Part two of four.
Just after Woodrow Wilson was elected President in November 1912, Genevieve Clark was eyeing her options.
With her father and former presidential candidate Champ Clark of Bowling Green back in his chair as Speaker of the House of Representatives, she had a lot to consider.
At the time, societal traditions limited women, with only about one in five having jobs. Today, almost 60 percent of women are in the workforce.
Genevieve had a potential beau in New Orleans newspaper publisher James Thomson, but refused to put restraints on herself.
While Thomson had caught her eye, Daddy still held her admiration. When asked in May 1913 whether her future included work or marriage, she became a politician.
“Maybe both, who knows?” Genevieve replied. “But one thing is sure: I have yet to meet a man like my papa — my ideal. I suppose, as a girl of nineteen, I should be thinking of marriage, but I do not.”
Genevieve was a fashion maven who traveled, taught Sunday school and caused older ladies to shudder in disbelief because she refused to wear long, white gloves to formal occasions.
When a lock of hair near her right ear formed a baby ringlet, the papers called it the “Genevieve curl.” After pictures of it were published, girls across the country were wearing the same.
There was a serious side, of course. Genevieve campaigned for women’s voting rights and worked on many social causes. One of her fondest was the “Made in America” movement, which garnered huge attention.
“Miss Clark takes considerable interest in politics and has become acquainted with most of the leaders in Washington,” said the Anderson Daily Intelligencer of South Carolina. “Some of them talk politics with her, and her knowledge of the game has been commented on very often.”
Though she decided to forego college, Genevieve began writing for publication. One story was about a trip she took with a Congressional delegation to Panama. Another featured a look at life in Washington. Her article on the “suffrage hike” was prominently featured in the Washington Times.
As in the past, Genevieve remained a media darling. Her image appeared on front pages across the country, and her pals included the President’s daughter, Jessie Wilson, and Thomas Edison’s daughter, Madeline.
A formal Washington society debut took placed on New Year’s Eve 1913, but everyone already knew her. Genevieve took the moment with her usual endearing nature, joking with sincerity that the only time her beloved father had lost a re-election bid was the year she was born.
“Since then, she has been in great demand, not only in the younger set, but among the grown-ups, at the most formal sort of official functions, brilliant diplomatic dinners, and Senatorial feasts,” raved the Times’ social observer, Jean Eliot.
James and Genevieve kept in touch, with both periodically making the trip between Washington and New Orleans. At some point, the two decided to tie the knot. Eliot speculated the engagement dated to Genevieve’s visit at Mardi Gras 1914.
The New York Times made things official in an article on Dec. 28, 1914. “The only news in the announcement was that ‘Speaker and Mrs. Clark announce,”’ Eliot sarcastically said.
Two months later, the Times reported Genevieve had suffered a “breakdown” due to a “slight indisposition” that caused her to “go to a sanitarium” to recover. Though no specific reason was given, the papers speculated whether Genevieve was having second thoughts or had just been overcome by buildup to the big day.
Whatever the case, Genevieve bounced back quickly. During a pre-wedding tea in Bowling Green, she was discussing how some people fall into a bad marriage.
“It is another of those cases where a man, in love with a dimple, makes the mistake of marrying the whole girl,” she said.
As the calendar turned toward the wedding day of June 30, a problem arose.
The Speaker had family, friends, colleagues and constituents stretching from coast to coast. If just one of them failed to get an invitation, the offense would draw all kinds of unwanted inquiry.
Clark finally came up with a solution, announced in a notice from his secretary, Wallace Bassford of Montgomery City.
“As it has been found utterly impossible to issue individual invitations, all Missourians are invited,” it read.
Many wanted the ceremony to take place in Washington, but Genevieve was adamant. She “put aside all suggestions for a more brilliant setting for her wedding than Honey Shuck,” The Quincy Daily Whig reported.
“The giant honey locust trees that give her home its name and shade its lawn are her first distinct memories,” the paper said. “Long ago, she said if she was ever married, it would be in June under those same, dear old trees.”
It seems the only person not welcome was William Jennings Bryan. Speaking with reporters, Clark denied that his 1912 Democrat National Convention nemesis had intentionally been overlooked, saying the list of invitees had not been completed. But he "did not say Bryan would be invited,” one newspaper noted.
The wedding plans almost came to a screeching halt when the British liner Lusitania was sunk by a German U-boat on May 7, 1915 Almost 1,200 people were killed, including 128 Americans. Speaker Clark and Congress were called into special session, but the Wilson administration took a cue from American public opinion and said it would not get involved.
So, in Bowling Green, preparations continued.
“Down in Pike County, Missouri, where they raise mules and famous statesmen, there is going to be a wedding that for a time will attract the undivided attention of the whole United States,” declared the Odgen Standard of Oregon.
On June 8, Bryan resigned as Secretary of State, citing his disagreement with Wilson over the response to German aggression.
Reporters sitting with Clark on his front porch at Honey Shuck asked for a statement. The Speaker’s lips grew tight and he barked: “I shall say absolutely nothing. I am not going to say a word about it.”
It would be one of the few -- but not the last -- time Clark refused to answer reporters. For good reason, he would also not utter a peep about what could have been a day-of-the-wedding catastrophe.
Genevieve Clark on the telephone in 1915.
Next time: Genevieve’s mother wades to the rescue.