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  • Writer's pictureLocal History Collection

The Duchess of Marlboro at the Trinity Church Fair

Celebrity watching is not a twenty-first century phenomenon. Interest in the lifestyles of the rich and famous was just as strong a century ago as it is today. Therefore, it is no surprise that a normally low-key church fair would receive lots of local press in anticipation of the presence of British nobility, especially when that individual was Consuelo Vanderbilt, the Duchess of Marlborough, heiress to one of the largest fortunes in the world.


Mrs. Mackay secures her consent to be at the candy table”

The new Trinity Church, dedicated in March 1907, was on the radar of the people of Roslyn. It was the gift of Mrs. Katherine Duer Mackay, who along with her husband, Clarence H. Mackay, had moved into Harbor Hill, their mansion on the crest of Roslyn’s highest point, only a few years earlier, in the fall of 1901. As the estate grew, Katherine quickly inserted herself into the community. Her first project was the upgrading of Bryant Hall, Roslyn’s first library and reading room. In addition to redecorating the interior, she donated money to purchase new books and hired the first professional librarians to catalog the collection. Four years later, in 1905, she was elected to the Roslyn Board of Education. At the end of that year, Katherine announced that she would provide the funds to build a Parish House for Trinity Church. Designed by the noted architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White, the parish house was completed in 1906. An additional gift enabled construction of the new church building. Both buildings were memorials to Katherine’s parents, both members of old Knickerbocker families (descendants of New York’s early English and Dutch settlers). Thus, it is understandable that the church fair, to be held in the new Parish House on November 2, 1907 and chaired by Mrs. Mackay with assistance of “her society friends,” would receive considerable coverage in the Roslyn News both before and after the event.


Mrs. Mackay, Duchess of Marlboro and others prominent”

By the early twentieth century, interest in the lifestyles of New York City’s elite, regularly reported in newspapers and magazines of the day, had expanded to the suburbs. Details of their homes, their clothing, their travels, and the events they attended were reported regularly in newspapers and illustrated magazines ranging from the gossipy New York World to the more serious New York Times. As wealthy New Yorkers established country homes and working estates in once rural communities such as Roslyn and Old Westbury, local newspapers, like the Roslyn News, increasingly covered the comings and goings of members of New York society who made these communities their part-time home. Katherine and Clarence Mackay were among those individuals who were closely watched and reported upon, especially when their activities included others listed on the Social Register.

Consuelo Vanderbilt (1877-1964), the great-granddaughter of ‘Commodore’ Cornelius Vanderbilt, the nineteenth century industrialist who made millions in steamships and railroads, was a childhood friend of Katherine Duer Mackay (1879-1930). As children and young women, the two socialized in the same elite circles in New York, Newport and Saratoga Springs. Heiress to the Vanderbilt millions, Consuelo was one of a number of American heiresses who married British nobility in the late nineteenth century. Katherine was a bridesmaid in Consuelo’s 1895 wedding to Charles Spencer-Churchill, Ninth Duke of Marlborough. In later years, the two women shared a dedication to the cause of women’s suffrage in the United States and England. Although they lived on different continents for much of their lives, Katherine and Consuelo maintained a lifelong friendship, and Roslyn News articles indicate that the Duchess visited Roslyn on several occasions both before and after her much anticipated November 1907 visit.


Duchess of Marlboro, Mrs. Mackay and others as confectionery purveyors:

Made over $1,700 for the Endowment Fund”

Katherine Mackay clearly knew what she was doing in chairing the event. The Roslyn News recounts, “When Mrs. Mackay and the Duchess of Marlborough arrived at 2:30, the patrons of the fair decided that it was time to buy candy and until all was disposed of three hours later there was a bargain counter crush at that table. The Duchess had signed her name to some souvenir post cards, which sold at 25 cents each, but the supply became short and she spent about an hour signing to meet the demand. When not doing that she was acting as a sales-lady. The Parisian confectionery, although somewhat costly, was eagerly sought by all. The Duchess told the News reporter that she was delighted with the fair and its success and thought Roslyn a very delightful place. Mrs. Mackay was more than pleased with the way the ‘shekels’ had been accumulated and considered the fair one of her best undertakings.”

Read about the Mackays and Harbor Hill in Harbor Hill: Portrait of a House by Richard Guy Wilson (Norton, 2008). Visit our Mackay digital exhibit to see more photos of Katherine and her family.

For more information about Consuelo Vanderbilt, see Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt: the Story of a Daughter and Mother in the Gilded Age by Amanda Mackenzie Stuart (Harper Collins, 2005).


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