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Local History: Mrs. Kip Goes to Washington

South Orange resident Katharine Flowers Kip paid a visit to President McKinley in 1900.

Many of my neighbors have toured the White House, and I suspect that a number of us have imagined the conversation we'd like to have if the Commander-in-Chief peered around the doorway to say hello. In 1900, by her own account, South Orange's own Katharine Kip had the opportunity to visit President McKinley at the White House.

1900 was an election year, both locally and nationally. In South Orange, Katharine's husband, ., was elected to his first term as Village President. The South Orange Bulletin, the weekly newspaper, reported that he was "elected by an overwhelming majority." At that time, Ira worked at the firm that he and his father founded. According to the Bulletin, Ira A. Kip & Co., East India merchants and brokers was "the best known in its line," due to the Village President's "natural business ability and his high regard for honest and prompt business methods." An avid horseman, Ira Kip and his family lived then at 577 Hamilton Road. They would shortly move to Scotland Road, to what we now call the Kip-Riker Mansion at Temple Sharey-Tefilo Israel. 

The Kip family was already claiming their share of column inches in The Bulletin as well as The New York Times. Local notices describe a pair of horses that Ira sold to William H. Barnard for $4,000, and a luncheon that Katharine hosted for 14 guests, where the decorations were pink and white, and the music was provided by a pair of banjoists. 

Once Ira was elected, his name appeared almost weekly in the paper. The unnamed editorialist of The Bulletin made "Some Observations" about Ira Kip's leadership. "Village President Ira A. Kip, Jr. believes in making tours about the village now and then," read the comments. "ascertaining for his own satisfaction if our police officers are up and doing. That is a good idea, Mr. Village President."

Yet it was not this connection that took Katharine to the White House. Her uncle, Roswell P. Flower, served in the 47th Congress from Dec. 5, 1881, to March 3, 1883. He was also elected to the 51st and 52nd United States Congresses and served from March 4, 1889, to Sept. 16, 1891, when he resigned to become Governor of New York. He held that post from 1892 to 1894. Her father, John D. Flower, was an extremely successful and well-connected businessman in New York City.  

In 1900, Theodore Roosevelt resigned the New York governorship to become McKinley's running mate. It's likely that the Flowers knew Gov. Theodore Roosevelt fairly well, as they were in the same social sphere. Katharine's brother, Nathan Flower, attended a school founded by Roosevelt's tutor. When former Gov. Flower died in 1899, then-Gov. Roosevelt made a public pronouncement of regret. Katharine Kip probably visited the White House due to these connections, and very possibly with a significant campaign contribution in mind. 

At the same time, a news item entitled "Republicans Active" reported that South Orange's local group was busy that year, both hosting speakers and posting banners. Four McKinley-Roosevelt banners were raised in South Orange. The "principal banner" was stretched across South Orange Avenue at Scotland Road. Another was raised on Prospect Street. As each banner was put in place, the local Republicans hosted flag raisings, fireworks and celebrations. 

In August of that year, Katharine Kip's father died. His death was reported in the local paper at length, and the writer noted that the sad event "force[d] these social leaders into retirement this season, when, it is understood, they had planned a number of elaborate functions." The following month, reported The Bulletin, the Kip family left for Europe. The six-week voyage was "taken for the benefit of Mrs. Kip, whose health has been poor of late."

Their return date probably brought them home in time for Ira Kip to vote. History suggests that he cast his ballot for McKinley, who touted the flourishing economy as an accomplishment of his first term. The Bulletin reported the election results as a "great triumph for the Republican ticket and reflects the highest possible credit upon the work of the local organization." In South Orange, the McKinley-Roosevelt ticket won by 318 votes. The unnamed editorialist notes that this total included Democrats who "placed patriotism above party, and duty before tradition... They are a patriotic, brave, and loyal class of citizens, who are a credit and honor to any community and country."

While the lace collar Katharine wore to the White House remains a prized possession of a descendant, there is no record of what she and the President discussed. In 1900, Katharine could vote neither locally for her husband, nor nationally for her host. Indeed, Katharine would be nearly 50 years old before the law allowed women into the ballot booth across the country. I'd like to think that on that subject, if no other, Katharine gave the the President an earful. 

Happy Presidents Week, neighbors.

Author's note: Many thanks to Pam and Bill, Katharine's kin, and to the staff at SOPL who helped me with microfilm. If any readers have further information on the Kip-Flower-Runyon family, I would be very grateful. 

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