Dec. 21, 1862 Wilmington New Castle County Delaware, USA
Oct. 31, 1936
Lee, Marguerite DuPont
Virginia Book Company
Marguerite duPont Lee was extraordinary.
Exceptionally warm hearted and sympathetic, she had also a keenly inquiring mind and a strong will. She was a rebel against the complacent acceptance of conventional ideas, and she was, incidentally, a serious student of psychic phenomena.
She was born in 1862, the daughter of Eleuthere Irenee duPont and Charlotte Henderson. Her father was the resident manager of the DuPont powder mill on the Brandywine near Wilmington, Delaware. Her mother, a Virginian in all her family connections, was the daughter of Archibald Henderson, the long-time commandant of the Marine Corps.
Marguerite duPont was born into the Establishment, but the DuPont Company of her youth was not a vast impersonal corporation. As manager of the powder mill, her father worked among the employees and knew them all by their first names. He lived near the plant, and the children's playmates were the children of the mill-hands who lived just across the road. Thus, Marguerite grew up in familiar contact, not only with the elite but also with the industrial working class.
Eleuthere duPont and Charlotte Henderson both died in 1877, leaving five orphans in their big house, which was actually the property of the DuPont Company. After the second funeral, Alfred duPont, their uncle, came to tell the children that the family council had decided to parcel them out one by one among their relatives. He found them armed to defend their home and fireside3: Anna (17) held an axe; Marguerite (15), a rolling pin; Alfred (13), a shotgun; Maurice (11), a pistol; Louis (9), a bow and arrow. Uncle Alfred was impressed, and the youngsters kept their castle.
But there were some constraints which even Marguerite's strong will could not overcome. She was unquestionably the best skater on Brandywine Creek, but the boys would not let her take part in their hockey games. Too rough for girls, they said. They probably knew that she would be as fierce a competitor as any of them but they never allowed her to prove it.
For all her tomboyishness, Marguerite was a girl, and a beautiful one at that. Soon there were beaux calling on her, and at the age of eighteen, she chose to marry a thirty year old Virginia cousin, Cazenove Gardner Lee. She became an ornament to the society of Washington, where her husband was a lawyer. She spent her summers at "Menokin," a Lee family summer home on the outskirts of Alexandria, near the Virginia Theological Seminary. There, over the years, she entertained a long succession of Seminarians, and thus gained an extensive acquaintance among the Episcopal clergy.
In the later years of her marriage, Mrs. Lee became an aggressive campaigner for women's rights, as did many another Washington society matron.. She marched in the great Washington parade for Woman's Suffrage.
Casenove Lee died in 1912. At fifty, his widow found social life empty and unsatisfying. Her sons, Cazenove Gardner Lee, Jr., and Maurice duPont Lee, were already graduated from Cornell, and were well launched on careers in the DuPont Company. Mrs. Lee sold her fashionable residence on New Hampshire Avenue, and built a settlement house in the slums of old Georgetown. There she conducted a kindergarten, a boys' club, and various classes for the mothers of the neighborhood. At the same time, she devoted herself to less evident private benefactions, and to an endless correspondence with editors, clergymen and public authorities.
When Mrs. Lee freed herself from the demands of the social round in order to give her time to social service work in Georgetown, she also freed herself from the tyranny of fashion. A simple shirtwaist and skirt became her uniform. When she could no longer find what she wanted in the stores, she made her own clothes on her own sewing machine, and always in the same unchanging style. She depended on an old cobbler in Alexandria for a continuing supply of high button shoes, but when he died, she had to yield on that point.
After ten years in Georgetown, Mrs. Lee turned over her settlement house to the Salvation Army, and retired to a suite in the Powhatan Hotel. From there, she continued her private charities and her correspondence, but she also found time to indulge her interest in psychic phenomena, and to collect the stories that make up this book. She was Virginian enough to know that the stories were largely legendary, but at the same time, she was prepared to believe that underlying them, there was some genuine, inexplicable psychic manifestation.
Mrs. Lee died in 1936. Her spirit remains a strong presence among those who knew her.
Hagley Museum and Library
Marguerite du Pont Lee – A Voice for the Poor
The Manuscripts and Archives Department recently acquired a unique scrapbook which belonged to Marguerite du Pont Lee (1862 -1936), sister of Alfred I. du Pont.
Born in 1862 in the Wilmington area to Éleuthère Irénée du Pont (1829-1877), and Charlotte Henderson du Pont (1835-1877), Marguerite du Pont Lee spent her childhood at the family home on Brecks Lane, ‘Swamp Hall’ near the powder mills of which bears her family name.
At age 15, the then Miss du Pont was orphaned along with her four siblings when her parents died just over a month apart. Her mother, Charlotte du Pont, had been committed to an insane asylum following an attack of hysteria likely brought on when she returned from a trip to Europe in search of a state of better mental health and relaxation, to find her children beaten, and nearly starved by their nurse. The emotional stress of the incident was too much to handle for the mentally fragile Charlotte. She was taken to an insane asylum where she died on August 19, 1877. Her husband would die twenty-nine days later on September 17th of consumption, aggravated by exposure from working in the family powder mills.
Leaving five orphaned children and a home owned by the DuPont Company, the family elders planned to split up the five orphan’s amongst relatives. When word reached Swamp Hall that their uncle Alfred Victor du Pont was on his way to the home to break up the family, the five children took arms, young Marguerite du Pont with a rolling pin, Alfred with a shotgun, Annie with an ax, Maurice a pistol, and Louis a bow and arrow. After much negotiation and a report made back to the head of the family, Henry du Pont, who yielded and allowed the children to remain in the home under the supervision of the oldest daughter, Annie, along with their loyal house staff.
After leaving Wilmington, young Marguerite met Cazenove Gardner Lee whom she married on September 20, 1881. Settling in the Georgetown section of Washington D.C., Lee became very involved in both social and political affairs which are reflected in her scrapbook through hundreds of newspaper clippings and editorials.
One area in which Mrs. Lee spent a great amount of time and money on beginning in 1898 was the Kemper Bobcock Memorial settlement house. Settlement houses were typically founded by educated, wealthy women and provided programs such as education, recreation, and day care to the impoverished of the city. Lee’s own settlement house included a kindergarten, mothers club, and provided gendered programming such as cooking and sewing for women and sports for males. Lee not only was the home’s founder, but also taught classes on capital and labor, temperance, religion, and suffrage.
Mrs. Lee’s scrapbook not only contains clippings and material related to settlement houses but also to women’s suffrage of which she collected numerous articles. Lee was a social activist and voice for the impoverished and less fortunate of Washington. One article notes that when the Commissioners of Washington stopped supplying free water to the poor from fountains, Lee had one erected through a wall on her property, which was also later shut off by the district but not without protest in the local papers. Lee was also a supporter of the right to vote for women as evidenced in her scrapbook through clippings. In fact, one article even mentions that the cousin of Senator du Pont (Henry A.) was “Rebuked for Opposing the Resolutions” that were set forth by President Taft on the topic of suffrage.
The prevention of child labor was another cause supported by Lee as shown scrapbook with an accompanying photograph of a march held in Washington D.C.
The scrapbook also contains various clippings regarding du Pont family weddings and events such as the 100th reunion of the du Pont family, as well as DuPont plant accidents and explosions. Also included are various religious writings and passages as well as commentary on politics in the early twentieth century which are also examined through political cartoons. The last few pages of the scrapbook contain various DuPont powder container labels.
Andrew Engel is an archivist in Hagley's Manuscripts and Archives Department.