What I learned about and from Clover Adams

Last week I wrote about Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ sculpture commemorating Clover (Marian Hooper) Adams. This week I want to write about Clover Adams, the woman. I don’t want to know and remember her only because of the statue that commemorates her death. I don’t want to know and remember her as the wife of Henry Adams. I definitely do not want to know and remember her only as a woman who committed suicide. But what to remember about her?

Which leads to the ubiquitous question, how did we live before the internet and search engines? I can remember, and it was not pretty. So, I fired up my computer, and searched for Clover Adams’ name. Troll as I might, the findings were slim. And then I came across Natalie Dykstra’s biography of Clover, “Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life.” I struck gold with that find. Here is some of what I learned:

Clover was a practical and quick-witted woman. Henry James described Clover as an ideal specimen of a particular type of American woman: practical, honest, quick thinking with a streak of independence and rebellion. When she was 28, in 1872, she married Henry Adams, who was 5 years older than her. A typical day for the couple included horseback riding in the morning, Henry would take the afternoons for writing, Clover was left to fill that time as she might, then they would serve tea at 5PM for visitors, followed by dinner, and then perhaps an evening ride, a stretch of reading by the fire, dinners with friends or activities supporting various causes.

But Clover battled dark moods throughout her life. She used her wit to maintain perspective and her will to manage people and events around her to suit her needs.

In May 1883, Clover took up photography, both taking and printing her own photographs. She didn’t just take photographs, she made art, and the process changed her life, giving her a new focus and purpose. She reveled in the process: composing the scene, planning and exposing the image, developing the negative, sensitizing the printing paper, making and developing the print—processes that required patience and concentration.

But just as Clover discovered photography as a way to express herself and her creativity, her life started to unravel. Around 1884, Henry evidenced a growing interest in Lizzy Cameron, one of Clover’s friends. It there is no evidence that Lizzy and Henry were ever more than friends, but about that same time Henry began to speak about how he and his wife had grown bored with each other. In April 1885, Clover’s father died. After her father’s death, Clover’s wit deteriorated into sarcasm. By Jul 1885, Clover was profoundly depressed. She lost her appetite and could not sleep. But in late November, she showed signs of improvement and recovery. In early December 1885, Clover committed suicide by drinking from a vial of potassium cyanide, a chemical she used in developing her photographs. The vehicle of her creative release became her pathway to self-destruction.

Clover Adams was a woman who had it all, who had a perfect life rich in family, friends, creativity and the means of enjoying it all. And she stands as a testament to us all that sometimes everything is not enough, that what looks like perfection may in fact be pyrite (fool’s gold).

So, trust your heart, my friends. Be honest with yourself. Stay close to at least a friend or two. When you need some help, ask. Even the hero’s journey includes a mentor/guide/helpmate.

One thing I learned for sure from the Covid years: hugs—warm, cuddly, bear hugs from people you choose—those hugs are precious and life giving.

My encounter with The Peace of God // Grief

On Wednesday February 5, 2020, Washington, DC was enjoying a balmy 50°F, with cloudy skies that were producing an on again off again heavy mist.

(A month later on March 11 the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic, on Friday March 13 the President of the United States declared a national emergency, on March 14 CDC issued a “No Sail Order” to all cruise ships, and on March 15 states began to shut down schools, bars, restaurants and places of employment to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We all discovered zoom, grocery shopping online and home food delivery).

But on February 5 was I was blissfully ignorant of what was waiting just beyond the turn of a calendar page.

On that Wednesday, we were on a scavenger hunt looking for Rock Creek Cemetery, and for Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ sculpture commemorating Clover (Marian Hooper) Adams.

But why? When I was doing research for my novel, “Letters from Eleanor Roosevelt” I learned that in 1918, during one of the most trying times in Eleanor Roosevelt’s life, when she discovered Franklin had been carrying on with someone else, they were living in Washington DC, and she found great solace in Rock Creek Cemetery. Mrs. Roosevelt spent hours gazing at a statue by Augustus Saint-Gaudens in that cemetery.

Henry Adams commissioned the sculpture in memory of his wife, Clover, who committed suicide. In her book, “Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life” Natalie Dykstra says that Henry Adams instructed Augustus Saint-Gaudens to take his inspiration from two sources: Michelangelo’s frescoes of the five seated Sibyls in the Sistine Chapel and images of the Buddha, especially Kwannon, the goddess of mercy. Saint-Gaudens notebook for the sculpture notes: mental repose, calm reflection in contrast with the violence or force of nature, beyond pain, beyond joy.

during one of the most trying times in Eleanor Roosevelt’s life, when she discovered Franklin had been carrying on with someone else, they were living in Washington DC, and she found great solace in Rock Creek Cemetery. Mrs. Roosevelt spent hours gazing at a statue by Augustus Saint-Gaudens in that cemetery.

The statue is a hooded figure about 6 feet tall, sitting on a rough-hewn granite block, deep in contemplation. The hood of the cloak drapes over all of the figure except the face. A large slab of polished red marble forms a background for the figure. At a bit of a distance away from the statue, there is a marble bench—the bench where Mrs. Roosevelt sat and contemplated the statue and her own future. There is no plaque on the statue, but Henry Adams called it ‘Peace of God,’ but most people know it as ‘Grief.’

The more that I read about the statue, the more I wanted to see it. It took a little time to convince my wife that this might be a worthwhile adventure, but finally, we were on our way in search of Rock Creek Cemetery and the statue. Neither was easy to find. Neither was well marked, but trusty GPS and persistence got us to both. It was worth the effort. The statue is starkly beautiful, cloaked in an aura of mystery, dignity, and solace. I’m glad that we made the trip. The memory of being in the presence of that statue carried me through the months ahead.

But my searching was not finished. I had to know more about Clover Adams. Usually I can uncover a wealth of information on the internet for the women I blog about here. But not so much for Clover (Marion Hooper) Adams. She was not a very public person. But, you have to be asking, then why did she warrant such a very public and grand memorial? Well, therein lies a story.

To be continued next week.