KATE SHIPPEN ROOSEVELT: PORTRAIT OF A PRETTY HIGH SOCIETY WOMAN BY CELEBRATED PHOTOGRAPHER NAPOLEON SARONY

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It is not infrequent that a cabinet card presents an interesting mystery. This cabinet card, by celebrity photographer Napoleon Sarony of New York City, conjures  up some fascinating questions. Is the woman in this photograph a member of one of America’s most famous political families? It is likely that the pretty woman with the dreamy gaze seen in this photo is a Roosevelt. Let me tell you a little about Kate Shippen Roosevelt (1855-1925). In 1883, Kate Shippen Roosevelt (1855-1925) was married to Hilborne Roosevelt who was a world famous organ maker. He had factories in New York City, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. His company made some of the finest and largest pipe organs in the world. He designed the first electric organ and he was a first cousin to President Theodore Roosevelt. Kate was the daughter of William W. Shippen who was the president of the Hoboken Land and Improvement Company and Hoboken Ferry Company. It is not a surprise that their wedding was called by the New York Times (1883) the event of the season. An article in Town Topic Journal of  Society (1883) announces that Kate Shippen Roosevelt would be performing a monologue and that she was one of the “best amateurs” engaged in such performances. Kate was also a well known women’s suffrage critic. She called suffragettes “soapbox militants”. Hillborne Roosevelt died in 1886 at age 37. He left his widow and three year-old daughter quite wealthy and they continued to be part of high society in New York City.  I believe that that the woman in this image is Kate Shippen Roosevelt because  1) the inscription on the reverse of the image is supportive (see below), 2) Mrs. Roosevelt was a member of society and Sarony was a society photographer, and 3) My research was unsuccessful to find another celebrity sharing the name “Kate Shippen”.  Unfortunately, I could not find a photo to confirm or disconfirm that the subject of this cabinet card portrait was Mrs. Roosevelt. The bottom image is the gravestone of Kate Shippen Roosevelt which is located at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. More on Mrs. Roosevelt at

    http://www.womanaroundtown.com/sections/living-around/the-dowagers-diary-new-york-citys-downton-abbey-week-one

    and a fuzzy picture that might help some. I am pretty sure it is her., but what do I know?

    • I am the author of the Dowager’s Diary and am so happy that you are enjoying it and thanks, too for the photo of Kate Shippen Roosevelt. From others, I have seen, I think you are correct.


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