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Baroness of Hobcaw

The Life of Belle W. Baruch

Mary E. Miller

Publication Year: 2012

Belle W. Baruch (1899–1964) could outride, outshoot, outhunt, and outsail most of the young men of her elite social circle—abilities that distanced her from other debutantes of 1917. Unapologetic for her athleticism and interests in traditionally masculine pursuits, Baruch towered above male and female counterparts in height and daring. While she is known today for the wildlife conservation and biological research center on the South Carolina coast that bears her family name, Belle's story is a rich narrative about one nonconformist's ties to the land. In Baroness of Hobcaw, Mary E. Miller provides a provocative portrait of this unorthodox woman who gave a gift of monumental importance to the scientific community. Belle's father, Bernard M. Baruch, the so-called Wolf of Wall Street, held sway over the financial and diplomatic world of the early twentieth century and served as an adviser to seven U.S. presidents. In 1905 he bought Hobcaw Barony, a sprawling seaside retreat where he entertained the likes of Churchill and FDR. Belle's daily life at Hobcaw reflects the world of wealthy northerners, including the Vanderbilts and Luces, who bought tracts of southern acreage. Miller details Belle's exploits—fox hunting at Hobcaw, show jumping at Deauville, flying her own plane, traveling with Edith Bolling Wilson, and patrolling the South Carolina beach for spies during World War II. Belle's story also reveals her efforts to win her mother's approval and her father's attention, as well as her unraveling relationships with friends, family, employees, and lovers—both male and female. Miller describes Belle's final success in saving Hobcaw from development as the overarching triumph of a tempestuous life.

Published by: University of South Carolina Press


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pp. 1-5


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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Without Ella Severin, resident trustee and director of long-range planning for the Belle W. Baruch Foundation, this book could not have been written. Miss Severin shared her memories, letters, and memorabilia of her fifteen years as Belle’s companion and opened the archives of the foundation as well as the doors of Bellefield Plantation and Hobcaw House. ...

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1. Paternal Pride and Future Hope

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pp. 1-8

Belle Baruch could outride, outshoot, outhunt, and outsail most of the young men of her acquaintance—not the most desirable attributes for a young lady in the polite society of 1918. For most of her growing years, Belle had been admonished to “act like a lady” and reminded that men did not like to be bested in competition by women. ...

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2. The Only Real Place on Earth

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pp. 9-17

Though only in his midthirties, Bernard Baruch was a multimillionaire who had always believed that a man needed periods of quiet contemplation. After a major endeavor, he liked to isolate himself and reflect on events to determine what led to their success or failure. He searched for a getaway. ...

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3. Life Lessons at Hobcaw

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pp. 18-23

Belle’s relationship with the plantation blacks was ambivalent. It was in - credible to her that most of the inhabitants of the old slave villages— Friendfield, Strawberry, Alderly, and Barnyard—had never left the plantation. They were born, married, reared families, and died without ever having left the boundaries of the property. ...

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4. A Study in Determination

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pp. 24-26

As Belle entered her teens, she had two great passions—sailing and horses. By age seventeen, she had already won over fifty sailing trophies and in 1916 became the first woman to win the coveted Queen of the Bay Cup sponsored by the Yacht Racing Association of Great South Bay, Long Island. ...

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5. From Debutante to the World Stage

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pp. 27-33

When Belle graduated from Rayson in 1917, the United States was at war against the kaiser, and there’s no doubt that, had she been a man, Belle would have enlisted immediately. ...

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6. Henry Ford and Anti-Semitism

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pp. 34-36

The United States in the 1920s was introspective, isolationist, and seeking to assign blame for its own entry into World War I as well as for the conduct of the war itself. As chairman of the powerful War Industries Board and, unquestionably, the most renowned Jew in the country, ...

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7. Resolution and Independence

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pp. 37-40

Belle came of age in the Roaring Twenties, the Jazz Age. She was young, rich, and adventurous. The post–World War I era in America was one of turbulent and often painful social and economic change. The war had exposed millions of rural Americans to urban lifestyles and shifting mores. ...

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8. Lois Massey

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pp. 41-44

The one special person who shared Belle’s dreams and vision of Hobcaw Barony was Lois Massey, who served as social secretary to the Baruchs at Hobcaw and later to Belle at Bellefield. Lois loved Hobcaw almost as much as Belle and was often her companion when Belle visited Hobcaw. ...

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9. Travels with Edith Bolling Wilson

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pp. 45-47

In the spring of 1925 Edith Bolling Wilson planned her first European trip since the death of her husband in February 1924. Belle, along with Lucy Moeling, was to be her traveling companion. They sailed for Europe on the Majestic on May 17. Mrs. Wilson sought rest, anonymity, and complete freedom from formal receptions, press interviews, and the like. ...

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10. An Awakening

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pp. 48-50

In late 1925 Evangeline Brewster Johnson fell in love with the brilliant conductor Leopold Stokowski. Nothing would do for Evangeline but for Belle to share her ecstasy and participate in the plans for the wedding. She chortled as she told Belle about her staid family’s reaction to her fiancé. ...

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11. La Belle Équitation

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pp. 51-55

In the spring of 1926 Belle went to France, where she plunged into a whirl of social engagements. She sighed with plea sure at the beauty of Paris, the Paris immortalized by Hemingway and Fitzgerald, where the wide avenue of the Champs-Élysées bloomed with chestnut blossoms and brilliant flowers instead of the tourist kiosks of today. ...

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12. Success and Romance at Home and Abroad

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pp. 56-65

The year 1929 began like any other year for Belle. She celebrated the New Year at Hobcaw with her family, then headed north to New York to see a few plays and look after her business affairs before setting sail for Europe. ...

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13. Triumphs with Souriant and Rumors of War

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pp. 66-69

In 1932 Belle hired a Frenchman, Jean Darthez, as her head groom and trainer, beginning a relationship that would span three decades. The doughty Frenchman maintained what he considered to be the neatest, cleanest stables in all of France. ...

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14. European Friends and a Fleeting Betrothal

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pp. 70-77

Belle had developed an international coterie of close friends, some Europeans and other Americans who, like Belle, lived in Europe several months of the year. Nearly all shared her passion for riding. ...

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15. Bargaining for Bellefield

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pp. 78-83

In January 1935 Belle went to New York with thoughts of Hobcaw on her mind. Planning to return to Europe immediately, she took a short lease at a residential hotel, The Surrey, on East Seventy-sixth Street. She had confided to Lois Massey her wish to buy a piece of Hobcaw Barony and had asked her for support and assistance. ...

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16. Lois Massey and Prewar Europe

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pp. 84-89

In May 1936 the Italian army took control of Addis Ababa, the capitol of Ethiopia, making it a part of Italian East Africa. To Belle’s disgust, the League of Nations decided to accept Italian rule for Ethiopia. Noting the dithering by the league, Hitler repudiated the articles of the Versailles Treaty that declared the Rhineland to be a demilitarized zone. ...

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17. Varvara Hasselbalch’s American Sojourn

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pp. 90-101

During that final summer of competition in 1937, Belle noted with concern the growing disharmony between her friend Louise Hasselbalch and her teenaged daughter, Varvara. Varvara was increasingly rebellious against Louise’s almost tyrannical insistence that Varvara pursue a professional riding career. ...

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18. Life Stateside and War Abroad

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pp. 102-112

After seeing Varvara off to Europe on the Queen Mary, Belle, Lois Massey, and Barbara Donohoe stayed in New York for a month. Belle wanted to buy a small apartment in New York since, in the future, she would be living primarily in the United States. In the meantime, she leased a house in Bedford, New York, just outside the city, ...

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19. Personal and National Turmoil in 1941

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pp. 113-119

Belle and Barbara Donohoe worked tirelessly to complete the grounds at Bellefield Plantation. Landscape architects Umberto Innocenti and Richard E. Webel of Long Island’s Studio Roblyn designed the entrances to the stables, the house, the forecourt, gates, and terraces of Bellefield. ...

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20. U-Boats and Spies along the Carolina Coast

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pp. 120-127

World War II wrought changes throughout the United States, but the coastal areas, in particular, were affected. Even before the war began, volunteer plane watchers manned lookout towers in Georgetown and Horry counties. Detailed instructions were given to coastal inhabitants as to what action to take in the event of an air raid. ...

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21. Dickie Leyland at Hobcaw Barony

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pp. 128-133

The advent of Dickie Leyland at Hobcaw Barony signaled an era of discord. With a single exception, no one speaks kindly of Dickie. She was considered rude and overbearing, spiteful, jealous, and deceitful. Dickie had two faces, one individual noted, one for Belle and one for everyone else. ...

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22. FDR’s Visit to South Carolina

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pp. 134-141

Spring had always been Belle’s favorite season at Hobcaw. As Easter approached in 1944, the woods of the barony were at their loveliest, with purple wisteria cascading from the trees and fragile dogwoods swaying in the soft breeze. Brilliant azaleas were in bud, and crocus and jonquils bloomed in glowing color. ...

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23. War’s End and the End of an Era

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pp. 142-145

The Allied armies continued their thrust in both theaters of war. The world knew the end was coming when Benito Mussolini was shot on April 28, 1945, and Adolph Hitler committed suicide just two days later. By May 7, Germany had surrendered unconditionally. ...

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24. Winds of Change in Postwar America

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pp. 146-152

In 1946 Belle made her first trip to Europe since the end of the war. She held a tempestuous reunion in London with Varvara Hasselbalch, then married to Guy Ingram. For some reason, Belle was spoiling for an argument, probably resentment at Varvara’s last-minute refusal to leave Paris during the German occupation. ...

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25. Philanthropy and Ecology

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pp. 153-158

As the years passed and development increased in Horry and Georgetown counties, Belle was alarmed by the destruction of natural habitat and the diminishing wildlife. The wild turkeys were seldom seen anymore and the number of ducks dwindled each year. ...

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26. From Constable to Baroness

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pp. 159-169

Belle and Ella were to share many happy years at Hobcaw. They did not always agree but deferred to each other. Ella, for instance, was an animal-rights activist and deplored hunting in any form. Belle, of course, was an avid hunter, though she never shot deer or turkey once she took over the plantation and rarely shot ducks in order to protect their diminishing numbers. ...

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27. Paul Dollfus and Frances Milam

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pp. 170-175

Next to Hobcaw and her beloved horses, Belle’s greatest plea sure was doing for others, giving not only money but her time and attention. Her philanthropies were extensive and included organized charities such as the Seeing Eye of Morristown, New Jersey; ...

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28. The Passing of Jean Darthez and Souriant III

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pp. 176-180

In 1956 Belle’s friends joined her in mourning the death of her beloved Toto, Souriant III. Toto had passed thirty years of his life with Belle and Jean Darthez, loved and pampered, but all the affection they lavished on him could not stave off the ravages of age. ...

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29. Into the Twilight

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pp. 181-192

Bernard Baruch ushered in the new decade with the publication of volume 2 of his autobiography, Baruch: The Public Years, creating quite a stir among his political contemporaries. He still had enough clout that the young Senator John F. Kennedy from Massachusetts came to pay his respects as he sought the presidency. ...

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pp. 193-194

As often happens when someone of great wealth dies, there was dissension and controversy following Belle Baruch’s death. Belle had often expressed the wish to be buried at her beloved Hobcaw Barony but had not so designated in her will. Bernard Baruch insisted that she be interred in the family burial plot at Flushing Cemetery in Queens. ...

Appendix: Hobcaw Barony Today

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pp. 195-198


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pp. 199-204


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pp. 205-206


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pp. 207-212

E-ISBN-13: 9781611172119
Print-ISBN-13: 9781570039591

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2012