Mary Frick was young and fair when she married Robert Garrett, the elder son of John Work Garrett who was the President of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and Robert Garrett & Sons, bankers. Number 11 West Mount Vernon Place was John Work Garrett’s wedding present to his son and new wife who were married in 1872; she was 21 years old. In time, this young bride became the grande dame of Baltimore society.
Robert ascended in his father’s railroad; first as president of a short railroad line, then as Third Vice President moving to First Vice President of the B&O. Following his father’s death, Robert Garrett became president of the railroad. The strain of running his father’s enterprises, his father himself, and the nation’s economic conditions resulted in Robert suffering mental and physical breakdowns before he was declared hopelessly insane by his physicians. They were married 24 years when he died in 1896 at the age of 49. The cause of his death was listed as “chronic nephritis”—kidney failure, the same cause as his father (Sander). With both father and son, their failing health was more complicated than kidney failure.
Six years later at Grace Protestant Episcopal Church on Park Avenue (a short walk away), she married Robert’s long-time personal physician, Dr. Henry Barton Jacobs who also came from pedigreed stock as a Mayflower descendant. He was handsome, athletic, a graduate of Harvard Medical School, and six years younger than his wife. In 1902, she was reputed to be worth a conservative $20 million. The couple entertained lavishly, traveled well, and shared many of the same interests and causes.
Much has been discussed about her magnificent mansions and their contents in Mount Vernon, Uplands (her family’s estate), and Newport, Rhode Island. She also maintained a suite in New York’s Plaza Hotel during most of the year. While she maintained an easy relationship with her staff, at the same time, she could be imperious with others, for example, tradesmen and architects (Dilts). “She spent her days conferring with staff, attending to her many charities, overseeing the almost constant renovation work at the Mansion, and ordering the latest fashions (and sometimes returning if they didn’t suit her) from New York and Paris.”(Dilts). Her famous art collection is now part of the Baltimore Museum of Art. It was known that she never bought a painting or any object of art for the mere name of the artist; the item had to be beautiful and pleasing to her.
She accumulated wealth and she spent it not only on her lifestyle, but she was very generous to her employees, her friends, and many charities. Although she had two husbands (one of whom was a medical doctor), she remained childless. Whether it was because or in spite of her fate, she had a great love for children. She often stopped on the street when going to and from her car to speak to them singly or in groups whether they were rich or poor. She held Christmas parties in the Hall of Mirrors for her staff and the messenger and newsboys of the city where they were entertained with vaudeville shows. Each child received one dollar and a box of candy to take home.
Her generosity and caring extended far beyond children’s parties. She established the Robert Garrett Hospital for children at 27 North Carey Street as a memorial to her late husband. A training school for nurses was attached to the hospital. In the summer the children were taken from the hospital quarters to Mt. Airy, Maryland which she provided. Their mothers received round-trip railroad tickets to visit them whenever they wished. Even after she turned the hospital over to the city in 1923, she maintained it with her own funds establishing six free clinics under the supervision of Dr. William S. Baer. In 1928, she built and equipped the Hospital for Tuberculosis Children on the Eudowood grounds. Dr. Jacobs made contributions in medicine particularly the study, prevention, and cure of tuberculosis, a leading dreaded disease at the time.
Her life was confined gradually to one room in her vast mansion. In the summer of 1936, she made her usual trip to Newport where she died on October 20 at the age of 85. She left an estate of $5.5 million (Dilts) and with it a legacy befitting the Garrett name and Dr. Jacobs who died three years later in the Baltimore mansion. Above all, she was Mary Sloan Frick Garrett Jacobs. There was no one quite like her in Baltimore.
Dilts, James. The Garrett-Jacobs Mansion Gateway to the Gilded Age in Baltimore, brochure. n.p., 2009.
Sander, Kathleen Waters. Mary Elizabeth Garrett and Philanthropy in the Guilded Age. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2008.