The Grand Society of the Daughters of Independence Hall met every other Tuesday morning at eleven o’clock. After the general meeting, the small congregation of 14 members exited the building to go about their day, and the executive board took its place in the majestic conference room overlooking Old City Philadelphia. The space displayed paintings of those who influenced and signed the Declaration of Independence, a small token to appease them since the original historic building was off limits. This still stuck in the craw of three of the four board members, and instead the board met in the adjacent Constitution Center. A wonderful building with state-of-the-art features and plenty of room, they complained it lacked the historic feel important to their purpose, and something this modern seemed out of place in Old City Philadelphia, where the smooth cobblestone streets and horse drawn carriages catered to its celebrated past.
The Daughters sponsored several projects a year, which granted deserving scholarships to area students, aided with genealogy research for those who could afford their expensive services, and assisted the community in general. Their latest campaign invited potential members to trace their roots back a few hundred years to see if they could join the exclusive club, all for the bargain price of $3,500. Few took the bait and fewer qualified, and some members suspected it worked out the way their leader liked it. The various fundraisers and yearly gala raised plenty of funding for their causes, which also helped the city preserve its history, although some complained their causes were becoming too shallow. Those members, Martha knew, had no right to question the decisions of someone with the experience and knowledge she possessed.
The DIH, neither a political organization, nor one to lobby Congress, did on the rare occasion intervene with local political issues, especially if the city’s colorful mayor made headlines for the wrong reasons. Keeping his activities out of the papers turned into full-time job. The mayor, a cousin of Elyse Walton, and a democrat no less, having changed parties because a republican could not be elected in Philadelphia, enjoyed the perks that came along with the office, and the DIH managed to hide a lot of his activities for the sake of the family name and its ties to the club. On occasion, there were major embarrassments that slipped through the cracks and ended up on the evening news and on the front page of local newspapers.
“I can assure you he’s nothing like the rest of the family,” Elyse said to Martha. “Common sense seems to be lacking in his branch of the family tree.”
“We all have our crosses to bear,” Martha responded as if she dismissed Elyse’s complaint.
The board consisted of four members, including Martha Chadwick, who acted as chair for the club over the past five years. Called the most elitist of the group by many people in the community, Martha thought it a compliment. Her ties led back to signer Edward Rutledge, and she felt proud, desiring to keep the society as true to its name. She shooed away the idea to open the DIH to a wider audience, to those with a direct lineage to anyone from the original 13 colonies to give it wider appeal, like its sister group the Daughters of the American Revolution, or DAR. A competitive spirit existed between the two groups to do more for the community, and the DIH reigned supremely above the DAR in the challenge, an effort that pleased Martha, even though she acted as if she didn’t care.
“We could do more for the community if we opened it up to more people, Martha,” a member would coax now and then.
Martha wouldn’t budge. “We are not a national society,” she replied. “And we are more appreciated because of our exclusiveness. It does not mean a wide group of people cannot benefit from our charities. Many of our fundraisers are open to the public. They are not exclusive. But the inner workings of our organization will remain true to our name, and confidential to the few of us.” In addition, to the annoying Carrie Grant, she wanted to add, but kept the complaint to herself. “We will remain exclusive,” she said instead.
“It could be worse, after all,” Martha continued, her voice deep and sullen because frankly she was tired of defending her position. “It’s not like we operate like the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America. Members are only welcomed in by invitation only, and then you have to trace your ancestry back to a family member who has held a high office at the colonial level.” She grimaced for a moment, remembering when she had been rudely asked to leave the Colonial Dames because they accused her of stealing from their checking account, something these women before her didn’t know, and never would. It was a misunderstanding, and thankfully they didn’t press charges since she agreed to pay the money back immediately. Still, she hated the Colonial Dames. That is when she set her sights on the DIH, a well-planned moved where she advanced to the top in record time. She set out to show the Colonial Dames what a mistake they had made, and she succeeded. “We are the Daughters of the Hall, and will remain open to those who share the same honor that we do.”
Soon after, Martha would have to eat those words and let Sukie Daltry join the organization, a task she hated, but one that offered no choice. Mrs. Daltry, much younger than the rest of the members, happened to be the new trophy wife of Peter Daltry who presided over the law firm where Martha’s husband held a senior partnership. The Daltry family had the power, money, and fame to get what they wanted. They ran the city of Philadelphia, but their roots to the states were less than 100 years old, and their wealth even younger. As Peter’s third wife, Sukie remained clueless about the family’s lineage. Martha suspected Sukie’s people were no better than carnies or gypsies, and had the gall to say so – behind her back of course – at a DIH luncheon. Pressure from her husband and from some of the other members of the society who enjoyed Sukie’s colorful side, and who wanted the club opened to younger people, made her cave. Sukie liked the party scene a little too much, and her husband encouraged her membership to downplay her past and give her credibility in the community. Everyone knew she danced at a gentlemen’s club on Delaware Avenue where they first met, and that was a lot to ask society to overlook. Now, Martha had to figure out a way to give the little tart some form of decorum.
Elyse Walton, Martha’s co-chair and equally snobbish cohort, had ties on her mother’s side to signer John Morton. Elyse’s marriage failed years ago, yet she remained with her husband playing the part of a happy couple. She tried to keep his preference to younger companions under wraps, which grew more difficult each day. Making things worse Elyse’s two daughters, Lauren and Brittany, who were once the pride of her existence began to cause their own chaos, following their father’s example. The money in the family belonged to her, and not her husband, who held a position at the Federal Reserve Bank in the city, an appointment her father paid for after he retired. She should divorce him, but did not want to put up with the scandal that may follow. Ladies of society did not divorce, her mother lectured when she approached her about the idea. Like their husbands, they took on lovers discretely, and put up a good front in public. It is what her mother did before her, and it is what she planned to do, too, if she wanted to stay in the will. It was her own doing anyway, her mother assured, since she married outside of her class.
Charlotte Ampstead, treasurer and party planner extraordinaire, and the most grounded of the committee had a stellar reputation throughout the wider community due to her private philanthropic generosity. Charlotte approached life differently than her co-members. Brought up as Philadelphia Royalty in the same manner as the Kelly’s, the family of Princess Grace of Monaco, the newly single Charlotte divorced her husband of 15 years. They had no children, something she noted as a blessing now, and Charlotte enjoyed her single status and had no intentions of remarrying. At 42, she also enjoyed the benefits of being the youngest board member, and had fresh ideas to match her age and to change the club for the better. Her father had left her a fortune granting her the ability to live a lavish existence for the rest of her life and stand on her own no matter how unpopular her ideas seemed to the elder board members. They knew they could not ask her to step down. Charlotte had ties to two of the more famous signers, both John and Samuel Adams, cousins and a former president and a beer maker respectively, a fact that stung most of the jealous woman on the board. Aware of the power she held, Charlotte rarely took advantage, but if she had to she could put up a strong fight and use it.
Georgia McKean held the board position of secretary elect. The lineage came from her husband’s side of the family, making Georgia the sole member to have the last name as her relative, signer Thomas McKean. As the oldest member of the group at 76, Georgia joined the board three months before, after her husband’s passing. He had been the last male McKean, and his name would disappear since they had three daughters who changed their names upon marriage. Georgia needed to fill her days with something substantial, and the DIH board fit her schedule. At times, Georgia had a heart of gold stemming from her pauper days, but she married young and rich, adapting easily to the lifestyle.
Martha Chadwick sat at the head chair in the upper corner of the meeting table waiting for the other women to join her, again taking time to read this week’s column from the newspaper. The column she zeroed in on contained its usual banter about her beloved DIH, but followed with an op-ed piece focusing on the writer’s ridiculous opinion, as if she dared to have one.
“In times of economic hardship, and with many charities suffering, why would one society turn people away who want to help? You know them, dear readers, as the exclusive group that meets regularly to determine the fate of the less fortunate in our fair city.
We all know the city is struggling with finances, and charitable organizations require more these days since people are giving less, and more people depend upon those charities. Can anyone explain why repainting the Betsy Ross House is more important than feeding hungry families? The house of our famous flag maker, painted just three years ago, can hold out for another year making that money available for needs that are more crucial. We should take a closer look at who is running the DIH these days, and question her decisions.
The lesson here is if you’re looking to give back to the community, and spend your time on worthwhile projects that make a difference, steer clear of the Daughters of Independence Hall, who only want your help if your worthy by bloodline. Somehow, I believe our fore fathers would dispel that logic. Instead, call Philabundance, the local food pantry in South Philadelphia that welcomes and appreciates help. Busy now with the unemployment situation in an upheaval, they welcome volunteers without a blood test to prove your value. It may be difficult to believe this obsolete rule is still in place, when it suits the ladies who lunch, that is. Here is the real scoop:
When socialites find their names in the paper for something they do not want known, the claws come out. We will not name names, but it is not John Hancock’s moniker shining a spotlight on the newest DIH member. It is something a bit more obvious than that. Nevertheless, is there trouble in paradise already? Seems the newest member did not receive the handbook on how to dress as a proper member. Our new representative wore a revealing number to feed needy families at Christ Church last month. You might say the needy also received an eyeful that day.
Still, this writer believes those tears in her eyes when DIH’s head honcho confronted her about the attire were of the crocodile variety. What did Cary Grant say to a crying Ingrid Bergman in Notorious? “Dry your eyes baby, it’s out of character.”
Martha exhaled after reading the column for the fourth time. As usual, her instincts were dead on; letting Sukie join the DIH proved to be a costly error. She could not believe she had the gall to wear that horrid dress to a church hall. The right move would be to take Sukie’s membership away, but her husband would fight her on it, as would his insipid boss who had the nerve to marry her in the first place. She would have to find some use for the little tramp and keep her in the background. Perhaps they could throw a traditional British tarts and vicars’ party. Sukie had the proper wardrobe for the entire committee. Martha smiled at the thought.
Relaxed rules were for the worthy, and not for a common tramp with a torrid past who did not understand the basics of proper etiquette. She was thankful the other members of the DIH let in under the relaxed guidelines, those without direct ties, appreciated their good fortune. Other than Sukie, there were three in the past year. These well-deserved women may have come from new money, yet their clean names and scandal free pasts would not harm the club’s reputation. For God’s sake, this was not a bordello.
As the rest of the board members took their seats, Martha called the meeting to order.
“The invitation has been sent to the paper,” Georgia informed the rest of the women sitting around the boardroom table. “The plan has been set in motion.”
Martha shook her head and smiled. “It’s a good thing,” she said, sitting at the top of the boardroom as if she was a queen on her throne, and the rest of the women agreed.
“Remind me why we are doing this again?” Charlotte asked, puzzled.
While the look of disgust registered on the faces of the other women, as if on cue from Martha, Elyse took the opportunity to answer. “Knowledge is power, my dear,” she said. “Once the identity of Carrie Grant is known, we’ll know who we are dealing with. And we can find out what the journalist wants.”
Charlotte smiled. “You can’t believe she’s a determent to this society,” she said. “Maybe the last piece was less than flattering, but she’s right, isn’t she? Painting a historic landmark is not as important as helping the community in times of crisis. Besides, she normally brags about what we do here, Elyse. She has brought a lot of interest our way, and we should be grateful. It has helped us raise a lot of awareness for the work we do, especially for that high tea social we held for Women in Transition. It would have been a disaster if she hadn’t given it press.”
Elyse nodded. “Some of what you said is true, Charlotte, but we should keep friends close and our enemies closer,” she said. “It would behoove us to learn how this journalist is coming by some private information.”
“Is that why you think this journalist is our enemy?” Charlotte asked. “Because she wrote about information not available to the public? That’s simply a journalist doing their job. I wouldn’t think too much of it.”
“How do you know the journalist is a she, Charlotte?” Elyse asked with her voice filled with spite.
Charlotte shrugged. “I don’t, Elyse. I am assuming Carrie is a woman by the way she spells her name. Are you insinuating something else? Like I’m the mole?”
“I don’t know, Charlotte. Am I?”
“Ladies, please. This is beneath you,” Georgia said, as Martha sat back and watched the action with a smug grin on her face. She did not care for trouble among the ranks of her board, but in this situation, it would not be a detriment. “We’re all a little on edge because this writer has called us out here. That is why it is important to know who she is. And no, Charlotte, none of us think it’s you.”
Elyse shrugged. “I apologize, Charlotte. I wasn’t accusing you of doing anything wrong.”
Perched like a vulture, yet enjoying the banter between the women, Martha pounded her fist on the meeting room table. The act, although a bit dramatic, started her minions and dispensed the chatter as they looked towards their reigning queen with surprised looks on their faces, exactly how she wished. “I am certain someone is feeding information to the writer. They may not be I the room,” she said. “But it doesn’t mean she isn’t one of us.”
“Do you think the leak is a member?” Elyse questioned.
“I do,” Martha said, nodding her head.
“But members aren’t privy to all of the confidential matters, Martha,” Georgia chimed in.
“In a perfect world, that is true,” Martha said, “but we don’t live in a perfect world, do we? Now are there any ideas about how we can find out who this traitor is?”