Historic, but not famous

William Rhinelander Stewart, philanthropist and financier
View North with First Washington Arch and horse drawn carriages, 1890.

William Rhinelander Stewart (1852-1929) was born in NYC. He was president of the Rhinelander Real Estate Co. and an officer of the Greenwich Savings Bank and the Corn Exchange Bank. As a philanthropist, he was active in the work of the Conference on Charities and Corrections and served as president of the State Board of Charities for twenty-five years.

Mr. Stewart is often considered responsible for Grant’s tomb funding, Washington Arch in Washington Square Park and was the President of the State Board of Charities in NY. The family was one of the oldest in NYC. He was also rumored to be a member of a secret society before WW II called The Room. The covert group, founded in 1917, included the real estate heir Vincent Astor, a close friend of Theodore Roosevelt; the book publisher Nelson Doubleday; Winthrop W. Aldrich, the president of the Chase National Bank; Kermit Roosevelt, a son of Theodore Roosevelt; David K. E. Bruce, a son-in-law of Andrew W. Mellon and a future ambassador to France, West Germany and Britain; the philanthropist William Rhinelander Stewart; and Marshall Field III, a newspaper publisher and heir to the Chicago department store fortune. The group gathered info from various governments for President Roosevelt as well as gather to hear famous speakers.

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Historic, but not famous

Fannie Hurst (October 19, 1885 – February 23, 1968) was an American novelist and short story writer whose works were highly popular during the post-World War I era. Her work combined sentimental, romantic themes with social issues of the day, such as women’s rights and race relations. She was one of the most widely read woman authors of the 20th century, and for a time in the 1920s was one of the highest-paid American writers. She also actively supported a number of social causes, including feminism, African American equality, and New Deal programs.

Her novel ‘Imitation of Life’ was one of almost 30 of her works adapted into a film, this one starring Claudette Colbert and a remake of the film in the 1950’s starring Lana Turner. Ms. Hurst moved to New York City to pursue a writing career in 1911 from St, Louis and never looked back, supporting her struggling writing career by working as a waitress and a salesgirl at Macy’s. In her spare time, Hurst attended night court sessions and visited Ellis Island and the slums, becoming in her own words “passionately anxious to awake in others a general sensitiveness to small people,” and developing an awareness of “causes, including the lost and the threatened.” Though her stories were popular, they were not critically acclaimed. She was often parodied and call the “Queen of the Sob Sisters” (“sob sister” being a term used in the early 20th century for female reporters who wrote sentimental human interest stories designed to evoke an emotional response from female readers.)

During the 1930s and 1940s, Hurst was a friend of Eleanor Roosevelt and a frequent White House visitor. Hurst was named chair of the National Housing Commission in 1936-1937 and appointed to the National Advisory Committee to the Works Progress Administration in 1940. She was a delegate to the World Health Organization in 1952. In 1958, Hurst briefly hosted a television talk show out of New York called Showcase. Showcase was notable for presenting several of the earliest well-rounded discussions of homosexuality and was one of the few programs on which homosexual men spoke for themselves rather than being debated by a panel of “experts”.

Though very influential at the time, her legacy has been lost to most people. The films based on her novels are worth a Saturday afternoon inside.

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