Updated: Mar 31, 2021
(MARY) MILLICENT ABIGAIL ROGERS (1902-1953)
By the time the stunning granddaughter of Standard Oil magnate Henry Huddleston Rogers Sr. elopes with a dashing European aristocrat in 1924, it has become impossible for any offspring of the country’s new caste of corporate tycoons to make a move socially without every paper printing an item about it. On January 10, 1924, readers of The Southampton Press are let in on the secret in an announcement reprinted from The New York Herald. To the delight of the voracious society press, the headstrong daughter of Standard Oil heir Colonel Henry Huddleston Rogers Jr. has secretly married Count Ludwig von Salm-Hoogstraeton in City Hall, informing her parents only after the ceremony. The Herald excitedly describes the Count as a member of an Austrian branch of the ancient German princely house of Salm-Salm and notes that “the bride has held a high place in New York Society since her debut in 1919.” That the Southampton Press would pick up the item from the Herald is hardly surprising. By 1924, Colonel Rogers and his family have been prominent members of the Southampton summer colony for a decade, their comings and goings faithfully recorded in the paper’s “Cottager” columns throughout the year.
At her birth in 1902, Southampton is still in the future for Millicent. As a young child she is spending her time in the sumptuous surroundings of her parents’ New York City townhouse at 26 East 57th Street or at their estate in Tuxedo Park. A childhood beauty, she leads the life of a rich New York Princess of the Gilded Age with winter outings in Central Park and summer visits to the patriarch in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, where there are happy reunions with her many cousins.
Then, in the winter of 1910, a year after this photo was taken, the high-spirited Millicent is stricken with a sore throat, intermittent high fevers and listlessness. Diagnosed with rheumatic fever, a dreaded and often fatal disease at the time, she is bedridden for months. It is time she puts to good use developing her precocious intellect and creative imagination with results that would be hard to exaggerate. Physical exertion is forbidden, slowing her down and giving her the languorous manner that will become a permanent part of her charm. Less welcome, a weak heart will also accompany her through life.
With the full support of her parents, who see that she receives an excellent education at home, Millicent is soon reading and writing well beyond her years and showing a remarkable facility for languages, a gift that her brother Harry, two years her junior, apparently shares. As children, the two use Latin as their secret language whenever they don’t want their parents to know what they’re saying.
Despite her doctor’s warnings that she might not recover, Millicent survives to lead a normal life for a young girl of her class. Like other privileged children, she is often impatient with gloomy governesses, she has lessons in drawing, and she joins the ice-skating rage, which has all ages out on the ice. She takes refuge in books and her own creative imagination whenever life under the strict supervision of two strong-willed parents seems too much for their offspring to bear. Henry Huddleston Rogers Jr., her father, and Mary Page Benjamin were married in 1900 when both were just 20. The presumed heir to his father’s vast fortune, Henry was considered quite a catch, but so was Mary, whose family was also wealthy and highly ranked with cultural credits that added to the family’s social cachet.
Mary is attractive and never lacks admirers in her single years. Among them is Mark Twain, a family friend who is of her parents’ generation but likes to surround himself with young people. Mary is one of the young women chosen by Twain for membership in his all-female Aquarium Club. As their leader, he takes an avuncular role toward his “angelfish,” as he calls them, encouraging their intellectual development with conversation and debate. Mary is a favorite and their long correspondence is eventually collected in a book called “Mark Twain’s Letters to Mary.” As a young married, Mary is a hard-working socialite, albeit one who possesses artistic talent and a well-defined sense of style. Millicent, a freer spirit, sometimes clashes with her talented but socially conventional mother. Yet, their bond holds and remains strong into Mary’s age.
Millicent’s relationship with her father seems more deeply conflicted, especially as her parents’ marital battles increase in frequency and intensity, eventually leading to their divorce in 1929. Millicent is loved but no longer the coddled child made docile by her illness. She begins to display a wi