- A Grand Tour Interrupted
Nancy Johnson, the daughter of the Kentucky congressman Ben Johnson, departed for Europe in May 1914 for her grand tour. As befitted someone of her social status, she was accompanied by Ethel Norris, a traveling companion selected by her mother, and a chaperone, Harvey Carroll, newly appointed consul to Venice, and his wife Daisy. Blissfully unaware of the gathering war clouds in Europe, Johnson looked forward to going to Paris to study French and to absorb French culture. Her travel plans were abruptly interrupted by the outbreak of World War i, and she was forced to return to the United States.
The story of Nancy Johnson’s aborted grand tour is told by her granddaughter, Mary W. Schaller, in Deliver Us from Evil, the twenty-seventh volume in a series entitled Women’s Diaries and Letters of the South, designed to showcase the writings of southern women of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In reconstructing the grand tour of her grandmother, Schaller relies primarily on the reminiscences and letters of her grandmother, the press clippings recounting her grandmother’s social exploits in Washington, and a memoir, The Sailing of a Refugee Ship, written in 1914 by Arno Behnke, a Dartmouth [End Page ixvii] College sophomore, describing the return voyage of a group of American tourists, including Nancy Johnson, aboard the Italian ship the Principe di Udine.
Nancy, a typical southern belle, was educated at Bethlehem and Loretta academies in Kentucky; she became part of the Washington social scene when her father was elected to Congress and played the role expected of her by her family and society. Her job was to chauffeur her father and the speaker of the house, James Beauchamp “Champ” Clark, to and from the Capitol. She later confessed to her granddaughter that she had been born too soon, that she would have been good in business, but there is no evidence that she questioned her role at the time.
Educated upper-class women in that era were confronted with a dilemma if they chose not to marry immediately after completing their education. There were those who opted for charity work, and there were those who took more adventurous paths. In the recently published book Nothing Daunted, Dorothy Wickenden details the grand adventure of her grandmother, Dorothy Woodruff, and her friend, Rosamond Underwood: two society girls from Auburn, New York, graduated from Smith College, made the grand tour, then embarked on the great adventure of their lives to Elkhead, Colorado, a frontier outpost, to teach the children of homesteaders.
It is unlikely that Congressman Ben Johnson could have been persuaded to allow his daughter to undertake such an adventure. It is doubtful that his daughter would have considered such a scheme, but at age twenty-six, Johnson was restless. The Washington social scene had begun to pall. Hers was the more conventional choice. Influenced by friends who had returned from their own grand tours, she began a campaign to persuade her parents to allow her to go to Europe.
Johnson’s parents acceded to her demands. Their hope was that a grand tour would break up her romance with Lieutenant Roscoe Campbell Crawford. Permission was granted for a grand tour suitable for a daughter of privilege. Johnson’s plans were hedged by restrictions imposed by overprotective parents; a chaperone and a traveling companion were considered necessary. Her mother, a devout Catholic, wanted her to have an audience with the Pope, and her parents were insistent that she visit her mother’s family in Holland. In the ensuing tug of war, as the distance between her and her parents increased, Johnson became more assertive in taking control of her travel plans. What Nancy Johnson wanted was greater independence, but she obviously had no objection to traveling in the style suitable for one of her social standing. The twenty-six pieces of luggage that accompanied her testified to her acceptance of her status in society.
Johnson’s tour had been under...