Julia Tyler: Fashionista

About five years before becoming a First Lady, a nineteen-year-old Julia Gardiner was featured in an actual advertising promotion.

Miss Julia Gardiner

Julia Gardiner was pretty, socially prominent, and very very rich.  Her father, Senator David Gardiner, was a “Gardiner of Gardiners Island”, off the tip of Long Island, New York.  He had served two terms as New York State Senator, and retained the title for life.  Her mother, Juliana McLachlan was the only child of a wealthy brewer.  Money flowed from both sides.

young julia

Julia Gardiner was still in her teens when this early photo was made.

In a household of two sons and two daughters, Julia was fashionably educated at a Manhattan finishing school for young ladies, and was seen in the best society.  Her dresses were expensive and fashionable, her furs and jewelry were expensive and fashionable, her carriage was expensive and fashionable.  Her choices of companions came from the most prominent residents of New York.  And they all went to the most expensive and fashionable vacation resorts of the early nineteenth century.

The Advertising Campaign

Bogert and Mecamly was a fashionable retail establishment that catered to the prominent New York social set.  Somehow (never completely ascertained) the merchants obtained a steel engraving of Miss Gardiner.  Many modern historians suspect that Julia, a saucy nineteen-year-old, was complicit in making the engraving available to the merchants.  In 1839 or 1840, those engraved likenesses were not mass produced; they were for private use.  It may be that Julia had visions of Messrs. Bogert and Mecamly plying her with the latest and most fashionable fans and ribbons, etc.

rose

Miss Julia Gardiner, the future Mrs. John Tyler, was positively identified as the fashionable demoiselle who was featured in the advertising handbill.

Nevertheless, whatever the reasoning or the procurement of the engraving, the result was a handbill depicting a well-dressed young society demoiselle holding a shopping bag.  The bag boldly advertised:  “I’ll purchase at Bogert & Mecamly’s, No. 86 Ninth Avenue.  Their Goods are Beautiful and Astonishingly Cheap.”  (Not that Julia cared about price tags.)  At the bottom of the flyer, the lovely young shopper was identified as “Miss Julia Gardiner, the Rose of Long Island.”

At nineteen years old, it is more than likely that Julia thought the situation was great fun; her society-minded parents took a dim view of the affair however.  This was an age where no respectable lady permitted her name to appear in the newspapers, let alone on an advertising handbill.  To complicate the situation, a few weeks later a love-poem appeared in a Brooklyn newspaper dedicated to Miss Julia Gardiner, the Rose of Long Island.  Her horrified parents, dreading a social scandal, whisked the family off to Europe to let the talk die down.

Julia Gardiner:  The Toast of Two Continents

The Gardiners, with their deep pockets and even deeper social aspirations, spent nearly two years in Europe.  They hobnobbed with minor royalty, up-and-coming wealthy industrialists and similarly situated officialdom.  They also purchased all the latest “stuff” that Paris, Rome and London had to offer.

When the Gardiners returned to New York, their four children (two older brothers and one younger sister) were all of marriageable ages, and Senator and Mrs. Gardiner decided to introduce their hugely eligible offspring to the movers and shakers of America.

They took rooms with parlor privileges in the best boarding house in Washington, and each member of the family was given a personal stack of calling cards, which they proceeded to dispense all over town.  The Gardiners left cards for congressmen, judges, generals, high ranking government officials – and, of course, the Tyler family in the White House.  In a few days, they were plied with invitations to teas, receptions, luncheons, dinners, card parties and whatever was popular on the social front.  They fit in perfectly – and were happy to use their parlor privileges to return the invitations.

Portrait Of Julia Gardiner Tyler

Julia Gardiner’s trademark tiara, which she wore across her forehead, caught the attention of the soon-to-be-widower President John Tyler.

Julia Gardiner, with youth and beauty and fashion savoir faire, including her unique trademark  tiara worn across her forehead, was an immediate hit.  Unfortunately, all the men vying for her attention were old enough to be her father.  She charmed and disarmed, but was cool.  She even received an invitation to the White House along with sincere admiration from President John Tyler himself (whose invalid wife was dying upstairs), but Julia disdained all suitors.  She claimed they were all much too old.

After the end of the social season, the Gardiners moved back to New York to flit and buzz at the fashionable watering places where they could see-and-be-seen.  But Washington society was never far from their sights.

By the following social season, the White House was in mourning.  Letitia Tyler had died, and a respectfully mourning President began to focus discreet and irreproachable attention on “The Rose of Long Island.”  Again she demurred.  But John Tyler, still slim, handsome and athletic at fifty-three, pursued.  He was a very persistent man.  He was also a Southern courtier of the highest order.  She began to waver.  It is very hard to say no to the President of the United States.

Within a year, Miss Julia Gardiner, the Rose of Long Island, would have a new title:  Mrs. Julia Tyler, First Lady of the Land, and the country hadn’t had such a fashionable First Lady since Dolley Madison.

Sources:

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About Feather Schwartz Foster

Feather Schwartz Foster is an author-historian who has made more than 500 appearances discussing presidential history. She teaches adult education at the Christopher Wren Association (affiliated with William and; Mary College), and adult Education programs at Christopher Newport University. She has been a guest on the C-SPAN "First Ladies" program. She has written five books.
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3 Responses to Julia Tyler: Fashionista

  1. nerdtrips says:

    Very interesting Feather. I am actually surprised that there are decent photographs from that time. I guess I need to learn more about the history of photography!

  2. Sharon says:

    Another spell-binding story from another time. I wonder how that would play out in our era?

  3. Dr. Theresa M. Rosania says:

    As a person who has studied and taught college fashion course, I very much enjoy your insights and information.
    Theresa

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