Mary Morris Hamilton Schuyler, MVLA.Mary Morris Hamilton Schuyler (1818-1877) was a major fundraiser in New York for the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association from 1858 to 1866. She raised $40,000 (over $7 million in 2021 dollars), a fifth of the money needed at the time to purchase George Washington’s home and about 200 acres from the Washington Family. Her father was James Alexander Hamilton (1788-1878), a son of the famed Alexander Hamilton. After her death, the prospect of a statue of her erected at the 1893 Columbian exposition in Chicago prompted relatives to sue to prevent it and resulted in a judicial decision on the newly-articulated “right to privacy,” a case which continues to be studied to this day.

Schuyler was born on January 1, 1818, in New York into a wealthy and well-known family.1 Less known in the twenty-first century is that the family was engaged, albeit at an “elite” level, in charitable causes.2 During Schuyler's lifetime, her paternal grandmother, Eliza Schuyler Hamilton (1757-1854), wife of Alexander Hamilton, was a long-time officer of the organization that became the Orphan Asylum Society and is currently called Graham Windham.3 Her sister, Eliza Hamilton Schuyler (1811-1863), worked with the new Children’s Aid Society, the landscaping of Central Park, and helped found the Woman’s Central Association of Relief that became an auxiliary of the United States Sanitary Commission during the Civil War.4 Her niece, a daughter of Eliza’s, Louisa Lee Schuyler (1837-1926), was a volunteer teacher with the Children’s Aid Society and a principal of Women’s Central Association of Relief.5

In this familial context of charitable work, Schuyler struck out on her own by co-founding, in November 1852, the New York School of Design for Women. It became part of Cooper Union when that institution was founded in 1859. The school “open[ed] to women new means of livelihood through instruction in engraving, designing and decorating.”6 In 1853, Schuyler joined her sister, Eliza, and niece, Louisa, in one of their endeavors becoming “one of the earliest volunteer visitors and teachers in the newly formed Children’s Aid Society.”7

New-York daily tribune. [volume] (New-York [N.Y.]), 27 Oct. 1858, Page 2, Image 2. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

This 1858 notice (left) for the New-York School of Design for Women identifies Schuyler as a member of the Executive Committee.8 Since the school was founded in 1852, this notice appearing six years later demonstrates her commitment to a years-long project.

In 1858, Ann Pamela Cunningham (1816-1875), the head of the new Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association (MVLA), appointed Schuyler as a “vice-regent” for New York to lead the fundraising effort in New York State to purchase and restore George Washington’s Mount Vernon home.9 This association was the first nationwide private preservation organization in the United States.10 While part of the MVLA from 1858 to 1866, Schuyler raised about a fifth, or $40,000 (over $7 million in 2021 dollars), of the total sum needed. This included a generous donation from American author and Washington biographer, Washington Irving (1783-1859).11 Mary Morris Hamilton to Ann Pamela Cunningham, 17 August 1858, MVLA.Within the MVLA archives is a copy of the sole existing photograph (above) of Schuyler along with a number of her letters including the final page of the one shown here to Cunningham dated August 17, 1858.12

The cover of the September 1858 issue of The Illustrated Mount Vernon Record listed her as an officer of the MVLA and included her long “Appeal to the Ladies of New York.” In this appeal, Schuyler informed readers that the MVLA had been recently incorporated with the purpose of acquiring and restoring George Washington’s Mount Vernon home and the surrounding 200 acres. Schuyler organized a three-day gala festival in New York in December 1858 as a fundraiser.13 She also organized a benefit using an opera in June 1859.14

While her work for the MVLA continued through the Civil War, she also assisted in the work of the United States Sanitary Commission and was, at least occasionally, in Washington, D.C., doing this work. 15 In 1867, partly at her suggestion to women from the School of Design for Women, they independently founded the Ladies’ Art Association.16

In 1869, then age 45, Schuyler married George L. Schuyler (1811-1890), age 52. He had been married to her sister Eliza, who had died in 1863. George and Mary had no children of their own, but their marriage made Schuyler the stepmother to three adults. The last eight years of her life remain unknown to scholars today. She died on May 11, 1877. A 1914 biographical sketch of her stated that “[s]he united social talent, tact and charm with her executive ability. She was one of the best amateur pianists of her day. Her home at 19 West Thirty-first [S]treet, New York, was not only the center of hospitality to relatives and friends, but she also gathered about her a circle of highly distinguished persons.”17

Lawsuit After Death

After her death, Schuyler became the subject of one of the first “right to privacy” cases, Schuyler v. Curtis, for which there were four court decisions, with accompanying publicity, between 1891 and 1895.18 The case is of continuing interest to lawyers and art historians.19

Schuyler had been deceased 14 years and her husband one year when surviving relatives first learned through a newspaper that a group of women, some of whom had known Schuyler, planned to erect a couplet of statues at Chicago’s 1893 Columbian Exposition (celebrating Columbus’ arrival in America 400 years earlier). The statues would be of the then living Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) bearing the inscription “The Typical Reformer,” and of the deceased Schuyler bearing the inscription “The Typical Philanthropist.”

Philip Schuyler, her nephew (who, following his father’s marriage to Mary, became her stepson), and other relatives sued “principally to judicially establish the principle of privacy.”20 They argued she had been a very private individual and certainly did not share Susan B. Anthony’s beliefs. In granting an injunction in favor of the relatives, the trial court’s September 1891 decision cited the then very recent, and now very famous, December 1890 article by Samuel D. Warren and Louis D. Brandeis (the future Supreme Court Justice) in the Harvard Law Review entitled “The Right to Privacy.”21

The trial court decision was overturned on appeal – after the Columbian Exposition (held May to October 1893) had come and gone. As a preliminary matter, the appeals court held that the case was not moot because the defendants intended to retain the statue on public display at an art studio.22

On the merits of the case, the court reviewed six objections made by the plaintiffs. One was that the defendants did not possess an image of Schuyler and planned to have a statue of an “ideal woman.” Another objection was that Schuyler did not share the same views as Susan B. Anthony on the “women’s movement,” yet their statues would be paired.23 The court rejected all six objections. The court concluded that, if there is a right to privacy, private persons who are deceased have no such right -- especially where that right is being invoked by surviving relatives when strangers seek to honor them. 

 

James M. Thunder

 

Notes:

1 Cuyler Reynolds, Genealogical and Family History of Southern New York and the Hudson River Valley (Hudson River Valley: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1914), 3:1383-4 (hereinafter “Reynolds, Genealogy”).

2 Lori D. Ginzberg, “Louisa Lee Schuyler,” American National Biography, 1999, 19:458-9 (hereinafter “American National Biography”).

3 Amanda B. Moniz, “Who Tells Eliza's story? Philanthropy and ‘Hamilton: An American Musical’,” National Museum of American History (O Say Can You See? Series), Nov. 6, 2017, https://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/philanthropy-and-hamilton.

4 Reynolds, Genealogy, 1381; American National Biography.

5 American National Biography; Robert D. Cross, “Louisa Lee Schuyler,” in Edward T. James, ed., Notable American Women 1607-1950: A Biographical Dictionary (Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard Univ. Press, 1971), 3:244-46; Jeanie Attie, Patriotic Toil: Northern Women and the American Civil War (Cornell University Press, 1998), 154, n. 13 (quoting 1863 letter from Mary Morris).

6 Reynolds, Genealogy, 1381. There is of course literature on the circumstances of women at the time and the desirability of such an education. See, e.g., New-York Daily Tribune, March 15, 1852, 4 (long report of the British 1851 Exhibition, schools of design in England and Philadelphia, and ones starting in Boston and New York), https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030213/1852-03-15/ed-1/seq-4/; New-York Daily Tribune, Feb. 2, 1855, 7 (report of the Managers on the number of students, the work they have done, courses taught), https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030213/1855-02-02/ed-1/seq-7/; April F. Masten, Art Work: Women Artists and Democracy in Mid-Nineteenth-Century New York (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 2008).

7 Reynolds, Genealogy, 1383-4.

8 New-York Daily Tribune, Oct. 27, 1858, 2, col 4, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030213/1858-10-27/ed-1/seq-2/

9 Catalogue of the Centennial Exhibition Commemorating the Founding of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union, 1853-1953, Mount Vernon, Va. 1953, 32 (letter of May 11, 1858, accepting appointment as vice-regent), https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015049759239&view=1up&seq=18

10 David M. Grabitske, “First Lady of Preservation: Sarah Sibley and the Mount Vernon Ladies Association,” Minnesota History, Minnesota Historical Society (Winter 2003-04), http://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/58/v58i08p407-416.pdf.

11 “George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Miss Mary M. Hamilton, 1858-1866,” Catalogue of the Centennial Exhibition Commemorating the Founding of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union, 1853-1953 , Mount Vernon, Va. : 1953 https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015049759239&view=1up&seq=18; Scott E. Casper, Sarah Johnson’s Mount Vernon: The Forgotten History of an American Shrine (New York: Hill and Wang, 2008), 71 ($40,000).

12 “The Birth of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association,” https://www.mountvernon.org/preservation/mount-vernon-ladies-association/early-history/birth-of-the-mount-vernon-ladies-association/. Described here as a “Cabinet card”: https://archives.mountvernon.org/repositories/2/archival_objects/1889;Letter from Mary Morris Hamilton to Ann Pamela Cunningham, Aug. 17, 1858 (discusses candidates for vice-regents, stating that, in her absence in the country, she knows her sister Eliza wrote on the same subject), her sister Eliza had responded, http://catalog.mountvernon.org/digital/collection/p16829coll35/id/290/. For additional Schuyler manuscripts, see “Early Records of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association,” Archives of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, https://archives.mountvernon.org/.

13 Showing top half of advertisement. New-York Daily Tribune, Dec. 3, 1858, 2, col 1, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030213/1858-12-03/ed-1/seq-2/.

14 New-York Daily Tribune, May 27, 1859, 2, col 1, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030213/1859-05-27/ed-1/seq-2/.

15 Reynolds, Genealogy, 1383-4; Mary Morris Hamilton to Sarah Tracy, Feb. 23, 1863, “Early Records of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association," Archives of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, https://archives.mountvernon.org/repositories/2/archival_objects/17861.

16 Cited in the 1895 court decision, below, and The Report of the Virginia Board of Visitors to Mount Vernon for the Year 1901, 1901, 64, https://archive.org/details/report00verngoog/page/n9/mode/2up. There is no mention of Mary Morris or the New York (or Cooper Union) School of Design for Women in the introductory materials of the papers of the Ladies’ Art Association. “An Inventory of the Ladies Art Association (New York, N.Y.) Records, 1871-1914,” Historical Library of Swarthmore College (many of the women were Quakers), http://www.swarthmore.edu/Library/friends/ead/4047laar.xmlhttp://infomotions.com/sandbox/liam/pages/4047laar.html#series3.

17 Reynolds, Genealogy, 1383-4.

18 Schuyler v. Curtis, 15 N.Y.Supp. 787 (Sup. Ct. 1891), 27 Abb. N. Cas. 387, https://books.google.com/books?id=YRsMAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA387&lpg=PA387&dq=abbott%27s+1891+%22schuyler+v+curtis%22&source=bl&ots=ChLRbnL-tq&sig=ACfU3U0UZpmroGTQPChoJSqWYg-jC1nICg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwicmbPfj9TnAhWjlXIEHZzLBk0Q6AEwC3oECAcQAQ#v=onepage&q=abbott's%201891%20%22schuyler%20v%20curtis%22&f=false; Schuyler v. Curtis, 64 Hun. 594, 19 N.Y.Supp. 264 (App. Div., June 1892) (re: preliminary injunction); Schuyler v. Curtis, 24 N. Y. Supp. 509 (S.Ct. Special Term, Jan. 1, 1893), 30 Abb. N. Cas. 376 (granting permanent injunction), https://cite.case.law/abbn-cas/30/376/, aff’d without opinion, 70 Hun. 598, 24 N.Y.Supp. 512 (S. Ct., General Term, 1st Dep’t, June 30, 1893), https://cite.case.law/nys/24/512/5429131/; Schuyler v. Curtis, 147 N.Y. 434, 42 N.E. 22, 70 N.Y. St. Reptr. 15, 31 L.R.A. 286, 49 Am. St. Rep. 671 (Ct. Appeals, 1895; reversing trial court, dissolving injunction). https://casetext.com/case/schuyler-v-curtis; https://archive.org/details/newyorkstaterep00unkngoog/page/n68/mode/2up/search/mary+morris+hamilton. The full record of the trial was given to the appellate court and is online: “Case on Appeal,” Schuyler v. Curtis (1893) (over 180pp),https://books.google.com/books?id=E7YvHGYUVc8C&dq=%22mary+morris+hamilton%22+%22columbian+exposition%22&source=gbs_navlinks_s  

20 Starting with a law review note by Augustus Hand, who had represented the relatives. After the 1895 decision, Hand (1869-1954) authored “Schuyler Against Curtis and the Right to Privacy,” Amer. L. Reg. & Rev. 45 (O.S.), no. 12 (Dec. 1897): 745-759, https://scholarship.law.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=5551&context=penn_law_review. Hand was a cousin of Learned Hand (1872-1961), and both of them would go on to be federal district judges and federal appellate judges. See also David W. Leebron, “The Right to Privacy’s Place in the Intellectual History of Tort Law,” Case Western Reserve Law Review, 41, no. 3 (1991), 769-809, 792, n. 93, https://scholarlycommons.law.case.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=2045&context=caselrev; Nicole J. Williams, “‘The Statue Case': The Typical Women (1889–91) of the Ladies' Art Association, Female Monuments, and the Right to Privacy,” part of the “Scholarly Session: ‘Votes for Women: American Women Artists and Strategies for Inclusion’,” College Art Association Annual Conference, Chicago, Illinois, Feb. 12-15, 2020, https://www.ahaaonline.org/page/2020Chicago.

20 New York Times, Nov. 23, 1892 (testimony).

21 Harvard Law Review, 4 (Dec. 15, 1890): 193-220, https://www.cs.cornell.edu/~shmat/courses/cs5436/warren-brandeis.pdf.

22 Although the Ladies’ Art Association wanted to display a statue of Mary Morris Hamilton Schuyler in its studios, there is no evidence that such a statue, or a statue of Susan B. Anthony, was ever executed under the commissions granted to sculptor Jonathan S. Hartley (1845-1912). Adelaide Johnson (1859-1955), not Hartley, sculpted a bust of Anthony which was displayed at the Columbian Exposition. “Susan B. Anthony’s Wish Comes True,” https://www.loc.gov/exhibitions/women-fight-for-the-vote/about-this-exhibition/seneca-falls-and-building-a-movement-1776-1890/a-movement-at-odds-with-itself/susan-b-anthonys-wish-comes-true/ The bust of Anthony, along with those of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, have been displayed since 1920 in the U.S. Capitol. “Portrait Monument to Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony,” Architect of the Capitol, https://www.aoc.gov/capitol-hill/other-statues/portrait-monument.

23 Indeed, not mentioned by the court, was that Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Mary Morris Hamilton Schuyler differed mightily on the preservation of Mount Vernon: [I]n 1858, Stanton constructed an argument that positioned woman suffrage as the fulfillment of the American Revolution. That year she refused to participate in the preservation of George Washington’s home by declining an offer to be a Lady Manager of the Mount Vernon Association. Stanton argued that the memory of Washington would be better honored by granting greater freedoms than restoring the dilapidated walls of his final home, declaring “What mightier monument can we raise to the memory of Washington than to complete the pure temple of Liberty, whose foundations he laid in suffering and blood!” [quoting letter from Stanton to Mary Morris Hamilton]. This linkage between women’s rights and the Revolutionary generation would be taken up with vigor during the nation’s centennial celebrations. Nicole M. Eaton, “Moving History Forward: American Women Activists: The Search for a Usable Past and the Creation of Public Memory, 1848-1998” (PhD diss., Brown University, 20120, 57, https://repository.library.brown.edu/studio/item/bdr:297666/EXTRACTED_TEXT/?embed=true (original citation for letter: "“The Purchase of Mount Vernon,” unidentified newspaper clipping, letter from Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Mary Morris Hamilton, August 27, 1858, Susan B. Anthony Scrapbook, Vol. 1, pg. 76, Susan B. Anthony Collection, Rare Books and Special Collections, LOC.”).

 

Bibliography:

Casper, Scott E. Sarah Johnson’s Mount Vernon: The Forgotten History of an American Shrine. New York: Hill and Wang, 2008.

Cross, Robert D., “Louisa Lee Schuyler,” in Edward T. James, ed., Notable American Women 1607-1950: A Biographical Dictionary (Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard Univ. Press, 1971), 3:244-46.

Eaton, Nicole M., “Moving History Forward: American Women Activists: The Search for a Usable Past and the Creation of Public Memory, 1848-1998.” PhD diss., Brown University, 2012. https://repository.library.brown.edu/studio/item/bdr:297666/EXTRACTED_TEXT/?embed=true

“Hamilton,” in Reynolds, Cuyler. Genealogical and Family History of Southern New York and the Hudson River Valley: A Record of the Achievements of Her People in the Making of a Commonwealth and the Building of a Nation. Hudson River Valley: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1914. 3:1376-1392. http://books.google.com/books/about/Genealogical_and_Family_History_of_South.html?id=iNIUAAAAYAAJ

“An Inventory of the Ladies Art Association (New York, N.Y.) Records, 1871-1914,” Historical Library of Swarthmore College, http://www.swarthmore.edu/Library/friends/ead/4047laar.xmlhttp://infomotions.com/sandbox/liam/pages/4047laar.html#series3

Ginzberg, Lori D., “Louisa Lee Schuyler,” American National Biography. 19 (1999); 458-9.

Grabitske, David M., First Lady of Preservation: Sarah Sibley and the Mount Vernon Ladies Association,” Minnesota History, Minnesota Historical Society (Winter 2003-04), http://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/58/v58i08p407-416.pdf

Hand, Augustus N., “Schuyler Against Curtis and the Right to Privacy,” Amer. L. Reg. & Rev. 45 (O.S.), no. 12 (Dec. 1897), 745-759. https://scholarship.law.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=5551&context=penn_law_review

Masten, April F., Art Work: Women Artists and Democracy in Mid-Nineteenth Century New York. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008.

Moniz, Amanda B., “Who Tells Eliza's story? Philanthropy and ‘Hamilton: An American Musical’,” National Museum of American History (O Say Can You See? Series). Nov. 6, 2017. https://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/philanthropy-and-hamilton.

Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association: “The Birth of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association,” accessed Feb. 29, 2020. https://www.mountvernon.org/preservation/mount-vernon-ladies-association/early-history/birth-of-the-mount-vernon-ladies-association/.

Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association: Catalogue of the Centennial Exhibition Commemorating the Founding of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union, 1853-1953, Mount Vernon, Va. 1953. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015049759239&view=1up&seq=18.

Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association: “Early Records of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association,” Archives of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association (at least 150 items bearing the name of “Mary Morris Hamilton” or “Mary M. Hamilton”). https://archives.mountvernon.org/.

Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association: The Illustrated Mount Vernon Record.

Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association: “Portraits/Biographies of Regent and Vice Regents to 1874,” accessed Feb. 29, 2020. https://web.archive.org/web/20100707163628/http://www.mountvernon.org/visit/plan/index.cfm/pid/333/

 Schuyler v. Curtis: 15 N.Y.Supp. 787 (Sup. Ct. 1891), 27 Abb. N. Cas. 387 (re: preliminary injunction). https://books.google.com/books?id=YRsMAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA387&lpg=PA387&dq=abbott%27s+1891+%22schuyler+v+curtis%22&source=bl&ots=ChLRbnL-tq&sig=ACfU3U0UZpmroGTQPChoJSqWYg-jC1nICg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwicmbPfj9TnAhWjlXIEHZzLBk0Q6AEwC3oECAcQAQ#v=onepage&q=abbott's%201891%20%22schuyler%20v%20curtis%22&f=false.

Schuyler v. Curtis: 64 Hun. 594, 19 N.Y.Supp. 264 (App. Div., June 1892) (re: preliminary injunction).

Schuyler v. Curtis: 24 N. Y. Supp. 509 (S.Ct. Special Term, Jan. 1, 1893), 30 Abb. N. Cas. 376 (granting permanent injunction). https://cite.case.law/abbn-cas/30/376/. aff’d without opinion, 70 Hun. 598, 24 N.Y.Supp. 512 (S. Ct., General Term, 1st Dep’t, June 30, 1893). https://cite.case.law/nys/24/512/5429131/

Schuyler v. Curtis: 147 N.Y. 434, 42 N.E. 22, 70 N.Y. St. Reptr. 15, 31 L.R.A. 286, 49 Am. St. Rep. 671 (Ct. Appeals, 1895; reversing trial court, dissolving injunction). https://casetext.com/case/schuyler-v-curtis.  https://archive.org/details/newyorkstaterep00unkngoog/page/n68/mode/2up/search/mary+morris+hamilton

Schuyler v. Curtis: “Case on Appeal,” Schuyler v. Curtis (1893) (over 180pp). https://books.google.com/books?id=E7YvHGYUVc8C&dq=%22mary+morris+hamilton%22+%22columbian+exposition%22&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Williams, Nicole J., “‘The Statue Case': The Typical Women (1889–91) of the Ladies' Art Association, Female Monuments, and the Right to Privacy,” part of the “Scholarly Session: ‘Votes for Women: American Women Artists and Strategies for Inclusion’,” College Art Association Annual Conference, Chicago, Illinois (Feb. 12-15, 2020). https://www.ahaaonline.org/page/2020Chicago.  

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