High Style in the Gilded Age: Rose de Rose

Updated: Jun 22


Rose de Rose (1902-1982) The High Society Misfit

Left - Rose de Rose with her father at 6 and a half years old

Right - Rose de Rose with her mother at 6 months

Nothing in Rose de Rose’s privileged background could have suggested that one future day she would be delivering eggs from her farm in Southampton, and that she would be known around town as “The Egg Lady.”Certainly her parents could not have anticipated that their only child, whom they were preparing for a life in High Society, would grow up to raise chickens and pigs on their magnificent 12-acre Southampton estate,and to reinvent herself as a farmer. Rose’s father, Edmund, like many another Gilded Age grandee, had made a fortune in coal; her mother was a descendant of General Joseph Bradley Varnum who had served under George Washington in the American Revolution.

The Main House on the estate at the corner of Hill Street and Halsey Neck Lane.

The handsome main house on the estate, thought to be a Stanford White design, was one of the earliest summer cottages in Southampton and had belonged to Edward Spencer Mead, a partner in the publishing house Dodd, Mead. What is certain is that the house is a beautiful survivor among the early summer “cottages” and has many of the architectural qualities associated with White. Early photographs testify to its graceful interior with its fruitwood paneled living room where, in 1891, Edward Mead hosted an historic gathering. Having discovered the game of golf when vacationing in the south of France, Mead invited some of his summer colony friends--Dr. T. Gaillard Thomas, J. Hampden Robb, George R. Schieffelin, Charles Barney, Samuel Parrish and Charles Atterbury-- to organize what became the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club.

Young Rose de Rose loves nature and animals

Once they became part of the Southampton “cottager colony,” the de Rose family--preceded by a battery of servants--would arrive every summer in their private railroad car to spend the season in Southampton. As a child, Rose de Rose was probably indifferent to the splendors of the family residence. It was when roaming its vast and glorious grounds, accompanied by her dogs, cats and other animals that she was happiest. A sickly child--reportedly epileptic--she reveled in the undemanding companionship of her pets and the calm beauty of her outdoor surroundings.

Left - Rose’s tribute to her friend Alice Kneeland Monroe.

Right - another woodcarving by Rose

Much as she loved the freedom to roam, Rose was far from a wild child. She seems to have been an eager student and patient in perfecting a number of skills. She learned the art of woodcarving from a Scandinavian craftsman and became quite good at it. She mastered several languages, developed proficiency as a pianist and was said to have a lovely singing voice. There were in fact few indications during her childhood and adolescence of her later rebellion against conventional behavior. As long as her parents held sway over her conduct,she submitted to the traditional training received by females born into wealthy,high-ranking families.

Dining Hall at Spence School