Volume XXV · Autumn-Winter 1969-70 · Numbers 1 & 2
"The Hours I Spent with Thee, Dear Heart"
--ALICE ROGERS ROBY, as told to Ruth L. Van Deusen
For more than half a century Edwine Danforth was one of Rochester's outstanding citizens. Almost every aspect of Rochester life interested this remarkable woman, and she gave unsparingly of herself to civic and cultural activities. She was a charter member of the Wednesday Morning Club, and her work with the Women's Educational and Industrial Union, the Civic Music Association, and the Memorial Art Gallery was a permanent contribution to the community. She also served on a committee of the Board of Trustees of the University of Rochester, charged with moving the Women's College to the River Campus. But her best-known civic activity was on the Board of Education of Rochester. She was a member from 1921 until 1932, and president for the last seven years of that period.
Edwine's husband was a member of Congress and it was probably while in Washington with him that she first became interested in the Mt. Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union on whose board of directors she served for many years. A story is told that she was chosen to act as the official hostess at Mt. Vernon when the King and Queen of England visited Washington. A niece now living in Buffalo recalls going with Mrs. Danforth to call at the White House. The same niece says of her aunt, "She was not only the most beautiful, but the wisest and best regulated person I have ever known."
That she was beautiful is beyond question. But she was also thoughtful and unselfish in her relations with other people, and she was interesting and spritely in conversation. These qualities, combined with her great ability, gave her a large following of friends and admirers.
When the Danforths were in Rochester, they had small informal "at homes," where people from many walks of life met for social conviviality and a pleasant exchange of ideas. The same was true of the New Year's Day receptions which were an institution at the Danforth home for many years.
But there was another and lighter aspect of her personality which was less well-known to her Rochester friends. She had grown up in Buffalo where her pink and white complexion had earned her the nickname "Peachey" and where her beauty and charm had made her the center of an admiring circle of beaux. She seemed unconscious of her attractiveness; but years later, after she had left her own home on West Avenue, and moved into a small apartment in her niece's house, one of the few things she brought with her was a portrait of herself, painted when she was a very young woman.
One of her Buffalo beaux, Robert Cameron Rogers, wrote a poem to Edwine, entitled "The Rosary." After she married and moved to Rochester, she showed the poem to a young Rochesterian named Sam Hamilton. Sam was a member of a prominent Rochester family. He wrote songs and had an orchestra at the First Presbyterian Church, made up of boys in the neighborhood. Sam and I were members of a singing group which met at the Jonathan Child house, an exclusive boardinghouse run by a Mrs. Ives. Sam told Edwine that he would like to write some music for the poem, and she gave him permission.
One day he called me and said, "Alice, I have just written a song. If I bring it down, will you sing it for me?" Of course I said I would. We both liked his composition and decided that I should sing it at the next musical group meeting. Everyone thought it was lovely and urged Sam to have it published. But before he had a chance to do anything about it, a new song, "The Rosary," by Ethelbert Nevin, appeared and swept the country by storm. Mr. Rogers had apparently given the poem to Nevin, feeling that a song by such a well-known composer would be sure to be a great success. So, of course, Sam's song never got published.
In 1927, when our son Joe was at Yale, he was asked by his roommate, Mitz Knight, to be a part of his crew in the Bermuda race. Mitz's father had a beautiful yacht which he had brought into Newport Harbor to watch the start of the race. He asked my husband and me to spend the day aboard and see the boys off. One of the first persons I met on the yacht was Paul Nevin, the son of Ethelbert. He was a delightful person and I, of course, had great fun telling him the story of Edwine Danforth and "The Rosary." He said, "That song! The royalties from it still support us." He told me all about their estate in Maine, entirely built and maintained by the royalties from "The Rosary."
When I came home, I asked Edwine for lunch and told her of my meeting with Paul Nevin. She listened with amused interest to the story of how a poem which had been written to her had brought fame and fortune to a man she never met.