Queer Places:
399 Oxford Street, Rochester, NY
18 Grove Place, Rochester, NY
Mount Hope Cemetery Rochester, Monroe County, New York, USA

Clara Louise "Clayla" Werner Ward (December 15, 1889 - August 27, 1973) was Charlotte Whitney Allen's best friend. She had a passionate admirer in the figure of O'Donnell Iselin, eventually one of Fletcher Steele's clients and a close friend. Clayla also had George Eastman and E.E. Cummings vying for her attentions.

Clara Louise "Clayla" Werner was the daughter of William Edward Werner, who had prospered in his profession as a lawyer. He was entirely self-made and by no means rich. He was self-educated too, although one would not guess that from the elegance and erudition of his judicial writings, which became law school textbook models. Born in Buffalo in 1855 to immigrant parents who died when he was 12, he survived as an errand boy, foundry hand, and chore-boy on a farm. While working in a tin stamping factory, he took night classes in accounting and commercial law. These enabled him to become a bookkeeper for a wholesale grocer and then to read law in two offices in Rochester. Admitted to the bar in 1880, he progressed rapidly from trial lawyer to county judge to justice of the state Supreme Court. Governor Roosevelt appointed him in 1900 to a vacancy on the Court of Appeals, to which he was elected in his own right four years later with bipartisan endorsement. He might have risen higher if he had not died at 60 and if he had been less honorable when he ran in 1913 as the Republican candidate for chief judge. According to his obituary in the Rochester Evening Times (2 March 1916), "a leader of the misguided ones who then constituted the late Progressive party" offered to support Judge Werner if he would repudiate the Court of Appeals' decision in the Ives case, which had invalidated (as written) the Workmen's Compensation Act of 1910. Werner, who had written the majority opinion, refused; the Progressives fielded their own man as a spoiler; the Democrat won. An awesome figure on the bench, he was as renowned for his compassion as he was for his learning and probity; rather than sentence juvenile first offenders, he would parole them to himself. Judge Werner married the vivacious Lillie Bolier ("Lillie B."), daughter of a Buffalo lumberman, in March, 1889. In a comfortable, unpretentious house at 399 Oxford Street they reared three daughters: Clara Louise, born the December following their marriage; Marie, later Mrs. Douglas Castle Townson, nicknamed "the Blonde" or simply "Blonde"; and Caroline ("Cirrie"), who would marry the newspaper magnate Frank Ernest Gannett.

Although they did not play favorites, the Werners recognized their first-born's literary precocity and her flair as a comedienne. "Don't take part in any vaudeville," Lillie B., away in Albany during court session, admonishes her 15-year-old child, "as I don't want you before the public in any way. You are too young." She presumably refers to such amateur star turns as the "cinematograph" pantomime that convulsed junior parties at the Genesee Valley Club. When Clayla won a school prize for her essay on Dickens, they decided to reward her with an additional "finishing" year in Paris. The after-Christmas holiday was spent in Algeria and Provence, Easter in Italy, and a few days of late spring in the Touraine. Coached by a retired actress from the Comédie, Clara Louise triumphed as a valet-impostor in a school production of scenes from Les Précieuses ridicules. That year was followed by yet another of language and music study in Munich. By Carnival of 1910 she was fluent in her grandparents' tongue and threatening that 1950 would see her as a grey-haired Wagnerian spinster, spiting everyone's pleasure in last night's performance with invidious remembrances of the singers of 40 years past. She was now all of 20, a traveler, and a speaker of accentless French.

In 1917 Charlotte, Clara Louise, and their friends decided to produce a musical comedy. The result was Betsey Abroad, with a book by Elizabeth Granger Hollister and music by John Adams Warner (a son of J. Foster Warner, George Eastman's architect), who would later head the New York State Police under his father-in-law, Governor Alfred E. Smith. This too was done for charity (Rochester General Hospital) in Uncle Mart's Lyceum: "Exclusively High Class Attractions," his program cover boasts. The local press extolled the "bright" dialogue, the "dash and swing" of the music, and went out of its way to commend the show as "a delightfully refreshing tonic" to "the commonplace folderol of the present day musical comedy." Even when one concedes that the critics wrote with an eye to the sold-out, socially "brilliant" houses for the four performances in November, 1912, there seems little reason to doubt that it was in fact "the best-staged, best-acted and most elaborate amateur theatrical entertainment ever put on in this city." Between the matinee and final evening performances, Mrs. Warham Whitney gave a dinner in the ballroom of the Hotel Seneca for the cast of 300. That cast featured Hildegarde Lasell as the "unfortunate heiress" of the title and a trio of Werners: Clara Louise as "a pessimistic aunt," Marie as "an ambitious mother," and Lillie B. herself as "Countess de Berenstoff, a visitor at Hotel Axenstern." Charlotte Whitney played "Florette, Queen of the Nymphs." Atkinson Allen, whom she would soon marry, was "Sir Nigel Rutherford." They became the Prince Street Players, a resident and traveling company that lasted six seasons (1917 to 1922). Their repertory included one-act plays or single acts of full-length plays by Oscar and Percival Wilde, Masefield, Schnitzler, Lady Gregory, Synge, Granville-Barker, Henry Arthur Jones, and writers forgotten today. Caroline Werner joined them, as did Roy Ellis Bartlett, Mr. and Mrs. Harry Beardsley, Andrew Jackson Warner, and the architect Herbert Morland Stern. They put on benefits for the American Ambulance in France and for the Soldiers' and Sailors' Tobacco Fund, and twice they performed a "saynette" in French: Georges Courteline's Gros Chagrin, with "Mlle. Clara Louise Werner" and "Mme. Atkinson Allen." Hildegarde Lasell married James Sibley Watson, Jr., co-publisher ofThe Dial, and the Watsons recruited "Herbie" Stern and Alec Wilder as actor and advisor for two classics of the late silent cinema, The Fall of the House of Usher and Lot in Sodom.

Charlotte and Clara Louise devoted much of their energy and limited means to such emergent institutions as the Civic Music Association, the Rochester Museum and Science Center, and the Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester. Clayla (as she is henceforth decisively known) had also found time during the First World War to teach French and German to soldiers leaving for the front and to drive trucks transporting the wounded. Triumphant as an amateur, Clayla decided to attempt a professional stage career. When she left for New York City in October, 1921, she was "provisionally" engaged to marry Frank Hawley Ward, a 45-year-old widower with a six-year-old daughter, Elizabeth Milne Ward ("Betty"), later Mrs. John R. Adams. Hawley wrote daily to his fiancée on the stationery of Ward's Natural Science Establishment, of which he was vice-president under his father Frank Addison Ward (a cousin of Henry Augustus Ward, the founder). Even after their marriage on 6 February 1922, he maintained a faithful correspondence.

In 1924 and again in 1925 Clayla was confined by an unspecified illness to private sanatoria in Katonah, N.Y., and Baltimore; she spent the Winter of 1927 recuperating in Bermuda from the birth of her first son, Hawley Werner Ward ("Michael" or "Mike"). On all three occasions she received letters from her husband virtually every day. For sheer bulk, Hawley's letters are rivaled by those of the New York financier O'Donnell Iselin ("Don Didie" at first, but soon, mercifully, "Don"). A scion of the great Swiss-American banking house of Adrian Iselin, and the son-in-law of Hiram W. Sibley, he invited Clayla Werner to a Christmas party in 1913 and thereafter wrote regularly for 52 years, until Clayla's death. Although there was nothing to hide, so to speak, and although Urling Sibley Iselin seems not particularly to have minded when she found out about the correspondence in 1933, prudence at times dictated that Don address Clayla from his office and receive her replies at the Union Club.

Clayla was 32 at the time of her engagement and a leader of the "older younger set." She had attracted other men, but none of them, however sentimental, proposes marriage. "I could transfuse my very soul with yours to-night," an admirer writes; however, "There is no place in a modern world for such love as this." One of Clayla's followers was already married. Others would never marry anyone. By far the most eminent of them was George Eastman, 35 years her senior, who probably met her at a 1,200 guests ball at his mansion on New Year's night, 1914. That was the evening on which old Rochester traditionally went to Fanny Whitney's. It was no coincidence. Eastman intended his party to shatter her hegemony, and it did so. Clayla has written "answered" in the upper-right-hand corner, but not whether or not she accepted. On 26 December 1919, the wintriest, most laconic of industrialists warms up perhaps as much as he ever did: "As I have come to know you better I have grown more and more fond of you and I want you to know that I welcome your friendship more than I can say -- If the New Year allows me to see you oftener it will be just so much happier." The Werners had influenza that Winter, as did much of the country. Eastman writes on 7 February 1920, "I hope you will let me know as soon as the bad fairy sets you free because I want to see you." In spring Clayla kissed him bon voyage on a business trip. He compliments her "method of saying goodbye" and hopes that "the same technique [will] be used in the ceremony of welcome home." Clayla's younger sister Cirrie had just married the 43-year-old Frank Gannett, and there had been talk. "Nothing really matters," comments Lillie B., "except that she and Frank love each other and of that there is no doubt." By midsummer Clayla has lamented the difference in ages with Eastman. "Alas my dear Clara Louise," Eastman replies, "it is not that you were born too late but that I was born too early -- I would not have you changed a hair line." In another letter, Eastman invites her for "a ride in the 'Clara Louise," an automobile he has named after her. And then she oversteps an unmarked latitude. Lacking her side of the correspondence, one can only guess what she suggested they do in order to stop the gossip.

Clayla Werner had met E. E. Cummings for the first time at the Sibleys' dinner party. They were probably the younger Sibleys, Harper and Georgianna, of 400 East Avenue, and the "nice old man" was perhaps Dr. Henry H. Stebbins, who lived around the corner at 24 Prince Street. Demobilized in January 1919, Cummings spent the remainder of that year putting together the original manuscript of his first book of poems, Tulips and Chimneys, whose sexual frankness and vers libre scared off many a publisher. By 1922 Cummings had cut the heart out of the poem he had perhaps written for her, The Rose, and if so, perhaps to tease her.

Clayla's closest ties in the world of arts and letters were with her second son Addison Werner Ward ("Ad" or, jokingly, "George") and his friend and mentor William Meredith, who was a 28-year-old instructor of creative writing when Addison entered Princeton in 1947. Addison died at 35 killed by a tornado in Ohio.

Besides raising three children, Mrs. Ward began the club and committee work which would come to dominate her life. Serious and constructive as much of this was, she brought to it her own brand of informality and good spirits. She was a founder of the Susan B. Anthony Women's Republican Club, a charter member of the Junior League and prominent in activities of the Alliance Francaise and the Chatterbox Club. President of the Broadway Theater League of Rochester, she also helped establish the Community Players, often appearing in their productions. She worked hard in support of the Memorial Art Gallery, established the Women's Circle of the Rochester Museum and Science Center and was initiator and first president of the Civic Music Association. She and Mr. Ward contributed to the Steigenwald-Ward-Watson Collection of Fine Art given to Rochester's James Madison High School.

In 1944, Mrs. Ward took the position of public relations counselor for the Sibley, Lindsay and Curr department store. Over the years she instigated many promotional events, notably the firm's annual Scholastic Art Awards. In this work, her talent for getting along with others came to the fore. Equally at ease with executives and underlings, she was said to know every clerk in the store. "She greeted you as if you were the one person in the world she most wanted to see," an associate recalls. Mrs. Ward once expressed her concept of leadership, saying, "Any executive must make it possible for other people to come forward and take responsibility. Part of leadership is priming other people for leadership. If you can develop a good leader while you're leading, you're doing everyone a service." Another time she said, "It doesn't take a lot of time and patience to help people. It just needs thought. Lots of times I can't sleep for thinking of ways to do what I think is important. And that is to dignify human beings."

As she grew older, Clayla Ward refined her image. Always bejeweled and perfumed, elegantly dressed and coiffed, she addressed one and all as "Darling" in a throaty contralto voice and was the friend of every Rochester cab driver. When she was once mugged and robbed near her Grove Place home, her children and friends urged her to move to a safer neighborhood, but she protested, "I was here first!" and stayed. "Because I was mugged and robbed once shouldn't make me afraid of everyone," she protested. "It isn't life so much that matters. It's the courage you bring to it. I love the people who have helped me with it." In support of historic preservation and the cause of downtown, she bequeathed her home on Grove Place to the Landmark Society of Western New York as a memorial to her husband. A belvedere, or widow's walk, which had once graced the roof of the house had long before been taken down, but "I didn't want to leave the Society only half a house," she said, "so I had the widow's walk restored as my eightieth birthday present to myself." The management of Sibley's gave a party with the original intent of inviting a round eighty other "favorite men," but she said, "Oh, do come to my party. Darling," so many times that 123 men showed up. "I'm shameless in saying that I like men better than women!" she admitted.

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