High Society at Heritage Square

Did you know…

The Rosson House has been hosting visitors looking to enjoy mild Arizona winters for over 120 years!  Whitelaw Reid and his wife, Elisabeth Mills Reid, were the first — moving to Phoenix as temporary residents in November 1895, and renting the house from Mayor Rosson that, and the following, winter.

The Reids were from New York, where Whitelaw was the owner, publisher and editor of the New York Tribune.  He grew up in Ohio, and got his start in the newspaper business as proprietor and editor of his hometown newspaper (at the tender age of 20), and then gained respect and status as a war correspondent for the Cincinnati Gazette during the American Civil War.  He met and married Elisabeth Mills in 1881, heiress and daughter of D. Ogden Mills, founder of the Bank of California.  He served as the Ambassador to France (1889-1892), and was the Republican nominee for Vice President in 1892 (he and Presidential incumbent, Benjamin Harrison, lost to Grover Cleveland and Adlai Stevenson).  Their stay in Arizona was for Whitelaw’s health, due to “bronchial difficulty”.  This was Reid’s second trip for this reason — his first was to North Africa in the fall of 1894.  That trip, while amazing in its scope (he and Elisabeth visited Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, the Holy Lands, Malta and Egypt), was ultimately unsuccessful.  So, his doctors suggested he try visiting Arizona instead.

To begin with, the Reids looked to Tucson as a more temperate environment to convalesce.  But they soon found that Phoenix had “superior accommodations”, and that the Mayor of Phoenix at the time (one Dr. Roland L. Rosson) was letting a house that met with the Reid’s approval.  Whitelaw and Elisabeth arrived in Phoenix in late November 1895 with only his secretary and a few servants.  They stayed at Mayor Rosson’s house until April 1896 — getting out of town, as most snowbirds do, before the heat set in!

Before leaving Phoenix, the Reids were looking at purchasing a home here for their next stay, so they’d have more room to bring their children, Jean and Ogden, plus additional servants.  Their main house of choice was the Churchill House (located at 5th Street and Van Buren, used as Phoenix Union High School beginning in 1897, and torn down in 1949), but they decided to go with renting the Rosson House again instead, and also rented a house “just to the back of (them)”, for the additional rooms and kitchen space.  Their second visit was shorter, staying from December 1, 1896, to mid-March, 1897.

Both during his visits and after leaving Arizona, Whitelaw Reid was involved with several diplomatic missions, including being appointed by President McKinley as special ambassador to Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee (June 1897 – celebrating 60 years on the throne), as well as to the Spanish-American Peace Commission (negotiating the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Spanish-American War in 1898).  Elisabeth kept busy at this time as well, serving as  Secretary of the Red Cross Society for the Maintenance of Trained Nurses and Chairman in 1898-99, and as Chairman of the England chapter of the American Red Cross, London (1915).  She also donated money for a nurses training school in the name of her father (1930).

Whitelaw Reid’s final diplomatic appointment was as Ambassador to Great Britain (1905-1912, by President Theodore Roosevelt).  It seems that Whitelaw and Elisabeth truly enjoyed their life in London, residing at Dorchester House (built in 1853, and torn down in 1929 – drool over pictures of the house here) during his appointment there.  Their Fourth of July parties at the Dorchester — rather daring to be holding Independence Day parties in the heart of Great Britain! — were evidently something to behold, with thousands of invitations issued, and traffic completely stopped in the area for over two hours.  Those parties, though were likely nothing compared to the one June 23, 1908.  That was the day that their daughter, Jean, became Lady Jean Ward, wife of the Honorable John Hubert Ward, second son of first Earl of Dudley and King Edward VII’s favorite Equerry.  The wedding took place at Chapel Royal of St. James Palace, where Queen Victoria herself was wed, but the reception was at Dorchester House, and both King Edward and Queen Alexandra attended – a very rare occurrence.  Among the hundreds of gifts received by the Wards, the wedding jewelry from the King and Queen and a rare old book, America, from President Roosevelt, were reported to be the among the most prized.

Whitelaw Reid passed away in December 1912 after an asthma attack (his old foe), and King George himself sent word to President Taft of his Ambassador’s death.  Reid’s funeral took place in Westminster Abbey, by request of the King, and he was sent back to the United States for burial in his adopted state of New York.  Elisabeth, 21 years Whitelaw’s junior, continued her work supporting the American Red Cross and nurses training, particularly during World War I, and passed away in 1931.

  • Learn more about climate and how it affected Arizona’s economy over the years in our article, C is for Cattle.
  • Learn about all of Arizona’s 5 C’s on our History at Home distance learning page.

Pictures (in order): The San Francisco Call front page, featuring Jane Reid’s picture and wedding, June 23, 1908; Elisabeth Mills Reid, c. 1877; the 1892 Republican ticket, featuring Presidential incumbent Benjamin Harrison with new Vice Presidential pick, Whitelaw Reid; Whitelaw and Elisabeth Reid, c. 1910, with diplomatic residence, Dorchester House.

Information about the Reids came from:

Whitelaw Reid’s Letters and Papers, and Articles from the Arizona Republican Newspaper, Heritage Square Collection and Library.

Cortissoz, Royal. The Life of Whitelaw Reid, Volumes 1 and 2.  New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1921.

MacCall, Gail, and Wallace, Carol McD.  To Marry an English Lord.  New York: Workman Publishing, 1989.

Wikipedia article on the Dorchester House available here.