In 1921, while out motoring, society’s Leonard Kip Rhinelander met Alice Beatrice Jones, a domestic worker who lived near Stamford, Connecticut’s Orchard School, an inpatient clinic where young Leonard was seeking the cure for a variety of “nervous conditions” including stammering and extreme shyness. While Alice had a curative effect on Leonard, his family hoped it was just an upstairs-downstairs dalliance. They hoped wrong. In 1924, shortly after Mr. Rhinelander turned 21, the couple married. Unbeknownst to all, Mrs. L. Kip Rhinelander became the first black woman in the New York Social Register—but not for long. A reporter discovered that she was the daughter of “a colored man,” a former taxi driver who was almost unrecognizably mixed-race.
Newspapers ran with headlines like “Blue Blood Weds Colored Girl.” For a few weeks, Leonard defended his wife, but his family won, urging the couple to separate “because of the Ku Klux Klan,” reported the New York Times. His lawyers filed for an annulment, claiming that Alice had hidden her race from Leonard.
In the judge’s chambers, Alice, crying and holding on to her mother, was forced to remove various articles of clothing so the all-male and all-white jury could see, by the appearance of her nipples, back, and legs, that Leonard must have known prior to the marriage that she was not entirely of white blood. To the jury’s credit, the annulment was denied, the marriage upheld. Under a subsequent agreement, Alice received a sum of $32,500 plus $3,600 annually for life. (She and Leonard never reunited.)
It was Emily Post, otherwise the champion of kindness and courtesy, who pushed the Social Register to drop Alice. Personalities over principles: Her people in Tuxedo Park were related by marriage to the Rhinelanders, you see. Mrs. Post got more than she bargained for. She sought only Alice’s ouster, but with it came Leonard’s as well.
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