“I don’t want you to be too grown up when you come – I just want a sweet little girl and everyone will love you. I think Randy will be crazy about you.” Rose Hicks wrote from her office in the Fisk Building at 250 West 57th Street* as she watched the majestic S.S. Leviathan steam out of its birth on the North (Hudson) River. “Someday we’ll sail on her,” she promised Jane. In June 1930 Rose had so many plans for their future together. First Jane and her brother Dick had to travel from Manhattan Beach to her Manhattan. Rose would insist — as soon as the court order came through allowing the children to leave California — that they come by ship. As the summer wore on, the correspondence between Rose and her niece was more affectionate and more playful. But when Rose mentioned that she’d heard Jane was overweight and Dick was too thin, Jane bristled.
“I am very healthy thanks to the powers that be, and 15 years of the right bringing up, but fat! God forbid. Everyone around here still calls me “Little Jane” but I know you will think I am enormous as I’ve grown so much since you were here. I’m 5 foot 1 1/2 inches.” It was a Saturday late in June and Jane was “making the manse sparkle” while Dick drove their grandmother in Teresa into Los Angeles “to water Gram’s yard.” Jane loathed housework — “I do love to cook but that’s all.”
Most of all she wanted to impress her Uncle Randolph whom she had never met. She had chosen “slogans” from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar for people she liked. This one (slightly misquoted) she told him, seemed to suit him: “His was a gentle life and the elements so mixed in him, that Nature might stand up and say to all the world –’this is a man.’”
And how happy she was that he admired her sketches! ” I’m so glad Uncle Randolph likes the foolish little things I draw. I love ART but not the kind they teach at Redondo High . . ” The art teacher had told her she had “marvelous ability” but did not like the fact that Jane drew “cartoons” of people and animals on the sides of her mechanical drawing sheets. So Jane, alas, had never had an “A” in Art.
According to Daysie Hall’s will, “Mrs. Randolph Hicks of New York,” was the custodian of her two children “with full power of attorney to take care of their interests in the way she deems best.” Because she lived in New York and Virginia, Rose would not officially be their legal guardian until the end of 1930 when Jane and Dick had spent some time with her. In the meantime, she and her 60-year-old husband prepared to become parents for the first time. One thing was clear. Randolph Hicks could no longer afford to retire — the financial roller coaster that was to plague even the most prosperous families during the 1930s had only just begun. Still, the Hickses were among the more fortunate Americans as they focused on their priorities for Jane and her college-age brother.
At forty-eight, Rose Hicks’ ebony hair had turned white but her large black eyes still intrigued new friends and intimidated others when she was displeased.** She was a polished, well-read and well-traveled woman with a keen mind and unlimited curiosity. Her husband, a scholar of Latin and history as well as the law, appreciated her high standards and her intellect. And, she would tell her niece, “he loves me because I have a lot of character—he likes that better than anything else.” By the time they married in 1919, Randolph Hicks had kept his business interests in Norfolk, Virginia but transferred his law practice to the prestigious firm of Satterlee, Canfield and Stone on Wall Street. Rose’s and Randolph’s social life was an extension of his work; they moved in exclusive circles among accomplished men and their prominent wives. (Herbert Satterlee’s wife, Louisa, was the eldest daughter of J.P. Morgan.)
An eminent trial lawyer, Randolph was also indispensable to his former partner, Arthur J. Morris, who had established the Morris Plan system of industrial banks that gave average Americans installment credit for the first time. Throughout Daysie Hall’s illness, he had done everything he could to support her and his niece and nephew: “The house in Virginia is gradually being built and when it is finished we shall expect to have you there, perhaps we may be able to find a horse for you,” he wrote to Jane as the finishing touches were being put on his fieldstone home at Poplar Springs Farm in Fauquier County, Virginia.
Although Jane may not have known all the details of her uncle’s career or the full extent of her aunt’s plans for her, she was aware that her life was about to change dramatically. Over the next decade the question would be could she remain true to herself in this new world? Rose had asked if she had ever been out on a date without a chaperone. “Far from it,” Jane fired back. She assured her aunt that she had “no desire to make herself ‘common.’ I have never been “‘out’” at all anyway. Old ladies and old gentleman are my weakness.” Some of the boys she had met called her a “wisey” and were not too keen on her sassy personality. So she had no beaux, “some good friends, that’s all. Boys are very amusing, yes?” And she continued, “I love things with a polish too, Aunt Rose, but how I detest anything or anybody that’s ALL polish, and nothing underneath! I don’t like anything crude or raw except nature.”
During moments when she was alone with her thoughts, Jane grappled with her faith; she had remained a Catholic ever since Rosa Sutton—their Gram– had taken both Jane and Dick to St. Vincent’s Catholic Church in Los Angeles to sponsor their baptism on Christmas Eve, 1919. (Dickie was then seven and Jane four.) Jane adored her Gram — they had the same strong-willed streak that Rose also shared. She went to a Catholic Church on Sundays even after her mother leaned toward Christian Science, and she loved being around the sisters whose good, clean, plain, faces “make you feel a little holy to talk to them.” Jane had been to a Catholic school in the first grade. In 1928 – before it was clear that her mother was desperately ill – she had hoped to go to St. Mary’s Academy for girls in Los Angeles as a boarder. That would have pleased her grandmother who had been educated in a convent school, but it was not to be. Fortunately, Redondo Union High School had worked out well.
So Rose would have to make sure that her free-spirited and quite spiritual niece fit into the narrow slice of New York and Virginia society that she and her husband frequented. She had been a newcomer to this world just ten years earlier and knew what was expected of the family of an attorney with old Virginia (British, protestant and patriarchal) roots, and memberships in The (Episcopalian) Church Club of New York and the all-male Gilded Age Metropolitan Club. A private school for young ladies that fostered strong values and a sense of propriety might be just right for Jane’s last two years of high school. After all, she was unusually smart, perceptive and eager to please — that would help.
How relieved Rose must have been that Dick’s immediate future had been settled. He would attend The University of Virginia – her husband’s alma mater — and Rose had no doubt that his scholarly abilities would serve him well. But just to be sure he made a good impression among their friends, she would list him in the New York Social Register*** as “Richard Hall;” the name “Dick Wick” did not sound quite right. How that list of socially prominent families would have amused Dick’s father whose “Salome Sun” poked fun at just such pretensions!
*For a time, Rose worked for Randolph’s close friend and client William C. Durant after they all lost a great deal during the Depression. His offices were probably on a high floor. (See link above for the description of the building and its history.)
**During the 1909 high-profile naval investigation into her brother’s death, reporters commented on the then Mrs. Parker’s mesmerizing black eyes.
***Originally there were 18 annual volumes of this list of notable families (usually with Dutch and English ancestry) representing 26 cities. Today there is one definitive book “listing the nation’s foremost families.”
This is post number 13 in the series. Please use the contact tab at the top of the page for any comments or suggestions. For the entire series so far go to the Blog tab at the top of the page and scroll down to the beginning.