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new york society

Sin and Scandal: The de Saulles Murder Case

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Blanca de Saulles
Bain News Service, publisher. – Mrs. J.L. DeSavlles, Blanca Errázuriz – [between ca. 1910 and ca. 1915]

I stumbled across a mention of this murder while writing up Tuesday’s post on jazz and jazz musicians in interwar Britain, and had to do some digging! I turned up a plethora of New York Times articles–which, incidentally, made up the bulk of the Wikipedia pages for Blanca and John. The furor surrounding this murder case reminds of the trial of Madame Henriette Caillaux, which dominated newspapers right up to the declaration of war in 1914.


The 1906 murder of architect Stanford White by Harry Thaw was characterized as the Crime of the Century, but eleven years later, American society was gripped by yet another crime passionnel–the shooting of former Yale football star and playboy, John de Saulle, by his ex-wife Blanca (née Errázuriz). Blanca, a Chilean aristocrat and heiress, married de Saulles, who was sixteen years her senior, in 1911. Their marriage broke down after the birth of one child, a son named John de Saulles, Jr., and Blanca obtained her divorce with a testimony of her husband’s adultery from one Rodolfo Alfonzo Raffaele Pierre Philbert Gugliemi (the future Rudolph Valentino), a taxi dancer who obtained fame in New York circles for his sensuous tango moves.

The divorce was bitter, and the custody battle over their young son even bitterer. Blanca, furious over her ex-husband’s refusal to acknowledge their joint custody, took matters into her own hands in early August of 1917.

From the New York Times article (August 4, 1917):

Mrs. Blanca de Saulles shot and killed her former husband, John Longer de Saulles, ex-captain of Yale’s football team and society man, on the porch of his country home, “The Box,” in Meadow Brook Colony, near Westbury, Long Island, at 10 o’clock last night. About an hour later Constable Thorn found the woman, who is a Chilean heiress, 23 years old and famous for her beauty, hiding behind a hedge in the tear of the house. With her was her maid, Susanna Monteau. When he arrested her, Mrs. de Saulles exclaimed:

“I killed him and I am glad I did it. He refused to give me my child, although he was ordered by the court to do so on the first of July. He has refused again and again since then to let me have the boy.”

Mrs. de Saulles […] drove her own touring car from her home at Roslyn, Long Island, with her maid, walked up to the porch on which her husband was sitting, presented a revolver at his head and demanded that he should give up the child instantly. De Saulles either sought to parley with her or to disarm her, and a few seconds later she fired five shots at him….he was taken to the Nassau County Hospital, where he died at 10:20.

The murder trial of a wealthy and beautiful socialite was so sensational, it even pushed news of the war off the front pages. Blanca was represented by the formidable Henry Uterhart, who used the testimony of her personal maid of John de Saulles infidelities and abuse to excellent use. Blanca was acquitted of murder on December 1, 1917, after the jury deliberated for one hour and forty-three minutes, to much hurrah–though an op-ed in The Independent, titled “ARE WOMEN ABOVE THE LAW?” showed not all were pleased by the verdict:

It has come to this. The trial of a woman for murder or for almost any serious offense in the United States has become a disgraceful farce and a waste of public money. If the American people have no intention of holding women accountable before the law, why not say so and be done with it, and amend the statutes accordingly? Let it be understood that the only crime or sin that a woman can commit is to dress unmodishly or unbecomingly, and we shall know what to expect.

Still, we do not think it right to drop the matter at this point. There is an intellectual as well as a moral problem here which ought to be put into clear terms. The American people have fallen into wretchedly loose thinking on everything that concerns misconduct. We palliate it, we seek excuses for it, we explain it as proceeding from bad environment, intolerable provocation, misfortune, anything and everything except the one outstanding and dominating thing, namely, failure of self-control.

Failure of self-control it is, and this fact carries the problem back to our education and our mores. We teach smatterings of languages and of sciences, we pretend to teach vocations, we miserably fail to teach self-control. Neglect begins in the family, it is fostered by an anarchistic educational philosophy, it is defended as an inalienable right, or as a duty even, by all the revolutionaries who insist that the way to develop children into intellectual and moral prodigies and “democratic” citizens is to let them go on the loose. Discipline of any kind is tabooed as medieval and reactionary.

Boys and men are seriously harmed by this educational program, girls and women are in too many instances ruined by it. Happily, boys and men as a rule get enough hard knocks in the struggle for existence to acquire some things that formal education has omitted. The girls and women, who are finding their way into self-supporting activities, also acquire, as men do, habits of disciplined action and self-control. But for those who have little to do beyond amusing themselves and seeking their own gratification, the educational failure is fatal. They begin life as spoiled babies, they are told by everybody that they are sweet and altogether wonderful, they are indulged without restraint, they are permitted to get and to have their way by resorting to “tantrums,” they develop pronounced tendencies toward emotional ebullition and hysteria in adolescence, and by the time they are of marriageable age they are well equipt to make life hell for any man who is a big enough idiot to make love to them. The next chapter is soon written. If the husbands are patient hard-working “boobs,” faithful and uncomplaining, they learn to get their happiness out of their work and their companionships with men. If a husband is himself uncontrolled or dissolute, there is a story of unfaithfulness, the wife gets a gun, shoots up the offender, is put on trial for her life, calls in the insanity experts, gets newspaper headlines and portraits, and is triumphantly acquitted.

And the psychology that runs thru all this disgraceful business runs thru our attitude toward all women who seek to attain their ends by the “tantrum” method. This is the short and ugly, but strictly scientific description, for example, of the methods employed by the militant suffragettes, the White House picketers and the hunger-strikers.

It is because The Independent has fearlessly and consistently stood for the rights and opportunities of women, including the right of suffrage, that it feels called upon in the present crisis—for a crisis it is—to use these harsh words. Women must have every educational, industrial and professional opportunity. They must have the right to vote and to hold office. But with these rights they must accept responsibilities and acknowledge the imperative obligation of self-control. They must set their faces against the “tantrum” method and insist, with all good citizens of the other sex, that neither women nor men are above the law.

In the aftermath of her acquittal, Blanca escaped to San Francisco, and later Japan, with her son, then into a second marriage and divorce, and lived in relative obscurity until her death in 1940. And with her went this appalling scandal, which briefly distracted Americans from the war raging in Europe.

The Gilded Age Bachelor and His Club

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Metropolitan Club, billiards room
The Billard Room of the Metropolitan Club, 1896 — NYPL Digital Collection

Club life in America is a growth of recent years. It is now so firmly established, and it is so popular that there is not a village or even a settlement in the United States which has not at least its casino, or its little coterie organized for golf, tennis, athletic, or merely social enjoyment. All of these, from the great metropolitan clubs of the cities down to the very humblest in the ” wilds,” are governed by club laws and are regulated by club etiquette. In New York; now a city of clubs, this etiquette differs much from that observed in London, Paris, or any of the large continental centers.

In London, a man is identified with his club. He rarely belongs to more than one, and his membership there denotes his social standing, his pursuits in life, and, above all, his politics. English clubs are also very jealous of admittance of strangers, and are not in the least hospitable to the foreigner. There are exceptions to this among the literary, theatrical, and Bohemian organizations, but the Pall Mall clubs are “closed.” In New York, Boston, Chicago, and other American cities there are organizations which insist upon certain qualifications, such as being a university man, a lawyer, an author, a physician, or a member of a college fraternity, for admittance; but then the members also belong to other clubs, where their social standing, or perhaps the extent of their bank account, is their passport.

If a man wishes to get on socially, he should belong to at least one good club. It gives him his standing in the community, and places him. He is no longer on the list of the unidentified.

When a choice is made of a club which you desire to join, the next step would be to have two members in good standing to act as your sponsors—one proposes your name and the other seconds. A good sponsor is necessary, and you should choose one who has many friends in the organization of which you desire to become a member. The president, officers, and the governing committee are debarred from either proposing or seconding a name for membership. The term of a man’s novitiate depends upon the state of the waiting list. Your proposer will notify you when your name will be reached, as he himself will be notified in writing by the committee on membership. The rules of candidacy differ in various clubs. In some, the name of the candidate with those of the two members proposing him is exposed in a conspicuous place where the entire club can see it. There is also a book in which other members sign the application, and the number of signatures, of course, has weight with the governors.

Again, the name is inscribed in a book kept for the purpose in the steward’s office, and it is not necessary that any other endorsement except that of your sponsors be made.

Any member objecting to the name of a candidate has two methods by which he can make known his objection. One is to write directly to the governors, or to the committee on admissions and membership, whichever, according to the laws of the club, has the matter in hand. Usually it is the governing committee or board of governors. This communication is treated, as are all club matters, with the secrecy of the confessional. Your sponsors are written to and the objections stated, but the name of the person objecting is withheld. The other method is, if any one has an objection to your admission, that he should go at once in a manly way to one of your sponsors and state it. It is a rare occurrence in a New York club that any candidate is blackballed. The warning from the governing committee, or from another member to the sponsors, is a word to the wise, and the men who propose you should immediately withdraw your name to avoid a disaster. Otherwise a very great risk is run, as objections which have any foundation have great weight with the governing committee.

In the clubs where the names of the candidates are kept only in a small book, while on the waiting list they are posted ten days before the election in a conspicuous part of the clubhouse. No candidate can be elected to a club who is not personally known to two or more members of the governing committee. A short time before election, if the candidate has not this acquaintance, it is the duty of his sponsors to take him around and introduce him, or to arrange that he will meet these gentlemen in some way; otherwise his name will go over; and after two setbacks of this kind, it will be rejected.

On the election of a candidate—the balloting being done by the governing committee— the sponsors are notified, sometimes by posting and otherwise simply by letter. The secretary of the club will let the new member know immediately of his election, and the letter, which is usually a form, will also notify him that his admission fee and yearly dues are payable. The admission or entrance fee to a club is from one hundred to two hundred dollars in the wellknown New York organizations, and the yearly dues are from seventy-five to one hundred dollars. These must be paid at once by check. The rules of most clubs allow a thirty-day limit. If you are so fortunate as to be admitted after the date of the yearly meeting, you will only be liable for one half the current yearly dues; otherwise you pay the entire amount.

It is now the duty of the sponsors to introduce their newly elected candidate to the club. This is an easy matter. One of them will go with you, sit in the general smoking or lounging room, and make you acquainted with one or two of his friends. The responsibility is then over.

Club etiquette is very simple. It is only the application of the usual rules of courtesy observed in private life. The club is your home. You should behave there as you would in your own house as host, and consequently your conduct toward your fellow-members should be characterized by the utmost consideration.

The average clubhouse has a large room on the ground or first floor which is used for smoking, reading, the newspapers, and “living” generally. On the floors above there are the dining rooms, the library, and reading and card rooms. The billiard room occupies a special quarter, according to the plan of the house.

A clever man said that there was but one rule of clubhouse etiquette different from the general laws of manners, and that was to keep your hat on. This is true, but then there are many others. Men do not take off their hats on entering a club, and do not remove them in any room except that in which they dine. All social clubs are more or less “closed.” Visitors are only allowed under certain restrictions. The general rule is that a member may invite to the use of the club for a period of ten consecutive days any one not a resident of the city, but can have no more than one guest at a time. No stranger shall be introduced a second time unless he shall have been absent from the city three months.

In some clubs a member may introduce as a visitor a resident of the city, but he can have no more than one such guest at a time. No person shall be introduced more than once in twelve months. Other clubs are open to the admission of visitors at certain periods, and others again have ladies’ days, at which a reception to the fair friends of the members is given. All this depends on the rules of the club. As soon as you are made a member you are given a little book in which these are contained, and you should study them carefully. The name of a guest should be entered on the visitors’ book with that of his host. If the visitor is put up for a certain period a card to the club is sent him, and during his stay he has all the privileges of a member. He can run up an account, but he should certainly settle it before his term expires, otherwise his host will be held responsible.

A clubman never pays an attendant for refreshment or food served. Gratuities of any kind to servants are forbidden. When refreshment is required, you press the electric bell, of which there are a number in all the rooms, and the attendant comes to you for your order. When he brings it he has with it a check which you sign. These checks are, of course, debited to you, and you receive your bill once a month, or you can make arrangements to pay at the steward’s or cashier’s desk daily.

You order your meals in the same manner, and when they are ready, the servant will notify you.

At most of the clubs smoking is not permitted in the dining rooms until after nine, nor are refreshments allowed to be served in the visitors’ room or library at any time. Books and magazines are not to be removed from the reading room or library, nor any publication belonging to the club from the clubhouse.

There is still a prejudice against pipe smoking in many of the clubs, and you must consult the rules before you attempt this practice. A man does not remove his coat or sit in his shirtsleeves in any of the public rooms. An allowance, however, is made in the billiard room.

The loud-voiced man is one of the nuisances of a club. Loud talking may be endured in the smoking or general room, but certainly not in the library or the reading rooms.

The “kicker” is another objectionable person. He should remember that the best way of rectifying abuses is to send to the house committee all complaints of any deficiency in the service of the club, of overcharges, mistakes, or defects. The club is not a place to conduct one’s commercial interests. Invitations and special correspondence can be conducted on club paper, but certainly it is a breach of club etiquette to use it for business purposes.

The man who bows to a woman from a club window is not a gentleman. By this action he fastens upon her the most disgraceful odium one of her sex can bear.

The name of a woman should never be whispered in a club unless it is to say something complimentary of her. Even this is not in good taste.

It is not club etiquette to “treat.” You can do so if you desire, but you are not obliged to follow this inane custom, which is born of barroom ethics.

All the affairs of a club must be regarded in strict confidence. Under no consideration should that which has occurred within these sacred portals be divulged to outsiders.

Once a year—usually at Christmas—a subscription is taken up for the employees and servants. From five to ten dollars is the proper amount to give.

A few clubs have a ladies’ restaurant attached, where members may take their families or give dinners, or where the wives of members have the privilege of giving luncheons or other entertainments. Otherwise ladies are not admitted to the privileges of the clubhouse, except on ladies’ days, and where there is an ” annex” they can only avail themselves of that part set aside for their convenience upon the authority of a member.

These rules pertaining to the general government of clubs have been compiled from the constitution and by-laws of the Union, Metropolitan, Knickerbocker, Calumet, and Manhattan Clubs of New York. The constitutions of the Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, Chicago, San Francisco, and other clubs are almost identical.

The Complete Bachelor: Manners for Men (1897)

Rhode Island exhibit focuses on Newport’s ties to tennis

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Newport CasinoMore than a century before Roger Federer and Andre Agassi faced off in the U.S Open tennis finals in New York, players were donning fancier attire and taking to the courts of Newport to compete in championship matches.

The earliest incarnation of the tournament, then known as the U.S. National Championships, began in Newport in 1881. Players competed on grass courts while musicians performed classical music in a decidedly genteel setting.

The tournament moved to New York, but Newport for years after continued to host some of the sport’s best and, in 1954, became home to the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum. (more…)