Anne Morrow Lindbergh
First Lady of the Air
By Kathleen C. Winters
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2008 Kathleen C. Winters
All rights reserved.
A Walled Garden
Anne Spencer Morrow, born on June 22, 1906, in Englewood, New Jersey, grew up sheltered and wealthy, reared by parents whose work ethic and ambition had led to a meteoric rise from genteel poverty. During her youth, she seemed sequestered in what she called a "walled garden," removed from world events: "Freud, Marx, Henry Ford, and — I might add — Charles Lindbergh, had not yet cut their way through the brambled hedges that surrounded the sleeping princesses." Even though she emphasized her isolation, she lived on a new frontier of scientific inquiry and social upheaval, in an era of incredible inventions and rapid change. Three years before her birth, the Wright brothers had made the world's first manned, powered flight over windswept dunes at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. It was an event that would define her life: the growth of aviation led to her marriage, to her expeditions around the world, and to her career as a writer. Anne was a dreamy, quiet girl, however, and no one was more surprised than her parents at how her adventurous life took shape.
Fortune smiled on Anne, the second daughter and second child of Dwight Whitney Morrow and Elizabeth Reeve Cutter, both of whom were blessed with what Anne called a "super abundance of Puritan energy." This trait, and the wealth they accumulated, led to their ascent in American society, and they would number among their friends educators, diplomats, and politicians. It was a good time to be an American, especially if one had money. The Morrows had begun to enjoy a lavish lifestyle during Anne's youth, at a time when upper-crust Americans freely flaunted their wealth. With no income taxes or death taxes imposed until after 1913, many of the rich lived like royalty, decorating their palatial houses with foreign art and furnishings that included Flemish tapestries, Greek classical statues, and Italian Renaissance paintings.
Yet both of Anne's parents had come from humble beginnings. Born in 1873 and reared in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, Dwight Whitney Morrow was the fourth of eight children of a mathematics professor, James Elmore Morrow, and a pious homemaker, Clara Johnson. Of Irish stock, the Morrows traced their lineage in America back to the early 1800s, nearly three generations before Charles Lindbergh's ancestors arrived in the United States. James Morrow's last three children died in infancy. Struggling to get by on a professor's salary, Clara lamented that the family had "far too many books; far too little money." Learning, godliness, and cleanliness were the virtues stressed most by Pater and Mater, as their children called them. At mealtimes, Pater engaged in "dinner-table sport," his term for shooting rapid-fire questions at his children on any and all topics, but especially mathematics. (Later, Dwight would follow this same practice with his own children, which so upset Anne that throughout her life her mind would go blank if anyone asked her sudden arithmetic questions.) Religion dominated the Morrow household, with Sundays strictly kept and no visitors allowed, while during the week the family gathered for afternoon and evening worship.
At age seventeen Dwight took the examinations to enter West Point, where his older brother, Jay, was a student. Although he scored highest in his district, his congressman failed to appoint him, certain he would be criticized if two Morrows attended the academy at the same time. Bitterly disappointed, Dwight cast about for other schools. A family friend, a professor at Amherst College in Massachusetts, suggested he sit for the entrance tests there. Though Dwight failed Greek and a few other subjects, Amherst allowed him to enter on probation and retest at the end of his freshman year.
While at Amherst he scraped by financially with tutoring jobs and with help from his family. He worked hard and did well there, won prizes in mathematics, speaking, and writing, and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. What distinguished him most from his classmates, however, were his energy and intuitive grasp of people and social situations, attributes his fellow students recognized by voting him "most likely to succeed." One student casting a vote was a terse and frugal New Englander named Calvin Coolidge, and he and Dwight would remain friends and political allies. Dwight earned his undergraduate degree in 1895; he would go on to graduate from Columbia Law School in 1899.
Aside from laying an intellectual foundation, Amherst set the stage for romance when, in his sophomore year, Dwight met his future bride at a nearby dance attended by Smith College students. Elizabeth "Betty" Reeve Cutter enchanted him, so much so that he told his sister he had found the girl he would marry. A short man whose head was disproportionately large compared to his body, Dwight could not be considered handsome. He also had a slightly crooked arm, ill set after he tumbled from an apple tree at age twelve. Miss Cutter, on the other hand, was a slight, becoming woman with high cheekbones and small features, the same age and height as Dwight. Certainly, her first impression of him didn't match his ardor. Even all his charm couldn't hide his physical features and his slightly disheveled appearance. Moreover, her own career goals and doubts about Dwight's future prospects precluded marriage; thus, a ten-year courtship ensued.
Betty Cutter, born in 1873 and brought up in Cleveland, Ohio, was one of five daughters of Charles Long Cutter, a lawyer, and Annie Spencer Cutter, a devout housewife. While socially a notch above the Morrows, the Cutters, too, had their share of financial woes and struggled to maintain their status. Charles, the stepson of a Yale-educated lawyer, had "no ability to make money," his granddaughter Constance would later write. He started in law and went on to banking yet "no profession or business occupation interested him"; he was instead a gentleman scholar who preferred to spend time with his books and family. A strong Presbyterian faith also grounded the Cutters, yet it was a more lenient variety than that of the Morrows': they were free to participate in dancing, card playing, and the arts — social outlets closed to young Dwight. And unlike Dwight, Betty had prosperous relatives with whom she traveled and who welcomed her at their stately homes in New Orleans and Houston.
At nine years of age, Betty's twin sister, Mary, died from tuberculosis. The tragedy, according to her family, became the root of her constant overachievement, spurring her to accomplish the work of two. As the oldest child, she felt responsible for easing her mother's burden of managing the household, a task made more difficult when another daughter was born severely retarded. After attending a girls' preparatory school, Betty's dream to go to college came to fruition when family members offered her financial help. With two new dresses, an old desk, and a painting to adorn her room, she headed to Smith College, an all-women's school located in Northampton, Massachusetts. She enjoyed great success at Smith, where she became a member of Alpha Society, an elite group, and editor of the Smith College Monthly. In 1896 she graduated with honors, her heart set on a literary career.
After returning home to Ohio, though, she found she couldn't earn a living writing, having published only one story and a few poems. She taught in a private school for a short time — long enough to conclude that she did not want a teaching career. "I must accomplish something ... I must do something ... I must be something," she confided to her diary. Yet education remained one of the few professions open to college-educated women, and she began a new career: "parlor-teaching." Intermittently for three years, she lectured to Cleveland ladies assembled in their elegant homes, work for which she was well paid but found demeaning.
Just as the doors of opportunity seemed to shut around Betty, her family offered to send her and her sister, Annie, abroad to continue their education. The Cutters later rented out their house and joined them in Europe, where Betty's father recuperated from a bout of despair brought on by the loss of his job. After studying in Paris and Florence, Betty returned to Cleveland in 1901 with her family, but there she again faced a bleak future.
At age twenty-eight, increasingly aware of society's limitations, Betty turned to the now attractive idea of marriage. She accepted Dwight Morrow's proposal, won over by his ambition and his position at a distinguished New York law firm. His incessant letters had also played a part in wooing her. Following a two-year engagement, on June 16, 1903, they married in a small ceremony ringed by college classmates and family at the Cutter home in Cleveland. Relatives said they were well matched, with the couple sharing high ambitions as well as their Presbyterian faith. After a honeymoon in the New England hills, the Morrows settled in Englewood, New Jersey. For their entire marriage, Dwight and his beloved "Betsy," as he named her, would remain deeply in love. Theirs was an equitable partnership, one that stood in contrast to their daughter Anne's later marriage to Charles Lindbergh, in which her husband often made unilateral decisions.
* * *
Nestled in the Palisades, a wooded area along the Hudson River's west bank, the newly incorporated city of Englewood offered a railroad depot, banks, churches, and shops within walking distance of most residences. An hour's commute by train or ferry linked it to Manhattan and the offices of Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett, where Dwight worked as a corporation lawyer, earning $3,000 annually. Englewood had begun to blossom with an influx of influential citizens, including the bankers Henry P. Davison and Thomas W. Lamont of J. P. Morgan & Company. Friendships blossomed, too: Lamont's wife, Florence, and Betty Morrow were former classmates at Smith College.
Both Betty and Dwight believed that the cornerstone of success was education and to this end, they considered a college degree essential. Indeed, their alma maters became lifelong passions: Dwight threw his talents into fundraising for Amherst and served as a trustee while Betty acted as the first woman chairman of the Board of Trustees at Smith. She also established a poetry library there and later served as interim president of the college.
Not surprisingly, however, the hub of the Morrows' social life came to be the Englewood Presbyterian Church, and from there the couple focused their energies on civic boards, charities, and education. By and large, Englewood offered a "simple and leisurely" style of life, remembered a family member, with neighborhood children frolicking under trees and parents congregating at the Shakespeare Club or gathering for bridge games.
Within six years, three children filled the family's "little brown house," as they fondly named their large rental on Spring. Lane, a two-minute walk from the railroad depot. The firstborn, Elisabeth Reeve, inherited her father's wit and charm and became the family favorite. A vivacious blonde, academically and socially successful, she personified what her mother had wanted in her youth. Her pale beauty belied her fragile health, however: a childhood bout with rheumatic fever had caused severe and permanent damage to her heart, and she would struggle with poor health her entire life.
Anne, born two years later, lived in Elisabeth's shadow during her formative years. Indeed, following her sister's path would be a tough act for anyone, but it was doubly hard for Anne, an introspective child who only expressed her emotions in private diary entries far from the scrutiny of her family. In one such entry, she labeled herself "such a goose next to the swan, Elisabeth." Further compounding the sibling rivalry was Anne's self-consciousness about her looks. With wavy dark hair framing her face, stunning violet-colored eyes, and a diminutive stature, Anne was pretty, but not photogenic. Her slightly wide nose, exaggerated by photographs, caused her chronic consternation. Fully grown, she stood five feet two inches tall. With her small-boned frame, she appeared delicate and feminine, but she was healthy and strong willed — a "Tiny Titan," as her children later called her.
In 1908 Dwight Jr. was born, the only Morrow boy and the child who would wrestle most with meeting his parents' exacting standards. The near-impossible task of following in his father's footsteps loomed larger as his father became more renowned, a stress that might have contributed to serious psychological problems during his youth. What caused his mental illness is unclear, but Dwight, who early on developed a stammer, couldn't help but feel he fell short of his parents' expectations. A handsome but unathletic boy, he would later confide in Anne — with whom he developed a close bond — his problems at Groton, his prep school. "It sounded like torture," she would write about his being bullied at the hands of his classmates.
A year after Dwight Jr.'s birth, the Morrows purchased a sprawling house on Englewood's Palisade Avenue. The five-bedroom, multistoried house sat on a wooded acre of land that included lush gardens, a tulip tree, and a sweet gum tree. A partner in Simpson since 1905, Dwight now earned a salary of about $30,000, an amount ten times higher than when he had married. Mr. Simpson had authorized the partnership to prevent his most promising and hardest-working lawyer from accepting a faculty position at Columbia Law School. Although Dwight turned down the school's offer, he continued to harbor romantic illusions of another career: "Once we have made $100,000 we shall retire from the practice of law. I shall teach history, you will write poetry, the children will earn their own living," he told Betty. In the early 1920s Dwight would decline an offer of the presidency of Yale University, a decision he sometimes regretted, remembered Anne.
During the summer of 1911, the entire family undertook a grand continental tour of Europe, their first vacation abroad. Although Dwight returned to work in midsummer, the children, their German governess Fraulein Matter, and Betty boarded at Villa Montana, in Bad Harzburg, Germany, before the family reunited in Englewood on October 2. It was young Anne's first glimpse of the wider world, a trip that perhaps planted a seed for her lifelong interest in exploring new places.
The third daughter and baby of the family, Constance Cutter, was born in the Palisade Avenue house in 1913. With a large age gap between her and her sisters, she avoided their rivalry and developed the most easygoing disposition of all the children. Like her father, she possessed an analytical mind and in another era might have been a lawyer, as one of her daughters pointed out. And like her mother before her, she would serve many years as a trustee of Smith College. She and Anne would remain close throughout their lives.
* * *
One evening Dwight awoke in a cold sweat from a nightmare, clutched his wife, and recounted a "so vivid, so ghastly" premonition: "I dreamt, Betsy, that we had become rich. But enormously rich." According to family lore, she retorted, "That's nothing to be scared about. You can trust me to set that right." His nightmare became reality in December 1913, when his neighbor Thomas Lamont, a Morgan partner himself, asked Dwight to join J. P. Morgan & Company. What prompted the invitation was a speech Dwight had made in Englewood, which so impressed Morgan partner Henry Davison that he recommended the firm take him on. Thomas Lamont enthusiastically endorsed the plan.
From its three-story limestone building at the junction of Broad and Wall Streets, the banking firm of J. P. Morgan ruled capitalism worldwide. Though enormously flattered by the job offer, a position that would soon catapult him to multimillionaire status, Dwight vacillated, much to the chagrin of Lamont. He and Betty vacationed three weeks in Bermuda, where they mulled over the fantastic offer. While drafting his resignation letter to Mr. Simpson, Dwight turned to Betsy and said, "We [are] bankers after we mail this letter." She smiled and replied, "Well, I hope we'll be as happy as we've been as lawyers." Hired on in April, Dwight became partner in July 1914.
Morrow soon developed expertise in foreign financial affairs and acquired a reputation as a skilled mediator. During his youth his peers and family had valued his understanding nature, even dubbing him an ambassador — talents well honed during his legal career. Working for J. P. Morgan, he also became a partner in the firm's Philadelphia, London, and Paris affiliates. After the Great War broke out in Europe, the Morgan partners' workload increased: the firm had been appointed purchasing agent for Great Britain in the United States. At home, Dwight talked with the Secretary of the Treasury about financing the war and worked to save the credit of the City of New York. After the war, Dwight played an important role in discussions on war debts and reparations, and he and Jean Monnet, a French political economist, worked together in reconstructing postwar Europe, then in economic chaos. Dwight also counseled the du Pont family and took charge of public offerings. One of his clients, the American copper baron Daniel Guggenheim, would form the Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics in 1926 with an endowment of $2.5 million. Dwight would serve on its Board of Trustees, one of his many auxiliary involvements. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Anne Morrow Lindbergh by Kathleen C. Winters. Copyright © 2008 Kathleen C. Winters. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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