An Unusual Personal Attraction

Juliana Brent Keyser

According to the inscription on its back, the subject of the above photograph is Juliana Brent Keyser (1891-1975). I think the style of her hat dates the photograph to around 1910. When Baltimore newspapers still had “social pages” they followed every move of the debutante and her family.

Her father was Robert Brent Keyser (1859-1927) who was a president of Johns Hopkins University‘s Board of Trustees and oldest son of Baltimore industrialist William Keyser (1835-1904) who, along with his cousin William Wyman (1825-1903) and others, helped establish the university’s Homewood Campus in the early 20th Century. Her mother was Ellen Carr McHenry (1860-1946) who was a great-granddaughter of both John Eager Howard (1752-1827) and James McHenry (1753-1816) for whom Fort McHenry was named. Juliana was possibly named after her great-grandmother Juliana Elizabeth Howard McHenry (1796-1821) and her grandmother Mary Hoke Brent Keyser (1838-1911). Her only sister was Ellen McHenry Keyser (1892-1980) who married James Cabell Bruce (1892-1980). Her only brother was William McHenry Keyser (1897-1928) who married Marjorie Hambleton Ober (1900-1977) before his early death as the result of an automobile accident.

The Keyser family’s town home was located at 1201 North Calvert Street in Baltimore. The announcement of its sale after her father’s death in 1927 said the house “occupies a lot of 38 by 133 feet” and “contains four stories and thirty-two rooms, with eight baths, and an electric elevator.” The property is currently listed as nearly 12,000 square feet. The family’s country home, nearly always said to be “in the Green Spring Valley,” was Dunlora, later called Merry Hill, located in what is now the Anton Woods development in Baltimore County. According to Census records, in 1900 the family had nine servants; in 1910 the family had five servants; in 1920 the family had two maids and a butler.

Her parents “introduced” Juliana at a reception held at their town home in December 1910. The Baltimore Sun article about the reception described her as “one of the most important debutantes of several years, combining as she does birth, wealth, position, an unusual personal attraction.” December, January, and February of 1910 were filled with receptions, dances, a bal poudré, and in each announcement the setting and her clothing were precisely detailed. Several articles described her “surgical operation for appendicitis” at Johns Hopkins Hospital in November 1911. The family’s travels, domestic and foreign, and the annual moves between houses, were meticulously reported.

Juliana and Gaylord Lee Clark (1883-1969), a Baltimore assistant state’s attorney, announced their engagement at a “german” in February 1921 and The Baltimore Sun described the occasion this way: Juliana Keyser and Gaylord Clark simply “made” the dance by announcing their engagement. Everyone, of course, had noticed Gaylord’s attentions, but both he and Juliana have had so many admirers that nobody felt called upon to make any remarks in this case. That sentence is not as crazy as it sounds, for Gaylord had caused many a feminine heart to flutter, both here and elsewhere, and Juliana is not the sort of girl to care for a man whom no one else could see on the earth.

Gaylord and Juliana were married in April, 1921. He was born in Mobile, AL to Gaylord Blair Clark, Sr. (1846-1893), a lawyer who had been a member of the Virginia Military Institute Corps of Cadets who fought at the Battle of New Market on 15 May 1864, and Lettice Lee Smith (1855-1914). Gaylord had a distinguished military career like his father, serving in Maryland’s 5th Regiment during the Mexican Border War and as a company commander in the 29th Division during World War I when he was cited for gallantry under fire two times during October 1918. During World War II he was executive officer of the Maryland State Guard with the rank of colonel. After the war he joined the law firm of Semmes, Bowen, and Semmes and became a partner in 1935. He served as president of the Family Welfare Association was named state parole commissioner in 1932.

There is a lot more to know about Juliana than there is about the usual subjects of this blog, so I’ll end with a jumble of interesting tidbits. She was educated at Calvert School, Bryn Mawr School, and Miss Porter’s School. She served as a volunteer and leader of Planned Parenthood in the 1930s and remained interested in the organization all her life. When the Junior League of Baltimore was established in 1912 Juliana served as its first president until 1916. She helped organize the 1920 Lecture Club and hosted its first meeting in November 1919 where the English novelist Hugh Walpole was the speaker. In April, 1914 she hosted “about four hundred modishly dressed young women of the ‘leisure class'” who heard the evangelist Billy Sunday urge them to “leave behind something more than an obituary notice in a newspaper and a piece of black crepe floating on the door.” English miniature portraitist Charles James Turrell (1846-1932) produced “an especially fine likeness” of her in 1922. It was Juliana’s “unflagging efforts” which led to the establishment on the Homewood Campus of memorials to her grandfather William Keyser and great uncles Samuel and William Wyman, efforts which resulted in the naming of the Keyser Quadrangle and the Wyman Quadrangle.

To learn more and see a description of the Keyser-Wyman papers, look here.

Reverse of the Photograph
An Unusual Personal Attraction