Part of the American History & Genealogy Project

Mrs. Matthew T. Scott

 

Mrs. M. T. Scott, recently re-elected as president-general of the Daughters of the American Revolution, is one of the most charming and interesting personalities in American public life. She is a rare combination of the best that blood, culture and wealth can produce on our continent.

Born in old Kentucky, her ancestry goes back through a long line of the best, bravest and the most distinguished men and women that this country can boast, including such names as that of Lawrence Washington, Colonel Joshua Fry, Augustine Warner, Dr. Thomas Walker, etc.

Her father, the Reverend Lewis Warner Green, was one of the most eloquent and scholarly divines of his generation, and was at one time president of Hampden Sydney College, Virginia, and later of Centre College, Danville, Kentucky. Up to his premature death at the age of fifty-six, he was recognized as one of the intellectual and spiritual leaders of the old south, who by sheer force of brains and character, so largely directed and dominated our national life up to the time of the Civil War. The home life of the youthful Hypatia could hardly have been more propitious for the development of those charms and graces of mind and character, which have gained for her so unique a position in the history of womankind, than was that of the beautiful and accomplished Miss Julia Green.

At the age of nineteen her romantic and sheltered girlhood was brought to an end by her marriage and migration across the almost trackless prairies, to take up her abode among the prairie dogs and rattlesnakes of central Illinois. Here for a score of years she threw herself heart and soul into her self-appointed tasks of inspiring and helping her husband, who rapidly became one of the financial, political and intellectual "master builders" of this great region, and of making her home a center from which radiated countless refining and ennobling influences on every side. The good old Southern way in which these hospitable Kentuckians entertained friends and relatives for weeks and even for months at a time, was for years the talk of the countryside.

On her husband's sudden death in the midst of his brilliant business career, she found herself forced to take his place at the helm, and to concentrate all her thought and attention upon the heavy responsibilities connected with the management of the M. T. Scott estate, one of the largest estates in this the most fertile and influential agricultural region in the world. To the surprise of herself and her closest friends, her sound judgment and careful husbandry soon gained for her the title of ''the best business man in central Illinois." Moreover, with that dignity, poise and balance which have always been her distinguishing characteristics, she demonstrated that it is quite possible to be hard-headed without being hard-hearted. For in spite of being a first-class woman of affairs, she never forgot nor allowed others to forget, that first of all she was an old-fashioned Kentucky gentlewoman.

Up to the time of her election to the highest office within the gift of the women of this country, Mrs. Scott had been too completely occupied with her own business interests to devote much time or energy to club matters or public affairs. But in spite of this, her friends had quietly pushed her to the front as much as she would permit, instinctively recognizing her innate capacity for leadership, and for the effective handling of large enterprises.

It is a curious and interesting psychological fact, that at an age when most women don becoming lace caps and retire to the fireplace with their knitting, to watch the procession of life go by, Mrs. Scott, whose previous years had been almost exclusively devoted to her home, her friends and her business interests, should suddenly have launched out on a new, untried and signally tempestuous sea of activity, where she at once assumed a prominent, and very soon, a dominant position.

Mrs. Scott during her incumbency as president-general of the Daughters of the American Revolution has been a surprise to herself and her friends as well as to her enemies. Talents and traits of character which had lain almost dormant for a quarter of a century were aroused to newness of life by the fresh interests aroused and the new duties which were imposed upon her by her high official position.

When she went to Bloomington, Illinois, to attend the "homecoming banquet'' given by her friends and neighbors, she made a powerful and polished speech, putting into it all the strength and restrained force of character of which she is capable. A day or two after, a remark was made by an old friend and neighbor, which gave expression to the widespread feeling among those present at the banquet. "I have come to the conclusion,'' she said, ''that though I have known Mrs. Scott for so long and have known her so intimately, I have always underestimated her. I was aware that she was a woman of great ability, but I am free to confess, that I did not think she had it in her to speak as she spoke last night. I did not realize that we had in our midst a woman of such intellectual grasp, and such wonderful personal dignity and strength."

However, the eloquence and literary charm of her speeches are apparent to everyone. What is, perhaps, less generally known and certainly more rare in her makeup, is her largeness, her ability to rise above petty personal considerations, the broad impersonal way she has of treating people and questions that are brought to her attention. For example, when some of her old-time friends have deserted her and joined the ranks of the enemy, she not only has wasted no time nor energy in recriminations and lamentations, but actually has felt no bitter-ness toward them. The ability to maintain this attitude is very rare among men and almost unheard of among women. It has something about it that is reminiscent of the attitude manifested towards quitters and turncoats by Julius Caesar in Bernard Shaw's "Caesar and Cleopatra" and shows the remarkable mastery of the conscious mind, of the rational dement in her nature, over whims, prejudices and ordinary human passions.

The past two years have also proven to be a sort of Indian Summer for the spiritual element in her nature. The old-time ideals which she had learned to love as a girl sitting at her father's feet, the old-time belief in the efficacy of spiritual powers and the reality of spiritual values have again been quickened into life. The long stretch of years during which she was largely engrossed in family affairs and the heavy labors involved in the management of the material interests of herself and her children, was brought to a close when she assumed her present position of moral and intellectual leadership among American women. As a widow and a mother, she did not hesitate to focus all her energies and abilities upon the financial duties and responsibilities which she felt demanded her first attention, but when these affairs having been satisfactorily and successfully attended to, new intellectual and spiritual responsibilities were thrust upon her, the latent moral fires and spiritual enthusiasms of her girlhood burst into sudden flame, the idealistic element in her nature again asserted itself. To her own surprise, as much as that of her friends and family, she threw into her new work not only the practical skill, and trained energy, which had been developed during her long business career, but as well the old moral fervor and the old spiritual outlook, that had been handed down to her as a rich spiritual inheritance from her distinguished father.

In spite of the fact that she has manifested an extraordinary ability as a presiding officer, showing not only a remarkable mastery of parliamentary law, but an even more remarkable mastery of all the complicated and tempestuous situations that have arisen during the various discussions of the nineteenth and twentieth Congresses; and in spite of the fact that her unusual business and executive ability have enabled her to manage all the financial and administrative affairs of the National Society, with a clear head and a firm hand, yet undoubtedly the most distinctive thing about her administration has been her own personality, that subtle combination of the patrician and the idealist, which has enabled her to infuse into the organization so much of her own spirit of refinement, strength and moral fervor.

In nearly all of her speeches, she somewhere and somehow manages to strike the same clear and fearless note of noble aspiration, high purpose, fearless independence and invincible resolve. In her address at the opening session of the nineteenth Continental Congress occurs the following passage which is a fair sample of her literary style and of her conception of the mission of the "Daughters."

"The National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution had its genesis in the sentiment of 'noblesse oblige.' It is our proud title to distinction that we trace our ancestry back, not to forbears distinguished for the arrogance of wealth, or the supercilious vanity that is based upon a supposed aristocratic blueness in our blood, but one and all of us trace our lineage back to faithful men and women whose splendid distinction it was to have served their country in their time, at the sacrifice of all that was most precious from the material standpoint of life. Ours is an aristocracy of service. It is no light responsibility to have become, as we have undertaken to make ourselves, the ambassadors in this twentieth century, of the ruling spirits of the colonies of the last half of the eighteenth century, the time that tried men out and called them to cement with their blood a union of newborn states, setting up for the whole modern world, so startling a conception of political freedom, religious tolerance and social justice."

The Daughters of the American Revolution have since their inception, some twenty-two years ago, selected worthy and distinguished women to wear the badge of supreme authority. Mrs. Benjamin Harrison, Mrs. Adlai Stevenson, Mrs. John W. Foster, Mrs. Daniel Manning, Mrs. Charles Warren Fairbanks, Mrs. Donald McLean and the present incumbent, Mrs. Matthew T. Scott, of Bloomington, Illinois. Mrs. Scott is now well into the third year of her stewardship, and the list of splendid results which may be directly ascribed to her methods is worthy of five times that lapse of time. Like Joshua, she led the cohorts into the land of their desire, the Continental Memorial Hall and has placed the business affairs of the society on a firm financial basis which will lighten the burden for her successors for all time to come. To build this national hall of fame had been the goal of the society's ambition from the early days of its existence. Every president-general which the Daughters elected labored indefatigably for this end, but it was the keen business acumen, the steady purpose and unflagging labor of Mrs. Scott which made possible so speedy a realization of this hope. Mrs. Donald McLean had by her prompt action in raising the money by mortgage made possible the erection of the hall without the slow, painful method of waiting for the money to be collected. Mrs. Scott took up the work with splendid energy and pushed the lagging forward, closed out every contract connected with the building and planning with-out one lawsuit or even unfriendly episode with those in charge of the construction. This is a remarkable record in Washington, where even the national government gets entangled in the laws affecting labor and construction. Pushing the work to a speedy termination and taking possession of the Memorial Hall far in advance of the time generally named, Mrs. Scott saved the society a tidy sum in the rental of a great suite of offices. During this same busy juncture of time, she has begun the reorganization of the business affairs of the society in the effort to place it on the same plane as that of other corporate enterprises. The result will be that the society will be saved a considerable amount annually which is to go into the treasury to take up the notes due on the Memorial Hall.

This Valhalla is in an especial way dear to Mrs. Scott, as her sister, Mrs. Adlai Stevenson, who was second and fourth president-general of the Daughters, was the first to crystallize the endeavor to collect funds for its erection. It is unique among the magnificent halls which the national Capital or the country at large possesses. It is the largest and most costly monument ever erected by women in this land or any other, in this era or any past one. It is besides, the first grand monument erected to all heroes who helped to gain American independence, men and women alike. The insignia of the society, the distaff, is pregnant with memories of the noble women who were the ancestresses of those who from the motives of purest patriotism erected the noble memorial. The history and achievements of the Daughters of the American Revolution are written in this hall in letters of bronze and marble. It is a Corinthian temple built of white Vermont marble with a wonderful colonnade, thirteen majestic pillars, typical of the thirteen states which formed the first American union and given by the Daughters from each of these historic commonwealths. Magnificent among the stately buildings which are its near neighbors, the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Bureau of American Republics, the Memorial Continental Hall is an achievement of which every woman in the land may be proud, because it is the result of the conservation of the vital forces obtainable when worthy women are leagued together.

The interior of the hall has been the object of loving solicitude from the day the foundation stone was laid. It is a rare combination of delicate and graceful symmetry combined with every practical consideration. Over each door and in the ornamental niches may be seen busts of heroes, gifts of states chapters and of individuals. The beginnings of the nation are plainly written here - George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock, Nathan Hale, John Adams, James Oglethorpe, Edward Hand, Isaac Shelby, John Stark, General Clinton, and Ethan Allen Cook down benignly on the passersby.

Mrs. Scott's energy and enthusiasm is well attested in the rich and varied decorations of the various rooms. Always ready to encourage and to suggest, the entire hall is now furnished, nearly every pledge made by the members has been redeemed, and the hall stands in completeness, a sign of what the strong purpose and ripe judgment of the present president-general accomplished in little more than two years. Mrs. Scott brought all forces into a mighty effort to this endeavor and she used all means at her command. In a word she gathered, while she might have scattered.

All these material proofs of her success as an executive officer are worthy of all praise, but when the sum total of Mrs. Scott's regime as president-general is computed, it will be found that her best and most useful service has been in the deep and intelligent study which she has given the ideals and aspirations of the society, and her dominant energy in forcing the public to accept them, and not a preconceived, distorted notion. She has elevated the tone of the society; not that she has labored for this end especially, but her dignity and personal worth have eliminated the smaller issues which for a time overpowered the real issues. Mrs. Scott is the first president-general from whom the President of the United States accepted an invitation to open a Continental Congress. The highest officials of the land feel honored when they are requested to appear before the Daughters, and the wives of the loftiest officials now work side by side with the councilors. Those who went before Mrs. Scott solved many a problem and did many a useful and uplifting service to the society, but it remained for her to place the Daughters of the American Revolution before the country as they should be known. She broke down the bulwark of ridicule and sarcasm which greeted every effort, erected by a sensation-loving press of the country. She made it plain to those responsible for giving such news to the world that to bear false witness applied to women organized as well as to women individually, and through courteous and gentle means she showed the injustice with which her society had been treated. In this she performed a service for the society greater in the moral sense than the brilliant management of the business affairs is in a material way.

Very recently she has been elected president of the McLean County Coal Company, of Bloomington, Illinois, to succeed the former vice-president, Adlai Stevenson. The respect and admiration in which she is held by her Illinois neighboring farmers, many of them keen-witted business men, is in itself a tribute which bears testimony to her rating in the realm of great and practical affairs. Her farms yield a golden harvest, but better is the distinction which she has earned as a stimulus to scientific farming and a factor in the future welfare of her environment. One of her many wisely beneficent deeds is to send a certain number of her tenants yearly to the Agricultural College of Illinois to prepare themselves for more productive work.

Mrs. Scott has always taken a keen interest in inland water-ways, and she has served on many committees which inquired into that problem which so vitally concerns the future. She has learned by practical experience the excellent results of con-serving water. As Father Noah says in that wonderful poem of Jean Ingelow, "With my foot, have I turned the river to water grasses that are fading," she has redeemed a wilderness in the lower counties of Iowa by means of irrigation.

A favorite charity of Mrs. Scott's is to aid the mountain whites in various Southern states, but especially in her home state, Kentucky. Many years ago, she established a school at Phelps, Kentucky, named in honor of her husband, the Matthew T. Scott Institute. Her noble intention is when she rests from the arduous labors connected with the stewardship of the Daughters, to devote her time and energy to arousing the people of this country to their duties towards the poor mountaineers. Mrs. Scott deplores that so much more is given to educate and uplift the Afro-American race than for the poor whites who are left in ignorance and poverty, without hope or ambition. That this phase of our national neglect is now receiving so much attention may be attributed in a large measure to public-spirited women like Mrs. Scott, who by word and deed have set the example of what should be done. She served for many years with eminent success as secretary of the Home Missionary Board of the Presbyterian Church of Illinois, and later as president of the Woman's Club of Bloomington.

Mrs. Scott has written a charming book on her Revolutionary ancestors. This book is intended for her children and grandchildren and has only a limited circulation. It contains some exceedingly interesting facts and ranks among the genealogical records of times remote from written history. Even a meagre list of the famous men and women from whom Mrs. Scott and her sister, Mrs. Stevenson, claim descent, would make a long article^ One of the very interesting points, how-ever, is that one of her first American ancestresses was Mildred Warner, aunt and godmother of the "Father of His Country" This hallowed name is perpetuated in the only granddaughter of Mrs. Scott, Mildred Warner Bromwell, daughter of her elder daughter, Letitia, wife of Colonel Charles S. Bromwell, U. S. A.

Since she became president-general of the Daughters of the American Revolution, historic work has been emphasized and innumerable landmarks have been saved from the decaying tooth of time. She encouraged the marking of the trails followed by the pioneers of the nation, and almost every month some new achievement in this line has been recorded in the annals of the society. The trail of the first adventurers to the Golden West has been marked by the Pueblo Chapter of Colorado; the Natchez trail by the Tennessee Daughters; the Oregon trail by the Daughters of Nebraska. General Harrison's military road has been marked by the Daughters of Ohio and Indiana, and the path of Daniel Boone by the Daughters of the American Revolution of Kentucky. But while urging the marking of historic spots, Mrs. Scott has always urged on the society that deeds are more prolific of results than words, and she deplores that so many believe that patriotism is best expressed by enthusiastic devotion to the past. She gives profound deference to the past, but under her leadership the seventy-six thousand women who compose the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution are endeavor-ing to obtain exact knowledge of present conditions. Her ambition is that the Daughters shall play an important part in forming public opinion upon certain vital national questions, child labor, the Juvenile Court, patriotic education in all its scope, playgrounds, the observance of a safe and sane July 4th, the preservation of historic spots and records, and the conservation of the national resources in the interest of the future homemakers of the nation. Mrs. Scott's optimistic philosophy put in epigrammatic form is, that there "exists in the heart and mind of every loyal American woman, latent civic and moral sentiment that needs only to be aroused and intelligently focused, in order to make of women one of the most potent and resistless factors for good in the civilization of the twentieth century."

Mrs. Matthew T. Scott is one of the noblest types of American womanhood. Her character in every sense is worthy of emulation by those who come after her.

Women of America

Source: The Part Taken by Women in American History, By Mrs. John A. Logan, Published by The Perry-Nalle Publishing Company, Wilmington, Delaware, 1912.

 

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