Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Juliet Stanton Adee, A Skater I Can't Say Impressed Me

Juliet Stanton Adee and Dr. Raynham Townshend on their sloop Nutmeg. Photo courtesy Mystic Seaport, The Museum Of America And The Sea.

Most times I dive into researching the stories of skaters, I like what I find. However, in the case of today's subject, Juliet Stanton Adee, a couple of key things kind of left me with a sour taste in my mouth. Let's dive in, shall we?

Born January 3, 1881 in Westchester County, New York, Juliet Stanton Adee was one of four children of lawyer George Augustus Adee and his wife Adelaide Palmer Stanton. Juliet had one sister, Ellen, and two brothers, George and Charles. Raised in The Bronx in relative affluence, her family had three Irish servants, a cook named Rachael, a maid named Mary and a waitress named Bridget. Growing up as the daughter of a lawyer afforded Juliet a certain degree of social standing and the family had a constant presence in the New York newspaper society pages at the time. Whether it was a luncheon, a wedding or a country club tea, there was a Juliet Stanton Adee.


Early in the first decade of the twentieth century, Juliet won golfing titles for several years back to back while visiting at Profile House in Franconia Notch, New Hampshire and became quite the star as a double's lawn tennis player, winning a contest in 1905 with C. Frederick Watson, Jr. and another later on with partner Martha Coster. As a tennis player, she was described as "untiringly aggressive". Many of her lawn tennis matches were actually played during the summer at the St. Nicholas Rink, which was of course a skating rink in the winter. It was there that she seriously took up skating, hobnobbing with New York high society and mastering school figure after school figure. The "untiringly aggressive" Juliet also developed a rivalry at the St. Nicholas Rink with an actress who skated there regularly named Miss Clare Cassel. Remember that name. It'll pop up again shortly.

On June 4, 1908, Juliet married a Yale graduate and house surgeon who worked at Roosevelt Hospital named Dr. Raynham Townshend, the son of Charles H. Townshend, at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Westchester. The June 4, 1908 issue of "The Sun" described her dress as "of white satin with point lace tulle and orange blossoms." It was a posh affair, being the marriage of a doctor and the daughter of a lawyer, with a reception at the local country club. After the wedding, the newlyweds moved to Connecticut (where Juliet's mother was born) so that Dr. Townshend could open his own practice in New Haven. In June 1912, Juliet had her first child, a daughter.

You'll remember that the first recognized U.S. Championships were held in New Haven. That's where Raynham and Juliet come in. In early 1914, the New Haven Skating Club was founded with Dr. Raynham Townshend as its President. With New York high hatter Irving Brokaw promoting and recruiting entries for the competition that March, of course Juliet, who he'd skated with at the St. Nicholas Rink and was the wife of the club's president, was asked to enter. Enter she did, but things didn't go so well. The young mother was a bit out of her league and finished a distant third behind winner Theresa Weld Blanchard and silver medallist Edith Rotch. And so her competitive figure skating career began and ended with a fizzle.

Claire Cassel
Juliet remained active in the New Haven skating community for many years as the wife of the club's first President. She had a second child, a son. However, two years after losing the U.S. title, her past seemed to resurface in a most interesting way. Juliet's older brother George was President of the United States National Lawn Tennis Association. In 1906, he found himself embroiled in controversy when he barred none other than Miss Clare Cassel, Juliet's old rival from the St. Nicholas Rink, from competing in the U.S. Lawn Tennis Championships because she had given figure skating lessons for money. Quoted in the December 3, 1916 issue of "The Pittsburgh Press", George stated, "Section 4 of Article 2 [of our by-laws] reads: 'An amateur is one who has not played, instructed, pursued or assisted in the pursuit of tennis or other athletic exercise as a means of livelihood or for gain or any emolument.' Under this rule a person who gives skating lessons for pay automatically forfeits his or her amateur standing." Cassell, who also gave skating exhibitions and was a former New York Skating Champion, was obviously not too pleased with his decision.

If that didn't rub you the wrong way, there's this... If you think back to Lottie Dod and other women of that era who excelled at not only skating but several other sports, you would kind of assume that they would be in favour of women's rights. In the case of Juliet, it was quite the opposite. She was an ardent, vocal and frequent anti-suffragist. Not only did she serve as treasurer for the Connecticut Association Opposed To Woman's Suffrage, she also regularly gave speeches in opposition to women having the right to vote at functions attended by many visiting guests. She fit the bill of most female anti-suffragists to a tee: a well-to-do, white, privileged doctor's wife from old money who wanted to cling on to an arcane system and way of life that was to her benefit.

Later in life, she served as Vice-President of the Woman's Auxiliary of the American Legion Of Connecticut and was commissioner of New Haven's chapter of The Girl Guides, where she regularly organized skating parties for the girls involved. To her credit, she was also actively involved in the American Red Cross blood bank for over sixty years. Her husband passed away in January 31, 1940 and she followed twenty two years later on July 21, 1962 at the age of eighty one. She's buried in the Grove Street Cemetery in New Haven.

Was her legacy that of a well-to-do woman who pursued athletics at a time when women participating was frowned upon by many? A vocal detractor of the women's suffrage movement? That of someone who quite likely had a hand in the end of the career of one of her former sporting rivals? When you add those pieces together, it doesn't paint a very pretty picture. We do have to remember that what we truly know of this skater's story is shaped by what is on public record. She may have been a wonderful mother, a kind person and a fabulous skater. We don't and probably will never know her whole story, just as we will never know the whole story of any skater competing today. We can paint people with whatever brush we choose to, but we have to accept that in many cases these perceptions are - let's face it - sometimes unfair.

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