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May Day: 1915

May 1, 1915. "Friendship charity fete, general view." A May Day benefit for the Washington Diet Kitchen Association at Friendship. The McLean family estate was decked out in springtime's palette, a veritable a riot of grays. View full size.

May 1, 1915. "Friendship charity fete, general view." A May Day benefit for the Washington Diet Kitchen Association at Friendship. The McLean family estate was decked out in springtime's palette, a veritable a riot of grays. View full size.


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As one wit put it ...

children of the age of color photography and color television could be excused for thinking that the world was once in black and white. This scene cry does indeed cry out for color!

The Gay Chinese Parasols

were in fact gay Japanese parasols, of lacquered bamboo and hand-painted "washi" paper, bearing a Chinese-inspired design of Manchurian cranes and peonies. The style of the painting identifies them as Japanese to Asian art specialists but probably to no one else. At the time, Japanese and Chinese export "fancy goods" were all pretty much bundled together by Americans as "Oriental," and such innocent confusions persist even today. For example, Qing Dynasty imperial "dragon robes" (known to curatorial types by their Chinese name, qifu) are still described by some dealers and collectors as "Chinese kimonos," rather like calling a falafel sandwich a Lebanese taco.

That's odd.

For some reason I'm suddenly craving a very large mai tai.

The Unspoiled Prime of Social Conquest

The Washington Post article makes clear what I suspected, that this is one of the best kind of charity events, where the objects of charity are nowhere in sight to complicate the fun and dilute the tone.

Under Chinese Parasols

Smart Set Assembles in Carnival of Rare Beauty
To Raise Charity Funds

Society presented a picture of rare charm and animation yesterday under the trees at Friendship, where a program as varied as the costumes coaxed willing contributions for the infant welfare stations of the Washington Diet Kitchen Association. The flower of European capitals joined the resident official smart set at the magic call of charity. stately chatelaines of embassies and legations shared the exuberance of their household juniors, and debutantes in the unspoiled prime of social conquest linked the array of handsome matrons with the romping belles and beaux of tomorrow.
In the circular garden that lies before the house the women in charge of the various booths did a thriving business under their gay Chinese parasols. Beyond, in the park, the dogs of high degree were on view in Miss Jean Hinkle's dog show, emerging from the ordeal with their ribbons of merit to give another dash of color to the pageant. Mrs. Jerome Bonaparte's prize pom was almost hidden behind his blue ribbons as she carried him about after the judging. Young girls in riding boots and coats, patrons of Mr. William Littauer's and Mr. Hugh Legare's ponies; juveniles skipping happily on the lawn about the maypole, boys in white middy suits and girls in dainty batiste frocks getting into step under Miss Hawke's directing hand, and everywhere among the grown-ups happy children, some with their parents, others with nurses or governesses.
Among the women presiding in the booths and assisting were Mrs. John H. Merriam, whose hats sold of early in the day; Mme. Hauge and Mrs Garrison McClintock, who had an attractive fancy table; Mrs. Henry Cleveland Perkins, a flower booth; Mrs. William A. Hammond, a candy booth; Miss Lee, picture frames; Mrs. Littauer, a toy booth.

Washington Post, May 2, 1915

Find Rick Nelson

"I went to a garden party to reminisce with my old friends,
A chance to share old memories and play our songs again..."

John McLean with Guests, 1913

Press photos of the costumes worn at these fetes have been a source of great fun for me and several friends interested in vintage costumes. By chance, I found this charming image a few weeks ago in the LOC archives, depicting John McLean himself with guests at the 1913 fete. The original caption: FRIENDSHIP CHARITY FETE. MRS. R.L. ORVEN; JOHN R. McLEAN; MRS. RICHMOND HOBSON; MR. & MRS. WILLIAM RANDOLPH HEARST. CHILDREN ARE LUCIA AND RICHARD HOBSON. Millicent Hearst is lovely in white at the right, but the fashion prize goes to Mrs. Hobson, the wife of Alabama congressman Richmond Pearson Hobson, at center, in her Japanese-inspired kimono jacket.

Smack in the Fannie

Part of the estate is now McLean Gardens, originally WWII housing but now fashionable condos. However, as one drives past the old McLean digs, the most visible, one might say dominant, presence is the headquarters of Fannie Mae. No outdoor parties there recently, though the past few months have seen an ongoing huge charity fete with our tax dollars.

Friendship Festivals

Frequent visits by Presidents Harding and Coolidge, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, and other political notables soon made the estate the meeting place for Washington socialites during the early 1900's.

When John McLean died in 1916, the estate was inherited by his only son Edward Beale "Ned" McLean and his wife, Evalyn Walsh McLean. Evalyn inherited vast wealth herself from her father's gold mine holdings. However, the McLeans spent their money as fast as they had inherited it. Throughout the Roaring Twenties, they bought exotic furs and foreign cars, went on wild escapades, and entertained in a grand style never seen before or since in Washington.


This is one of the rare Shorpy "oldies" that I'd love to see in color.

Hats off

What a veritable treasure trove of hats! I particularly like the chapeau on the lady in the front holding what appears to be a padded coat hanger in her hands. It looks as if a crow has landed on her head.

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