24 May 2017

Unconventional Great Grandparents (part 1 of 2)

My four sets of great-grandparents were of an interesting era: all eight of these individuals were born during America’s Gilded / Industrial Ages, with their collective birth years ranging from 1878 through 1886, an eight year span.  Their families represented a fascinating range of backgrounds, including industry, finance, law and medicine.  One great-grandfather grew up as the son of a minister.  They were all influenced by their times and circumstance, which mirrored the Victorian era in England and the Belle Époche in France.  These were special times and today we tend to think of the people of this era as rigid, tied to strict mores and more likely to live strictly conventional lives.  Divorce and separation were seemingly unheard of.

Interestingly, this perception does not apply to any of my great-grandparents.  The lives of each of these four couples factored in some unusual non-conventional family component.  The causes of their circumstances vary, but they all had a non-traditional aspect to their lives.

Today’s post will address my two sets of paternal great-grandparents.  Part two will discuss how my maternal great-grandparents failed to conform to the perceptions of the norms for their era. 

My great-grandparents, Sidney Bunting and Aileen Smith
with their wedding party in Montreal in 1910
Personal Gain

My paternal grandfather’s parents were Lewis Sturtevant Woodruff Sr. (b. 1881, Boston, MA; d. 1933, Monson, MA) and Mildred Pennell Hoyt (b. 1884, Greenfield, MA; d. 1952, Ogunquit, ME).  They were married in Greenfield, MA in 1904.  

Lewis Sr. was the son of Frederick Orr Woodruff, a real estate investor, and Fannie Sturtevant, who came from a lumber, banking and utilities family.  Mildred was the daughter of Charles Chamberlain Hoyt, a wealthy industrialist who made a fortune in steel and Maria Frances Pennell, whose parents were academics, at Antioch College (with her cousin Horace Mann) and Washington University in St. Louis, MO.  

Lewis Sturtevant Woodruff Sr and
Mildred Pennell Hoyt
both in their teens before they were married
Soon after Lewis and Mildred met, her father raised concerns about her future husband.  On May 27, 1902, Mildred’s father wrote to her, warning her about acting impulsively at the age of eighteen.  He mentioned that a different suitor had thrown her over for another girl only ninety days earlier and he strongly encouraged her to move slowly and not agree to an engagement or even an “understanding”. 

Some quotations from his letter: “I [once] met this young man Woodruff then reputed to be engaged to some Boston girl.”  “What do you really know of this young man? I know absolutely nothing beyond that he made himself agreeable, acted in a gentlemanly manner and was decidedly hard of hearing.” “You can say [to him] that it’s up to him to show what he is made of and demonstrates to me in a reasonable way that he is capable of taking care of you as the man must that marries you with my consent – I shall be glad to see him anytime & hear what he has to say.” Despite her father’s warning, she did marry “this young man Woodruff” and they had two boys, the eldest of whom, Lewis Jr. was my grandfather.  Their younger son was named Chamberlain Hoyt Woodruff (“Chambo” to the family) after her father, Charles Chamberlain Hoyt.

Excerpts from a letter to Mildred from her father, warning of "this young man".

Lewis attended Williams College, although it’s not yet known if he graduated.  He followed in his father’s footsteps in the financial industry.  He was a stockbroker and financial schemer who seems to have schemed his way out of the family pretty quickly.  He was instrumental in a family rift between his wife, Mildred, and her sister Edith – he tried to obtain, without paying for them, a portion of shares in a land trust that had been purchased for the two sisters by their father, CC Hoyt.  His blatant attempt to get a portion of their shares without paying for them caused the two sisters to not speak for most of their adult lives. 

Mildred Pennell Hoyt and Carroll McKim Stetson,
her second husband and adoptive father to her sons.
Records indicate that Lewis and Mildred were living with their two boys as a family in her mother’s house in Greenfield, MA at the time of the 1910 census.  By 1916 they were both re-marrying others, so they were divorced within that time period.  The cause of the divorce is not specifically known, but Lewis’s financial schemes managed to so completely alienate the family that it’s tough to believe it couldn’t have affected their marriage. 

In 1916 Mildred married Carroll McKim Stetson, a leather goods and luggage merchant in New York City, (b. 1884, d. 1941) who adopted her two boys. They lived in his house in Westchester County, NY and a house she inherited in Ogunquit, ME. Carroll’s middle name, McKim, has been passed along in my branch of the family to honor him: One uncle, one first cousin and I were given the McKim middle name.  Lewis married Adelia Gates and she had two children.

Lewis died in 1933 in the Monson State Hospital in Monson, MA, leaving his widow Adelia with a son and a daughter to raise, which she did with the help of her second husband, Arthur Dixon, in Boston.  These two children started lines of their own and there is an extensive branch of the family from Lewis’ second marriage.  Mildred inherited a portion of a trust left by her industrialist father (who died in 1904) at the death of her mother in 1934.  The trust was greatly diminished by the stock market crash, but she was still left with a comfortable source of income, which her two sons inherited when she died in 1952, one year after her second husband’s death.

“Came the Crash!”

My paternal grandmother’s parents were another well-off couple.  They were Sidney Curran Bunting (b. 1885 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada; d. between October 1945 and February 1946, probably in Toronto) and Alexandra Victoria Aileen Smith (b. 1886 and d. 1952 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada).  They were married in 1910 in Montreal (see above for their elaborate wedding party photograph).  

Sidney Curran Bunting and Alexandra Victoria Aileen Smith
on their wedding day.  Very few pictures of them exist.
Sidney was a successful banker by trade, brokering large-scale transactions and keeping his socialite wife, who went by her third name, Aileen, well accommodated in a mansion with servants in Montreal.  They had four children, twin boys Sidney Smith and John Cecil Bunting, one of whom had some kind of long-term special needs, my grandmother, Patricia Mary Cassils Bunting and the youngest, William “Bill” Raymond Christopher Bunting.  

When the family was young, they moved quite a bit as Sidney was working his way up the ladder with the Bank of Montreal.  His father, Christopher Bunting, was the publisher of the Daily Mail & Empire newspaper in Toronto and a long-term Member of Parliament.  Sidney’s mother was from the Ellis family, which owned a well-known and successful jewelry store in Toronto.  Aileen’s father was Arthur Lapthorn Smith, a prominent Montreal doctor (he helped to establish the Woman’s Hospital in Montreal) and her mother, Jessie Victoria Buntin (no known relation to the Bunting family in Toronto) was the daughter of a paper magnate in Montreal, a very wealthy family that married into a noble family in Florence and the Molson family of brewers in Canada.  

This prominent and wealthy family led a life of luxury and education in Montreal until 1930.  My grandmother, Patricia, wrote about it:
My grandmother's notes about the family
contained this page about their change in fortunes.
“Came the crash! 1930! The family fortunes collapsed completely.  The house was rented, positions were found for the servants & we moved into an apartment in Drummond Court.”  

Patricia quit her expensive private school and moved to New York City, an aspiring actress (see The Three Arts Club posting) at the age of 17 in 1930.  Sidney and Aileen separated that year, Sidney moving back with his family in Toronto.  Aileen was left to suddenly make her own way with a younger son at home, a son attending McGill University, a son for whom she had to oversee care and my grandmother, in New York City seeking her fortune.  Aileen lived in boarding houses and took clerical jobs to survive.

Sidney did not contact his wife for five years after he left in 1930.  In 1935 he wrote to her and we have a copy of her reply to him.  She indicates that several of his children and she had written to him regularly, but he had never replied.  Aileen asks him for a divorce, which was only permitted in Canada at the time due to infidelity.  She explained how he could register at a hotel with a woman and arrange for it to appear that there was an affair so that she could then sue for divorce and be free of the entanglements of marriage to a husband who had abandoned her and their four children.  He never took those steps and they remained married but estranged until his death in late 1945 or early 1946.  
Aileen's letter to her estranged husband, Sidney,
after hearing from him for the first time in five years.

The specific date of his death is not yet known, but the range (between 25 October 1945 and 16 February 1946) is established from a letter he wrote on first date in the range and a reference to his death in another letter that was written by a family member on the second date.  He lived from 1930 for 15 or so years with little or no contact with his own children or wife.

Aileen was able to eventually stop living in boarding houses and moved to a small apartment in Montreal, caring for her infirm son and keeping up with her other children’s families.  She kept in contact with the extended family, including her cousins who were Florentine nobility throughout her life. She died in Montreal in 1952.

Chart showing the unusual relations of my paternal great-grandparents.

To be continued . . . 


  1. Indeed, a very sad story, a big change in course for Sydney and Aileen. I live next to their former Montreal house in Montreal, a beautiful mansion set in a beautiful district (27 chemin de Breslay). Sydney bought it in October 1928. I read somewhere he launched a broker firm (Buntinng Yates & co) in May 1929. Very unfortunate time. He would have been better off staying with Bank of Montreal, I think. I was assuming a number of people having bought a house in this new 1927-1928 district faced hardship, then. You just confirmed. Regards, PL, Montreal

  2. Oh my goodness, thank you for this information. I was in Montreal some years ago and walked the city with an old map to take photographs of the old "family sites" (some of which are now glass towers!). I never knew the location of this mansion, nor did I know of the ill timing of the brokerage. If you ever have the inclination to take a photo of the mansion, I would love to see it - just reach out through the contact link and I can send my email address. Cheers! Daniel