Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Mary Johnson Stover Brown

I did Martha Patterson awhile ago and wanted to share the other Johnson hostess as well – her sister, Mary Johnson Stover Brown. Here is information on her time in the White House:
A month after arriving in Washington with her family entourage, Mary Stover returned home for twenty days, on 3 October 1865, to receive her late husband’s remains from a temporary holding place and arrange for his burial.  When she returned to the White House, Mary Stover served two designated roles in the Andrew Johnson Administration. Her primary one was to manage the five small children who lived in the White House and integrate them the President’s day as well as the public life of the mansion. 

Through his grandchildren, Andrew Johnson drew comfort and anticipated the distraction from his contentious work as President. While Mary Stover insured that he was not interrupted when he worked, she had the children gathered and ready to spend time with him in the evenings, after their dinner. During the day, she arranged with local school and music tutors to instruct them, with the orders for reasonable quiet since the executive offices shared the same floor as the family rooms. After their training, they were brought to spend time with Eliza Johnson, and then allowed to play outdoors or escorted to dance lessons at a studio nearby. Returned for dinner, they were then joined by the President. Mary Stover spent much of her time with the children as they proceeded with their schedules; having been trained as a school teacher, it was a task she enjoyed. The greatest personal compliment she received was being called a “judicious mother.' During the summers of 1865, 1866, 1867 and 1868, Mary Stover took her children and niece and nephew and returned to the more pastoral setting of their Tennessee home. Before leaving Washington, Mary Stover fulfilled a promise to the children of taking them on a first trip to New York City for several days.

Mary Stover instigated and arranged one of the most unique social events held at the White House. Held just weeks before the Johnson family left Washington to return home, it was ostensibly to honor the President on his birthday of 29 December 1868. Taking place at the height of the social season schedule and engaging three generations of the First Family, it generated goodwill towards the departing Administration after its years of acrimony. The official hosts were listed as “The children of the President's family,” and the event was a dinner and dance for three hundred other young children, not only the offspring of political officials and prominent Washingtonians, but those of the white working class. Any adults in attendance were there as a guest of their children, and Mary Stover was “considerably embarrassed by requests from grown people to be included among the invited.”

Held in the East Room, the central focus was a temporary stage, covered in pink cloth and festooned with holiday-season evergreen garlands. From here, the Marine Band played a series of dance music movements. In the four corners were flower-stands with small bouquets for each child. At seven in the evening, with the adults standing along the walls, a Washington dance teacher led two lines of boys and girls in; forming into couples they fell into line and began a formal promenade which mimicked those performed by adults. Eliza Johnson remained seated during the event, while the President, Martha Patterson and Mary Stover mixed among the children. After six dance performances, they proceeded to the State Dining Room for an intermission of fruits and desserts.

Her second role was one she least enjoyed; to serve as either a support hostess at those public events over which her sister Martha Patterson dominated or to substitute for her as the primary hostess. The statuesque, auburn-haired president’s daughter defied popular styles by wearing high-necked, long-sleeved and dark-colored gowns, and no jewelry.

Reserved but not a shy person, her interactions with the politically and socially prominent guests were decidedly aloof. With such guests, she resisted responding to personal questions and even well-intentioned inquiries about the First Lady, often failed to learn their names, and displayed “coldness,” towards flatterers and those offering social invitations and unsolicited advice. In reaction, many found her “distant and haughty.” Eager to usher them through the receiving line and shown out as soon as was politely possible, she became animated only as the Marine Band began playing their final selection of the evening. Afterwards, she gathered a few Tennessee friends in her upstairs room, reviewing details of her ordeal with laughter. When, at the last Johnson reception, Mary Stover became suddenly expressive in her farewell to the social leaders, many questioned her sincerity.

An otherwise unaffected person, Mary Stover’s interactions with guests of the working classes suggest that she viewed her hostess role within the political context of her father’s political philosophy and the strife of his Administration. She displayed overt warmth and fully engaged with those local seamstresses and store clerks she met at public receptions. They, in turn, felt comfortable in her presence. She was especially sensitive to visitors from rural areas, insecure and uncertain of proper behavior in the presidential mansion. Like her mother and sister, Mary Stover also strove to ascertain the well-being of the White House’s African-American and white servants and their families, and provide for any health care they might need.

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