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Society Leader Ward McAllister: Biographical Sketch

 
 
 
 

Ward McAllister was a native of Savannah, Ga., where he was born about sixty years ago. His grandfather, Matthew McAllister, was Chief Justice of the State, and his father, Matthew Hall McAllister, was a justice of the Circuit Court of the United States in California.

The family was distinguished for its legal ability. A brother of Ward McAllister stood at the head of the San Francisco bar for many years. On his mother's side, Ward McAllister was connected with some of the most distinguished families of the East. His maternal grandmother, Mrs. B.C. Cutler, was a daughter of Hester Marion, sister of Gen. Francis Marion, the "Swamp Fox" of the Revolution.

When Ward McAllister was in a reminiscent mood, he liked to tell of the admiration that George Washington used to have for his handsome grandmother. Through the Cutlers, Mr. McAllister was able to claim relationship with ex-Mayor Prince, the Appletons, and many other distinguished families of Boston. He was cousin-german to the late "Sam" Ward, to Julia Ward Howe, and to Mrs. Luther Terry, mother of Marion Crawford. He was also connected by marriage with the Astors, the Chanlers, and other well-known families in this city.

Mrs. McAllister, mother of Ward McAllister, was a remarkably beautiful woman, full of energy, vitality, and social talent. She showed plain traces of her French descent, the Marions being Huguenots, driven to this country by religious persecution. She was thought to bear a striking likeness to the portraits of Charlotte Corday, to whose family she was related.

Ward McAllister was said to resemble her very strongly, not only in appearance, but in peculiar personal characteristics.

Ward McAllister was a genial, charming man to people who knew him. His manner was invariably modest and unassuming. His dress was extremely modest and even careless at times. Despite a funny habit of constantly saying, "Don't you know? Don't you see? Don't you understand?" which reporters who interviewed him constantly made fun of, Ward McAllister was an interesting and intelligent talker. He was never afraid to say candidly exactly what he thought. Latterly he had acquired the habit of writing what he thought, and his social set had punished him somewhat severely for it.

Ward McAllister's talents as a gourmet were developed at an early age. When he was a lad it was customary in the South to go to market at an early hour, so as to avoid the heat of the day. Ward used to get up earlier than his brothers and do the buying for the family, so as to get his parents the best that the market afforded. All his life he made a study of gastronomy. When he went to Europe he was not satisfied with partaking of banquets in the company of distinguished people. He wanted to find out how the best culinary effects were produced. he made the acquaintance of the costly cooks at Buckingham Palace, at Marlborough House, and in some of the best public restaurants in London and Paris. He cultivated the society of wine merchants and prodded into the secrets of some of the famous cellars of Europe. Much of the material he gathered then was afterward worked into his remarkable and interesting book, "Society As I have Found It," which he published in 1890.

When Ward McAllister was about twenty years old he came North to study at Yale. A maiden aunt left him some money, and after leaving college he returned to Savannah, where he was admitted to the bar. In 1852 he went to California. he saw some pretty wild life in the far West, of which he wrote very interestingly in his book. He returned to this city and married Miss Sarah Gibbons, whose father held a steamboat grant from Robert Fulton, and who derived a very good income from wharf property here which her father had acquired. For some years after his marriage Mr. McAllister lived altogether in Newport, which was largely settled by Southerners, but eventually, as he rose in social prominence, he established a home in this city, also.

It was not until Mr. McAllister arbitrarily condensed the swell society set of New York into "the 400" that he achieved what might be called a national reputation. He was then at the head of the Patriarchs, an organization of fifty men, who contributed most of the funds for the great society entertainments of every season. Ward McAllister made it a rule never to dine at his club. It was an axiom of his that there was no society without ladies. He had no business that came in contact with his self-imposed social duties, and those he never shirked. His habits were very regular. It was his custom to rise about 8 o'clock, take a light breakfast and devote from 9:30 to 11:320 to business. This usually consisted of giving his advice to those who came to seek it about entertainments. To people not schooled in matters of this kind he was a public benefactor. At noon he used to visit his butcher. This he considered one of the important bits of business of the day. He usually lunched at the Union Club, and devoted the afternoon to a "constitutional" walk, which he never neglected, rain or shine, and to making calls. Never was man more scrupulous in fulfilling all the obligations imposed upon him as the leader of select society.

A few years ago Mr. McAllister was in great demand as a dinner guest. he was full of good spirits and news, and was constantly inventing something that pleased his social cronies. He knew all the gossip about everybody, and did not hesitate to tell it in the most charming manner. it is said of him that he never was known to say a malicious thing. He was considered the essence of good breeding as well as of good-fellowship.

Mrs. McAllister is an invalid. She never appeared in society, nor did she preside at her husband's dinner table when he entertained. Her place was usually taken by her daughter, Louise. These "home" dinners, as Mr. McAllister used to call them, were his pride. He used to give about one a week, and never laid covers for more than eight.

Naturally, when he created the famous "400," Ward McAllister came in for a severe tongue-lashing from the people left off his list. There was a revolt against him at once. Some people said hard things about him. Ladies with 1,000 or 1,500 names on their visiting lists were angry. But his friends stuck to him. For a Southerner, Mr. McAllister stood the severe criticisms he received with remarkable composure. IN fact, he seemed to enjoy it.

Another innovation that added to Mr. McAllister's social fame was his series of picnics, which for twenty-five years were a recognized feature of Newport Summer life. He had a good deal to say about them in his book. He usually gave them on his farm.

"I did not hesitate," he wrote, "to ask the very crème de la crème of New York society. My little farm dinners gained such a reputation that my friends would say to me: "Now, remember, leave me out of your ceremonious dinners as you choose; but always include me in those given at your farm, or I'll never forgive you.'"

Mr. McAllister wrote as follows about the reasons for founding the Patriarchs: " The object we had in view was to make these (the Patriarchs) balls thoroughly representative; to embrace the old colonial New Yorkers, our adopted citizens, and men whose ability and integrity had won the esteem of the community, who formed an important element in society. We wanted the money power, but not in any way to be controlled by it."
 

 
 
Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: Society Leader Ward McAllister: Biographical Sketch
Researcher/Transcriber: Miriam Medina

Source:

 New York Times Feb. 1, 1895. p. 1 (1 page)
Time & Date Stamp:  

 

   
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