At the Athenaeum: Socialite’s scrapbooks showcase Portsmouth’s upper crust

Sherry Wood
Portsmouth Athenaeum

PORTSMOUTH − One of the grandest houses in Portsmouth at the turn of the 20th century − now home to St. John's Masonic Lodge No. 1 − was the residence of young socialite Marion Hackett.

Her exhausting schedule is detailed in three scrapbooks created between 1903 and 1912 and donated to the Portsmouth Athenaeum in 1993. 

The home of Portsmouth socialite Marion Hackett was built for her family in 1892 at the corner of Middle Street and Miller Avenue. Purchased by the Masons (St. John’s Lodge No. 1) in 1920, the building was designed by Boston architect Harry B. Ball.

"She was having a good time," Athenaeum Librarian Robin Silva said of Hackett, who did not marry until she was 28. "She had a lot of friends. And she went on a lot of dates."

Silva said cataloging the scrapbooks has given her and other Athenaeum staff members a day-by-day look at what life was like among the upper crust of Portsmouth in the decade before World War I.

In three scrapbooks preserved at the Portsmouth Athenaeum, Marion Hackett kept meticulous record of her social life. This name tag from a 1911 bridge match bears her signature. The albums are filled with mementos of theater and concert outings, charity and sporting events, and calling cards from members of Portsmouth’s upper crust in the decade before World War I.

The ephemera includes photographs, invitations, newspaper clippings, calling cards, postcards, letters, and theater and concert programs.

"I'm working on 1912 now, the end of the third scrapbook," Silva said. "All of Marion's friends are married and having children, and she's still dating. She goes out to concerts and the theater in Boston. She goes over to the Navy Yard often and has dinner aboard ship. She goes to dances at the Navy Yard − she calls them hops. And bridge parties. Bridge was such a big deal then."

Marion Hackett, whose father Wallace served as Portsmouth mayor in 1907–1908, is shown as a child (back row, second from right) celebrating President George Washington’s birthday.

Ultimately, Hackett (1886-1971) would meet U.S. Navy Lt. Robert Emmet Rogers and marry him in Portsmouth on Aug. 29, 1914.

He would whisk her away to Annapolis, Maryland, where they would raise two children. Marion's parents, former Portsmouth Mayor Wallace Hackett and Abbie Main Winchester Hackett, would eventually follow their daughter to Maryland.

The yellow-brick home they built at the corner of Miller and Middle street in 1892 would be purchased by the Masons and converted to a lodge in 1920. A large classical auditorium was added to the rear of the building in 1928.

Marion Hackett Rogers (1886-1971) led a very active social life in Portsmouth right up until her marriage at 28 in 1914 to U.S. Navy Lt. Robert Rogers, who was assigned to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

The scrapbooks came to be in the possession of Marion's childhood friend Frances Healey (1886-1962), who lived in a house in Hampton Falls later occupied by New Hampshire Gov. Wesley Powell and his wife, Beverly. It was Beverly that donated the albums to the Athenaeum.

Athenaeum Photographic Collections Manager James Smith is cataloging the photos and postcards from the scrapbooks; Athenaeum Archivist Katy Sternberger is processing the letters.

Smith recently posted on social media a Valentine Marion received in 1912.

"Like many of the young Portsmouth women mentioned in her scrapbooks, Marion married an United States Navy officer stationed at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard," Smith wrote in the post.

Silva said Marion Hackett witnessed the end of an era at the shipyard − the social whirl before the first world war broke out in 1914.

"After that, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard becomes all about building submarines," she said.

The first submarine constructed at the shipyard was launched in April 1917, just as the United States entered the war.

The family of Marion Hackett likely attended this 1900 celebration of the Civil War defeat of the confederate warship Alabama by the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard-built USS Kearsarge in 1864. The ribbon is preserved in a scrapbook the Portsmouth socialite kept, now part of the Portsmouth Athenaeum collections.

Marion's friend Frances Healey, who would become the keeper of the scrapbooks, went on to attend Wellesley College and traveled throughout the world.

Athenaeum Proprietor Peter Randall lived across the street from her on Kensington Road in Hampton Falls when he was growing up.

"She had sheep and was kind to us boys who roamed her property," Randall said.

"Frances traveled when she was younger and was in Hollywood where she met Florence Ryerson Clements and convinced her to move to Hampton Falls," Randall said.

Clements, the co-writer of the script for the 1939 movie "The Wizard of Oz," hired Randall to do yard work. He recalls meeting theater and film star Helen Hayes at Clements' home, a converted mill.

Randall said that Healey's property had three waterfalls, a 19th-century mill and a small chapel.

The 1963 Hampton Falls annual report's cover featured a drawing of "The Chapel of the Little Gate to the City of Gladness" and was dedicated in memory of Healey, who had died the year before.

Marion included numerous photos of Frances in the scrapbooks. 

A 1911 calling card from Frances to Marion appears to use the friends' nicknames for each other: "For Polly with love and a Merry Christmas from Fanny."

Nicknames and first names are sprinkled throughout the albums, all written in Marion's handwriting, which Silva described as "abysmal." That made it very difficult to identify people in photographs. 

"I used city directories, and sometimes looked up names in the newspaper, but nicknames won't show up in the newspapers," Silva said. "Marion only used last names for older people or married friends."

So far, the Athenaeum's online archives now include more than 500 entries and images under Marion Hackett's name.

"It's a bit like being a voyeur in a person's life − like a peek into a time that is so different from now," Silva said. 

The Portsmouth Athenaeum, 9 Market Square, is a membership library and museum founded in 1817. The research library and Randall Gallery are open to the public Tuesday through Saturday, 1 to 4 p.m. For more information, call 603-431-2538 or visit www.portsmouthathenaeum.org.