the beggars “as thick as at Rome”. She records meeting the African explorer Paul Du Chaillu.
Her life in New York was a flurry of activity. From her home on Madison Avenue she commuted to Miss Chapin's School by pony cart. Her summers were spent at New London and Oyster Bay swimming and sailing. There is the record of her courtship and marriage to Henry Townsend Ashmore(who died tragically of pneumonia in 1915 the day following their eighth wedding anniversary), the description of her activites as a member of the Junior League, of her theatre and opera parties at which she heard Enrico Carusoin Rigoletto and Blanche Bates in The Girl of the Golden West. There is also mention of Sarah Bernhardt and Galli-Curci and Heifetz at Carnegie Hall “who was wonderful and gave many encores”. During the war she tried her hand at selling Liberty Bonds and she passed out leaflets at the recruiting tent at Fifth Avenue and Fortieth Street. On the day of November 7th, 1918 she records: “At 1 o'clock all the whistles began blowing and soon there was a din such as had never been heard in New York..crowds of people paraded in the centre of 5th Ave. and everyone went mad”.
While the diaries lack in depth throughout being almost wholly non-introspective in character, and in breadth after 1918, they nonetheless provide an interesting glimpse into the American cultural and social scene. They are unusually complete there being but one major gap in the chronological sequence (from 1929 to 1933 the equivalent of one “5 year diary”).
In addition to the diaries there are a few letters and miscellaneous papers. Present are some 115 letters and post cards addressed to Mrs. Ashmore from her friend Ernest de Weerth (d.1967),the American opera critic and stage and costume designer. These very chatty and personal letters written from Rome and elsewhere in Europe in the period 1956-66 contain interesting commentary on the international operatic and theatrical world. There are also present a few photographs of Mrs. Ashmore and friends, a notebook containing the record of her reading from 1901 to 1905, a few press clippings, and transcripts of Matthews family letters in the period 1829-70 with genealogical table and notes.
Accompanying these diaries and papers is a mass of printed matter, consisting of travel literature (flyers, brochures, color post cards, etc.) of Spain, Portugal, Greece and Egypt in the post W.W. II period, and numerous articles on European travel clipped from popular travel magazines.
The Grace Eulalie Matthews Ashmore papers are arranged in two series:
- 1896-197231 diaries by physical count Volume 3 not having been received from the donor in the original gift