Amy Heard in Washington
Famous or notorious people leave tracks through history that are easy to follow. Their letters and writings are avidly preserved and they are much written about by others. The persistant biographer need only visit libraries and family or historical society collections to piece together the details of the person's life. Simply because the person was or is famous is usually sufficient motivation to make the effort to understand and describe their life, even if it has been done repeatedly before.

In contrast, people who do not have a profound impact on their contempory general public can fade with time, leaving only a few family anecdotes and photographs for their grandchildren and great grandchildren. Occasionally, however, such fameless people do leave enough traces in the forms of letters, notes, and journals to permit a determined researcher to piece together bits of their life years later, but the motivation to do so is usually lacking unless the person lost in the past is of particular interest to the sleuth of the present. As an obvious example, the life of ancestors is often of strong interest to a descendent who never knew them and knows little about them. Such research can be of interest to more than just the family of an ancestor. The ancestor might typify an interesting time, class, or culture and their lives might by example provide an interesting excursion into an entire period. The ancestor might have come in regular contact with remarkable contemporaries, people who have been written about and whose lives can be found in books and newspaper files.
Amy Heard in 1876, Brighton
Even if these reasons are only rationalizations, the process of doing detective work on the past, of being an amateur historian, can be challenging and fun on its own, regardless of the famous person or unknown ancestor selected as object for the search. It can be satisfying to figure out who some individual was, to find previously unknown gossip, to find the details of a scandal only hinted at, to find the futures of the young people encountered, and to find romantic aspects to lives previously described in biographies as having had none. Reading century-old letters and journals for the first time can provide a window into the past, a vicarious adventure that is remote from the present, yet strangely familiar.

Following the death of my father, Augustine Heard Gray, in 1982, I found in his papers a letter addressed to his mother, Amy Heard, from a V. Sackville-West. The letter was in French and the handwriting was so unlike any I had seen that I at first found it illegible. With hints of a secret scandal and a hasty departure from the U.S., the letter caught my interest and led to a search among my father's papers as well as the boxed collections of cousin Arthur Meeker Gray for further letters of the period. In parallel I began to discover in both contemporary and recent books the identity of Ms. Sackville-West and the other people who populated the letters, which proved to be full of Washington gossip concerning the diplomats and politicians of the age. Amy proved to be a well-connected bystander to the political and diplomatic life in Washington D.C. at the end of the nineteenth century, with friends among the best known diplomats, politicians, and writers of the time.

To date I have found approximately two hundred letters written to Amy, mostly from the daughters of politicians and diplomats and from her family during the 1880's and the 1890's, the period named the Gilded Age by Mark Twain [25]. These letters provide an intimate picture of close friendships of young women of the time and an insider's view of many of the personalities and events of diplomatic and political life in Washington, D.C. In addition, Amy kept a daily notebook with brief entries describing visits, parties, dinners, receptions, and other Washington, D.C., social functions as well as vacations to Niagara Falls and Bar Harbor. The notebooks for portions of 1881, 1882, and 1886 survive.
Victoria West
The early letters and the notebooks supplement the published letters of two of the most famous Washington women of the time: Mrs. Henry Adams [2] and Mrs. James G. Blaine[5], both of whom refer to many of Amy's correspondents and to Amy herself. Many of the people mentioned can also be found in the Dictionary of American Biography and several books devoted to that period such as Mrs. Jack [24], The Proper Bostonians [4], The Gentle Americans [14], and Lady Sackville [3] and others that will be cited. The later letters before and during the period when Amy's father was U.S. Minister to Korea provide a story of American politics and diplomacy of the time and of the difficult adjustments required of an unprepared diplomatic family in a new and struggling country. The Korean letters are the subject of a separate book, Max and Max.

Amy's most famous correspondent was she who wrote the first letter I found: Victoria West, later to become Lady Sackville. Her biography Lady Sackville [3] by Mary Alsop provides a lively account of her life and times and was my first source once I discovered her identity. Victoria was the mother of the writer V. Sackville-West (known as "Vita") and the grandmother of the writer Nigel Nicolson, who among other things wrote biographies of Napoleon and Lord and Lady Curzon. Both daughter and grandson described Victoria in books. Vita recounted her grandmother's early life in her book Pepita [22] while Nicolson's biography of his parents, Portrait of a Marriage [19] provide a brief account of his grandmother. Unfortunately the subsequent television production of Portrait of a Marriage provided a painfully inadequate and unsympathetic portrait of an elderly Victoria.
Victoria, Flora, and Amalia
and Mme Boumy in 1884
This chain of literary progeny and the notoriety of Victoria's and Vita's lives make discovering the family story a relatively easy task in comparison to tracking down some of the less well known names mentioned in the letters, some of which remain a mystery.

In addition to the letters from Victoria, many letters exist from friends and family. In particular, Victoria's sisters Amalia and Flora and Amy's sister Helen Maxima Heard (nicknamed "Max") wrote often.  

Victoria's younger sisters Amalia (then 15) and Flora (then 17) arrived in Washington in December 1883. Amalia was to become an even closer friend of Amy's than her sister. While Amalia was later to become a bitter spinster, during this period she was bright, witty, and enthusiastic, though a hint of her future sadness shows up in her musing about men, marriage, and death. Although published accounts suggest she never had a serious relationship with a man, the letters imply a romantic, and ultimately tragic, liaison with the nephew of the Spanish ambassador.

These letters typify letters among close women friends of the Victorian period: they are warm, affectionate, gossipy, and occasionally catty. All of the letters from the West sisters and Max are in French. The journals are in French, Spanish, and, only rarely, English.

The letters, journals, clippings, and photos became a hobby for me. I decided to try to translate the letters into English, track down the identities and what information I could about the people mentioned in the letters, and put together a book using the letters and journal entries as an excuse to describe one aspect of Washington diplomatic and political life during the Guilded Age, the view seen by the daughters and wives of male politicians and diplomats of the time. The stories of the writers and their friends are told, at least briefly, as their names occur in the journal and letters. The book is intended to provide a small guided tour of the times through the correspondence and notes of a participant.

One advantage of writing books as part of my profession is the possession of the tools to try out a book for the fun of it, even if the potential audience comprises only a few friends and family members (and possibly the Lady Sackville archives at the University of Illinois and the small collection of avid Lady Sackville groupies that I have met at Book Fairs). I hope that a few might enjoy peering back into the past as much as I did.

At this writing the letters from the Misses West and the notebooks have been transcribed and translated. The Korean letters have been transcribed translated and are presented in separate book, Max and Max.

As time permits, I hope to add the original French (and other languages) of the daily journals as well as other relevant letters.

A complete list of the letters follows.

Letters from Victoria, Amalia, and Flora West. All but one are to Amy Heard. There is one letter from Victoria to Amy's mother, Jane DeConinck Heard.
  1. 7 May 1884, from Victoria
  2. 23 December 1884, from Victoria
  3. 19 March 1885, from Amalia (& undated note)
  4. 22 March 1885, from Victoria
  5. 31 March 1885, from Victoria
  6. 2 April 1885, from Victoria
  7. 3 April 1885, from Victoria
  8. 3 May 1885, from Amalia
  9. 8 May 1885, from Victoria (& Flora)
  10. 3 June 1885, from Amalia (In London July-Oct. 85)
  11. 28 February 1886, from Amalia
  12. 6 March 1886, from Amalia
  13. 9 March 1886, from Amalia
  14. 11 March 1886, from Victoria (Ottowa)
  15. 14 March 1886, from Amalia
  16. 14 March 1886, from Victoria (Ottowa)
  17. 27 March 1886, from Amalia
  18. 31 March 1886, from Victoria
  19. 13 April 1886, from Victoria (summer '86 in England)
  20. 19 July 1887, from Amalia (Paris)
  21. 28 August 1887, from Victoria (Paris)
  22. 21 October 1887, from Amalia
  23. 22 October 1887, from Victoria
  24. 12 November 1887, from Victoria
  25. 12 November 1887, from Amalia
  26. 26 November 1887, from Amalia
  27. 30 November 1887, from Victoria
  28. 22 December 1887, from Victoria
  29. 26 December 1887, from Victoria
  30. 23 January 1888, from Victoria
  31. 29 January 1888, from Amalia
  32. 20 February 1888, from Amalia (Cannes)
  33. 19 March 1888, from Amalia (looking for house in Beverly Cove)
  34. 9 April 1888, from Victoria (Flora's engagement)
  35. 9 April 1888, from Flora
  36. 11 April 1888, from Victoria to Jane Heard
  37. 19 April 1888, from Amalia
  38. 18 July 1888, from Amalia (Cove Hill, Beverly)
  39. 19 July 1888, from Victoria (Cove Hill, Beverly)
  40. 22 September 1888, from Amalia (Cove Hill, Beverly)
  41. 31 October 1888, from Victoria (Murchison affair)
  42. 6 November 1888, from Amalia
  43. 11 March 1889, from Victoria (Cannes)
  44. 28 March 1891, from Victoria (Knole)

Letters to Amy Heard from Augustine Heard (her father), Bébé (or Max or Helene, her sister Helen Maxima Heard), Jane Leaps Heard (her mother), John Heard (her brother), Albert Augustine Heard (her brother), and Albert Farley Heard (her uncle).

  1. 16 September 1878, from Augustine (Ipswich)
  2. 12 February 1883, from Augustine (NY)
  3. 10 November 1884, from Augustine (Cleveland)
  4. 27 November 1884, from Bébé
  5. 4 December 1884, from Augustine Albert Heard (Cincinnati to NY)
  6. 13 December 1884, from John Heard (Boston to NY, in German)
  7. 16 December 1884, from Bébé (Boston to NY)
  8. 17 December 1884, from John Heard (Boston to NY, in German)
  9. 24 December 1884, from Bébé (Boston to NY)
  10. 28 January 1885, from Bébé (Boston)
  11. 10 February 1885, from Augustine Heard (NY)
  12. 25 February 1885, from John Heard (NY to Washington, c/o Commissioner Loring, in German)
  13. 5 March 1885, from Bébé (Boston)
  14. 8 March 1885, from John Heard (NY to the Russian Legation,, from Washington, D.C., in German)
  15. 10 March 1885, from Jane Leaps Heard (NY, sent c/o G.B.Loring, Washington D.C.)
  16. 10 March 1885, from Augustine Heard (NY, c/o G.B. Loring)
  17. 21 March 1885, from Bébé (Boston to NY)
  18. 27 May 1885, from Augustine Heard (NY to Boston)
  19. 2 June 1885, from Bébé (Boston to Ipswich)
  20. 8 June 1885, from Augustine (NY to Ipswich)
  21. 4 March 1886, from Jane Leaps (NY to Boston)
  22. 9 March 1886, from Augustine Albert Heard (In French)
  23. 17 March 1886, from Augustine (Cuba?)
  24. 1 April 1886, from Jane Leaps & Augustine (NY to Boston)
  25. 14 April 1886, from Jane Leaps (NY to Boston)
  26. 25 January 1887, from Bébé (Washington to Boston, West sisters)
  27. 29 June 1887, from Bébé (The Belmont, Bar Harbor)
  28. 5 July 1887, from Augustine (NY to Nahant)
  29. 6 July 1887 , from Bébé (The Belmont, Bar Harbor)
  30. 7 July 1887, from Augustine (NY to Nahant)
  31. 12 July 1887, from Augustine (NY to Nahant)
  32. 15 July 1887, from Bébé (The Belmont, Bar Harbor)
  33. 18 July 1887, from Augustine
  34. 22 July 1887, from Bébé (The Belmont, Bar Harbor)
  35. 27 July 1887, from Albert Farley Heard (Washington)
  36. 1 August 1887, from Bébé (The Belmont, Bar Harbor)
  37. 8 August 1887, from Augustine (Mt. Desert)
  38. 8 August 1887, from Bébé (The Belmont, Bar Harbor)
  39. 10 August 1887, from Jane Leaps & Augustine (Mt. Desert)
  40. 17 August 1887, from Augustine (Belmont, Bar Harbor)
  41. 19 August 1887, from Bébé (The Belmont, Bar Harbor)
  42. 21 August 1887, from Augustine (Mt. Desert)
  43. 28 August 1887, from Albert Farley Heard (Ipswich to Nahant)
  44. 28 August 1887, from Augustine (Mt. Desert to Nahant)
  45. 4 September 1887, from Bébé (The Belmont, Bar Harbor)
  46. 18 September 1887, from Bébé (The Belmont, Bar Harbor)
  47. 1 December 1887, from Augustine (NY)
  48. 10 January 1888, from Max (Washington)
  49. 19 January 1888, from Max (Washington)
  50. 8 February 1888, from Max (Washington, mentions Amalia W.)
  51. 18 March 1888, from Jane Leaps (NY)
  52. 25 March 1888, from Augustine (NY)
  53. 20 May 1888, from Augustine (NY)
  54. 23 August 1888, from Augustine (Bar Harbor)
  55. 30 August 1888, from Max (The Belmont)
  56. 7 October 1888, from Max (Ipswich)
  57. 13 October 1888, from Augustine (Bar Harbor)
  58. 25 March 1889, from Augustine (NY, Blaine discussions)
  59. 25 June 1889, from Augustine (Belmont, Bar Harbor)
  60. 29 July 1889, from Augustine (Bar Harbor)
  61. 25 January 1890, from Jane Leaps & Augustine (NY)
  62. 10 February 1890, from Augustine (NY)
  63. 30 May 1890, from Augustine (Seoul)
  64. 6 August 1890, from Helene (Seoul, Korea)
  65. 7 November 1890, from Augustine (Seoul)
  66. 19 February 1891, from Augustine (Seoul)
  67. 23 February 1891, from Augustine (Seoul)
  68. 27 March 1891, from Augustine (Seoul)
  69. 6 April 1891, from Helene (Seoul, No. 8)
  70. 23 May 1891, from Helene (Peking, No. 9; courtship with von Brandt)
  71. 31 July 1891, from Helene (Seoul, No. 11)
  72. 30 August 1891, from Augustine (Seoul)
  73. 22 September 1891, from Helene (Seoul, No. 14)
  74. 20 October 1891, from Augustine (Seoul)
  75. 25 November 1891, from Helene (Seoul, No. 16, + menu)
  76. 4 December 1891, from Jane Leaps (Seoul)
  77. 4 December 1891, from Helene (Seoul, No. 17)
  78. 12 December 1891, from Helene (Seoul, also no. 17)
  79. 17 December 1891, from Helene (Seoul, no. 18)
  80. 25 December 1891, from Helene (Seoul, no. 19)
  81. 6 January 1892, from Helene (Chunulpo?, no. 20)
  82. 17 January 1892, from Helene (Seoul, no. 21)
  83. 30 January 1892, from Jane Leaps (Seoul, in English!)
  84. 10 February 1892, from Augustine (Seoul)
  85. 19 February 1892, from Jane Leaps (Seoul, in English!)
  86. 11 March 1892, from Augustine (Seoul)
  87. 19 July 1892, from Augustine (Chefoo)
  88. 21 July 1892, from Augustine (Chefoo, note from Max von B.)
  89. 30 July 1892, from Augustine (Chefoo)
  90. 10 August 1892, from Augustine (Chefoo)
  91. 16 September 1892, from Augustine (Chefoo)
  92. 8 January 1893, from Helene (Seoul)
  93. 9 May 1893, from Helene (on board the Oldenburg, Straits of Malacca)

Other Letters to Amy Heard
  1. 29 November 1884, from Alice Bowler (Cincinnatti)
  2. 14 February 1885, from Mary Endicott (mentions V.W.)
  3. 15 March 1885, from Louise Bowler (Boston)
  4. 16 March 1885, from Georgie (refers to articles)
  5. 16 March 1885, from ?? (Biarritz)
  6. 5 June 1885, from ?? (AWL below?)
  7. 30 August 1885, letters to both Amy and Russell from I.S. Gardner (Isabella Stewart) +
  8. 20 February 1886, from Louise Bowler
  9. 17 March 1886, from Edith (NY to Boston)
  10. 22 March 1886, from AWL (Bermuda to Boston)
  11. 3 September 1886, from Genevieve Marshall (British Legation in Berne, forwarded from British Leg. in Wash to Bar Harbor. L.S.S. West signature on envelope) +
  12. 7 September 1886, from Mary (Thurston?) Arnay-le-Duc, Cote d'Or to NY +
  13. 9 September 1886, from (to Russell Gray) W.C.Loring
  14. 10 September 1886, from Thèrese (de Chambrun or de Brazza?), (Paris to NY) (mentions V.W.) +
  15. 14 September 1886, from Genevieve (Marshall) (Berne to NY) +
  16. 17 September 1886, from M.V. Chaffraix (New Orleans to Boston) +
  17. 23 September 1886, from Georgie (Bangalore to 1777 Mass Av, Wash D.C.)
  18. 5 October 1886, from Josefina Martinez (Santiago)
  19. 26 October 1887, from Horace Gray (Justice of Supreme Court)
  20. 26 June 1887, from Bessie (Chalet Haltura)
  21. 28 July 1887, from Louise (Chatwold, Mt. Desert)
  22. 3 September 1887, from Louise (Chatwold, Mt. Desert)
  23. 13 September 1887, from Edith
  24. 23 September 1887, from Louise Bowler (Chatwold, Mt. Desert)
  25. 8 October 1887, from Louise (Chatwold)
  26. 22 October 1887, from Bessie (Chalet Haltera, Biarritz)
  27. 13 November 1887, from Mary Endicott
  28. 11 December 1887, from Louise Bowler
  29. 25 December 1887, from Edith
  30. 30 December 1887, from Louise Bowler (Mt. Storm)
  31. 17 April 1888, from Mary Endicott
  32. 20 April 1888, from Edith
  33. 27 April 1888, from Louise Bowler
  34. 7 August 1888, from Addie
  35. 5 October 1888, from Louise Bowler
  36. 6 November 1888, from Mary C. Endicott (engagement to J. Chamberlain)
  37. 22 November 1888(?), from Mary Endicott Chamberlain
  38. 6 June 1889, from Mabel Bayard Warren
  39. 4 February 1890, from Mary Endicott Chamberlain
  40. 24 April 1890, from Mabel Bayard Warren
  41. 16 May 1890, from Mabel Bayard Warren
  • Acknowledgements

  • Robert M. Gray, September 23, 2005