Gertrude Webster

Gertrude Divine Webster (born Gertrude Adelaide Divine; June 4, 1872) was an American philanthropist known for co-founding the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona, and establishing Yester House, her summer estate which is on the National Register of Historic Places and houses the Southern Vermont Arts Center. During her marriage to William McClellan Ritter (1898 to 1922) she was known as Gertrude Divine Ritter. She subsequently married Hugh Webster (1924 until 1928), and was known as Gertrude Divine Webster until her death on March 31, 1947.

Gertrude Webster
Gertrude Webster.jpeg
Born
Gertrude Adelaide Divine

(1872-06-04)June 4, 1872
DiedMarch 31, 1947(1947-03-31) (aged 74)
Other namesGertrude Divine Ritter
Gertrude Divine Webster

Early life and educationEdit

Webster was born in 1872 in Sycamore, Illinois. Her parents were Richard L. Divine and Susan S. Smith Divine.[1] She attended Ann Arbor High School.[2] She earned a Bachelor of Letters from the University of Michigan[3][4] in 1896.[5][6]

After college, she lived in Columbus, Ohio, where she founded the Big Sister movement in Columbus.[2] On February 2, 1898, she married a lumber tycoon from West Virginia,[1] William McClellan Ritter, at St. Thomas' Church in New York.[7][5] While in Columbus, Webster was the president of the Columbus Arts Association from 1911 to 1921.[1] In 1909, Webster commissioned the painter Cecilia Beaux to paint her mother while Beaux was in Columbus, Ohio.[8][9] The resulting painting "Mrs. Richard Low Devine, born Susan Sofia Smith", was displayed in the Columbus Museum of Art multiple times.[9]

 
Yester House, now the location of the Southern Vermont Arts Center, formerly served as Webster's winter home.

Webster's summer home, Yester House, was in Manchester, Vermont.[2] The house was built for Webster, her then-husband William Ritter, and their two adopted children in 1917.[10] The house was designed by Henry Murphy and Richard Henry Dana, with the landscape design done by Charles N. Lowrie.[10] While she lived there, the house held 6,000 pieces of Swiss glass,[2] and Webster wrote about the Vermont Glass Factory in a 1923 article in Country Life.[11] She also worked with the League of Women Voters in Vermont.[12] From 1919 until 1921, Webster was one of the highest tax payers in Manchester,[13][14][15] and at the time Yester House was showcased in Country Life magazine.[16][10] In 1950, Yester House was purchased by the Southern Vermont Arts Center.[17][18] In 1988, a successful application was filed for Yester house to join the National Register of Historic Places.[19]

Webster divorced Ritter in 1922,[4] and they agreed she was to receive $70,000 per year, the Vermont house, and a house in Washington, DC.[20] When Ritter stopped paying alimony in 1932, she sued him.[4][21] The resulting 1934 trial was covered by the New York Times during which Webster noted that Ritter "beat the horses and the dogs" and further objected when she brought ailing children from a Washington, DC, hospital to their summer home in Vermont.[20] Webster initially declined a settlement offer of $30,000 per year,[22] but accepted the offer the following day.[23]

 
Webster Auditorium at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona.

Webster was also a collector of early Americana who donated multiple pieces to the Smithsonian Museum of American History.[24][25] In 1924 she donated a room to the Smithsonian Institution.[2][26] The donation was the paneled walls of the parlor of the Reuben Bliss house from Springfield, Massachusetts, which was presented in a 1957 report.[27]

Webster married Hugh Webster in Manchester, Vermont, on November 22, 1924,[28] and they split their time between Vermont and Phoenix. She divorced him in 1928, but retained the last name Webster.[4]

A few years later, after a trip to Switzerland, Webster returned to Phoenix with an unusual cactus and met Gustaf Starck, an engineer who organized the Arizona Cactus and Native Flora Society in 1934.[29][4] In 1936, Webster, now president of the Arizona Cactus and Native Flora Society, asked the state of Arizona for land and $2500 to run the garden.[4] When the state declined, Webster raised the $40,000 needed to establish the garden, including a $10,000 donation of her own.[30][29] In 1938 they got permission from the state of Arizona to use the land, in what had been the Papago Saguaro National Monument, as a botanical garden.[31] The landscape architect Charles Gibbs Adams helped design the plans for the botanical garden, and Webster helped design the layout while she was living at her house in Vermont.[29] The Desert Botanical Garden opened to the public in 1939,[32][33] and included plants donated by Starck, Webster, and others.[34] The Webster Auditorium, named after Gertrude Webster, is on the property of the Desert Botanical Garden and was dedicated on January 21, 1940, with over 1500 people attending the ceremony.[29] During World War II, the garden was tended by a few volunteers, but was not faring well.[4]

Webster died on March 31, 1947[2] in Phoenix and was buried in the Elmwood Cemetery in DeKalb County, Illinois.[1] She directed the income from her Arizona properties to the Arizona Cactus and Native Flora Society to be used in the administration of the Desert Botanical Garden.[29][35] The one stipulation was that the society had to retain at least two hundred members in good standing, which Lou Ella Archer made happen in the period following Webster's death.[29] Upon her death, items from her estate[36][37][38] were auctioned off in New York City,[39] ultimately resulting in a donation for over $114,000 that was given to the Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.[40][41]

HonorsEdit

 
Echinocereus websterianus, named after Webster in 1947 by George Edmund Lindsay

George Edmund Lindsay, who served as the executive director of the Desert Botanical Garden, named a succulent after Webster.[42] The plant, Echinocereus websterianus is described in the Cactus and Succulent Journal of America in a 1947 publication.[43]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c d "1550 Clifton Avenue". Dornberg House, Stories of Woodland Park. Retrieved January 1, 2022.
  2. ^ a b c d e f The Michigan Alumnus: News By Classes. Alumni Association of the University of Michigan. May 24, 1947. p. 371.
  3. ^ University of Michigan (1895). General Register. p. 223.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Cornelius, Keridwen (January 1, 2019). "The Constant Gardeners". PHOENIX magazine. Retrieved December 31, 2021.
  5. ^ a b The Michigan Alumnus. Alumni Association of the University of Michigan. 1897. p. 173174.
  6. ^ University of Michigan, author (1923). Catalogue of graduates, non-graduates, officers, and members of the faculties, 1837-1921. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Ann Arbor, Mich. : The University. p. 109.
  7. ^ "Local Brevities". Ann Arbor Argus. January 28, 1898. Retrieved January 1, 2022.
  8. ^ Beaux, Cecilia; Yount, Sylvia; High Museum of Art; Tacoma Art Museum; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (2007). Cecilia Beaux : American figure painter. Internet Archive. Atlanta : High Museum of Art ; [Berkeley] : University of California Press. p. 58. ISBN 978-0-520-25318-6.
  9. ^ a b Columbus Museum of Art (1988). The American collections, Columbus Museum of Art. Internet Archive. Columbus, Ohio : The Museum, in association with H.N. Abrams, New York. pp. 62, 203. ISBN 978-0-8109-1811-5.
  10. ^ a b c Rafael, Anita (May 10, 2017). "Yester House". Stratton Magazine - Celebrating Manchester and the Mountains. Retrieved January 1, 2022.
  11. ^ Ritter, Gertrude D. (1923). "The Vermont Glass Factory". Country Life. Doubleday, Page, & Company. p. 74.
  12. ^ National Endowment for the Humanities (October 9, 1922). "The Brattleboro daily reformer. (Brattleboro, Vt.) 1913-1955, October 09, 1922, EARLY MAIL EDITION, Image 5". The Brattleboro Daily Reformer. p. 5. ISSN 2474-6134. Retrieved January 1, 2022.
  13. ^ National Endowment for the Humanities (July 3, 1919). "Manchester's heaviest tax payers". The Manchester journal (Manchester, VT). p. 1. ISSN 1062-5070. Retrieved January 1, 2022.
  14. ^ National Endowment for the Humanities (June 9, 1921). "The Manchester journal. [volume] (Manchester, Vt.) 1861-current, June 09, 1921, Image 1". The Manchester Journal. ISSN 1062-5070. Retrieved January 1, 2022.
  15. ^ National Endowment for the Humanities (July 15, 1920). "The Manchester journal. [volume] (Manchester, Vt.) 1861-current, July 15, 1920, Image 1". The Manchester Journal. ISSN 1062-5070. Retrieved January 1, 2022.
  16. ^ "Yester House". Country Life. April 1920. pp. 63–65.
  17. ^ Mitchell, Don (2001). Vermont. Internet Archive. Fodor's. p. 235. ISBN 978-0-676-90139-9.
  18. ^ "History of the Southern Vermont Arts Center in Manchester". Southern Vermont Arts Center. Retrieved January 1, 2022.
  19. ^ "National Register of Historic Places Inventory - nomination form". September 1988.
  20. ^ a b "MRS. WEBSTER ON STAND.; Ex-Wife of Lumberman Testifies in Suit for $70,000 a Year". The New York Times. January 4, 1934. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 1, 2022.
  21. ^ "Former wife asks Ritter back alimony". Evening star (Washington, D.C.). April 26, 1933. p. A-2 (image 2). ISSN 2331-9968. Retrieved December 31, 2021 – via National Endowment for the Humanities.
  22. ^ "Former Wife Rejects $30,000 a Year Income". The New York Times. January 9, 1934. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 1, 2022.
  23. ^ "Ex-Wife Accepts $30,000 a Year". The New York Times. January 10, 1934. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 1, 2022.
  24. ^ "Sugar Caster". National Museum of American History. Retrieved January 1, 2022.
  25. ^ "Collections Search Results". National Museum of American History. Retrieved January 1, 2022.
  26. ^ Laboratory, United States National Museum Photographic (1957). "Hall of Everyday Life in Early America, Museum of Natural History". Smithsonian Institution Archives. Retrieved January 1, 2022.
  27. ^ United States National Museum (1951). 1957 Annual Report. Smithsonian Libraries. [Washington] : Smithsonian Institution. pp. 2, 7.
  28. ^ Vogue 1925-01-15: Vol 65 Iss 2. Internet Archive. Condé Nast Publications, Inc. January 15, 1925. p. 109.CS1 maint: others (link)
  29. ^ a b c d e f Desert Botanical Garden (Ariz.) (1983). Agave. Schilling Library Desert Botanical Gardens. Phoenix, Ariz. : The Garden. pp. 4, 5.
  30. ^ McCormick, Kathleen (2000). The garden lover's guide to the West. Internet Archive. New York : Princeton Architectural Press. p. 35. ISBN 978-1-56898-166-6.
  31. ^ VanderMeer, Philip (December 16, 2010). Desert Visions and the Making of Phoenix, 1860-2009. UNM Press. ISBN 978-0-8263-4893-7.
  32. ^ Southard, John Larsen. "Gertrude Webster, Garden Booster". Salt River Stories. Retrieved January 1, 2022.
  33. ^ Talton, Jon (2015). A Brief History of Phoenix. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4671-1844-6.
  34. ^ Hartz, Donna; Hartz, George (2007). The Phoenix Area's Parks and Preserves. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7385-4886-9.
  35. ^ Wyman, Donald (1959). The arboretums and botanical gardens of North America. Internet Archive. Jamaica Plain, Mass., Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University. p. 5.
  36. ^ "$720 Paid for Four Chairs". The New York Times. October 24, 1947. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 1, 2022.
  37. ^ "Antique Bowl Brings $375". The New York Times. November 1, 1947. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 1, 2022.
  38. ^ "Glass Collection Auctioned". The New York Times. October 25, 1947. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 1, 2022.
  39. ^ "AUCTIONS TO OFFER MANY RARE WORKS; Items From Private Collectors and Estates Listed for Sale by Galleries This Week". The New York Times. October 19, 1947. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 1, 2022.
  40. ^ "$114,120 FOR COLLECTION; Children's Hospital to Benefit, as Provided in Owner's Will". The New York Times. November 2, 1947. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 1, 2022.
  41. ^ "Van Dyck Bring $3,100 at Sale". The New York Times. November 19, 1944. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 1, 2022.
  42. ^ Eggli, Urs; Newton, Leonard E. (June 29, 2013). Etymological Dictionary of Succulent Plant Names. Springer Science & Business Media. ISBN 978-3-662-07125-0.
  43. ^ Lindsay, George (1947). "Echinocereus websterianus G.E.Linds". Cactus and Succulent Journal of America. 19: 153.