Harriman, Florence Jaffray (1870–1967)
Harriman, Florence Jaffray (1870–1967)
Harriman, Florence Jaffray (1870–1967)
American social reformer, Democratic Party activist, and U.S. minister to Norway at the time of the Nazi invasion. Name variations: Daisy Harriman; Mrs. J. Borden Harriman. Born Florence Jaffray Hurst on July 21, 1870, in New York City; died in Washington, D.C., on August 31, 1967; daughter of Francis William Jones Hurst (head of a steamship company) and Caroline Elise Jaffray Hurst; attended classes with Mrs. Lippincott, first at the home of J.P. Morgan, and later on Lexington Avenue; married J(efferson) Borden Harriman, on November 18, 1889 (died 1914); children: one, Ethel Borden Harriman Russell (December 1898–1953).
granted the Great Cross of St. Olav, the highest honor of Norway (1942); received the Citation for Distinguished Service, Presidential Medal of Freedom (1963).
Mother died when Daisy was three (1873); lived in house of maternal grandfather, Edward Jaffray; appointed manager of New York State Reformatory for Women at Bedford (1906–18); co-founded Colony Club with Anne Morgan and Elisabeth Marbury, New York's first women's social club, and served as president (1907–16); helped found women's welfare committee of National Civic Federation, and toured South to report on child-labor conditions; served as chair, Women's National Wilson and Marshall Association (1912); was only woman member of Federal Industrial Relations Commission (1913–14); served as chair of Committee of Women in Industry of the Advisory Committee of the Council of National Defense (1917); organized Red Cross Motor Corps, served as assistant director of transportation in France (1918); was a delegate to Inter-Allied Women's Council (1919); co-founded Women's National Democratic Club (1922), and was president (1922–30); served as Democratic Committeewoman, Washington, D.C. (1924–36); named U.S. minister to Norway (1937–40); appointed vice-chair of White Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies (1941).
From Pinafores to Politics (Henry Holt, 1923); Mission to the North (Lippincott, 1941).
In 1937, President Franklin Roosevelt selected Norway as a posting for Daisy Harriman, a dignified white-haired grandmother, whom he wished to name as the second woman ever to head an American legation. A neutral country, Norway seemed safely removed from the impending European crisis. Three years later, in the early hours of April 9, 1940, at 3:30 am, the telephone rang beside the bed of Harriman at the American Embassy in Norway; it was the British ambassador alerting her that German warships were coming up the fjord. Harriman's cable to Washington, transmitted via the American Embassy in Sweden, was the first official news of the invasion. By 9:45, she was in her car with her chauffeur, a clerk, a typewriter, and the code book, following the Norwegian king Haakon VII as he fled the occupied capital city of Oslo.
As Harriman trailed the retreating government, evading the Nazi forces through the Norwegian countryside, her military attaché was killed by shrapnel, and the American flag, which they had fixed to the car roof to warn the Germans that the car was an official one from a neutral country, was used to cover his coffin. When Harriman realized that no purpose could be served by following the king into exile, she crossed into Sweden, where, that August, she oversaw the evacuation of hundreds of American dependents from the region.
Florence Jaffray Hurst Harriman, known all her life as Daisy, was born in New York City in 1870, the eldest of two daughters, of Francis William Jones Hurst, head of a steamship company and president of the Yacht Club, and Caroline Elise Jaffray . Caroline died of puerperal fever after the birth of a third daughter, and Daisy and her sisters lived with their father in the house of their maternal grandfather, Edward Jaffray. Jaffray, a naturalized American who had been born in England, had connections in both countries; he regaled his granddaughter with stories about British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, while President Chester A. Arthur, John Hay, and Herbert Hoover were among those who dropped in for breakfast or came more formally in the evening to dine. Daisy believed her father, a retired British army officer, had been disappointed to have no sons, and so had reared his daughters to ride horseback, sail, and always maintain an erect military bearing.
Daisy received what she called a "sketchy" education from Mrs. Lippincott, first at the home of J. Pierpont Morgan, and later in a private school on Lexington Avenue. After making her debut in 1888, she married J. Borden Harriman, known as Bordie, who was a banker a few years her senior whom she had known from childhood, and the cousin of E.H. and Averill Harriman. After a number of miscarriages attributed to Daisy's refusal to give up horseback riding sidesaddle, they had a daughter, Ethel, in 1898.
Even as a young society matron, Daisy Harriman "had a vague notion that a woman should be able to do something in the workaday world." In 1906, she was named manager of the New York State Reformatory for Women at Bedford, and served until 1918. Also in 1906, after her husband questioned the propriety of her staying alone in a hotel in New York, she persuaded friends Anne Morgan and Elisabeth Marbury to join her in founding the Colony Club, New York's first social club for women, which opened the following year despite criticism from those who claimed it would enable women to "receive clandestine letters," and the more worldly critics who predicted a club could not survive financially without a bar. Daisy was president from 1907 until 1916.
The club gave her access to a number of political movements. Her first contact with Woodrow Wilson, who became her political ideal, occurred at this time, when, as president of Princeton, he was invited to the opening. A speaker at the club from the National Civic Federation (NCF) inspired Daisy to join the women's department which lobbied for better conditions for working women in stores, hotels, and factories. Through the NCF, she toured cotton-mills in the South to inspect child-labor conditions, and in 1911 published articles in Harper's Weekly about her findings, "the first money I had ever earned." This earning power would become not only a source of pride but a necessity.
Daisy Harriman also worked for health care, particularly for improved infant mortality and control of tuberculosis. Like many women of the day, she saw direct involvement in elective politics as essential to any wide-reaching reform. Her even-handed treatment of Southern mill owners in her reports had recommended her to Woodrow Wilson, a Southerner, and in 1912, she was appointed head of the Women's Wilson and Marshall Association to campaign for the Democratic ticket. The following year, she campaigned for John Mitchel, the young reform mayor of New York, and was consulted by him on appointments.
Wilson rewarded her efforts on his behalf by naming her to the Federal Industrial Relations Commission, created during the Taft administration to investigate the causes of industrial unrest. Harriman became the first woman ever appointed to a federal commission. Although some felt that a woman with closer ties to working women, or at least with a more extensive background in social work might have been more appropriate, Harriman's executive ability, compelling personality, and connections to the prominent and powerful were seen as real assets. The commission successfully intervened in a threatened railway strike, but Daisy took exception to the final report summarizing the hearings they had conducted, believing that it did not make allowances for the "technical problems of production." While labor leaders like Mother (Mary Harris) Jones complained that Daisy would betray the workers if she did not sign the report, wealthy Washingtonians like Eleanor "Cissy" Patterson were equally dubious, sniffing, "So you're the dangerous woman who's come down to take all our money away from us?" Seeking a distraction from the tensions of the committee, Harriman visited the Mexican border during their civil war in 1915, volunteering at the hospital where the wounded were brought from the battle of Matamoros and writing about her experiences for Harper's Weekly.
War had come to Europe, too. Harriman and her husband had gone to England in 1914 for Daisy to study labor conditions. They had traveled to a spa in Carlsbad where Bordie sought to improve his failing health, undermined by heavy drinking, and were there when war broke out. Borden Harriman died in Washington in December 1914. "Her husband was rich one week and poor the next," Daisy's contemporary, Alice Roosevelt Longworth , noted. "Unfortunately, he died during one of his poor periods, so Daisy wasn't particularly well off."
By April 1917, the U.S. had also been drawn into the conflict. Samuel Gompers appointed Harriman chair of the Committee of Women in
Industry, part of the Advisory Committee of the Council of National Defense, and she reported on the safety of women workers in munitions mills. She also organized the Red Cross Motor Corps, learning first aid and automobile repair; "the members," reported Anne Hard , "looked so snappy in the breeches and Sam Brown belts, Mrs. Harriman looking snappiest of all." She went to France in 1917 to study conditions in munitions factories and hospitals, and again in 1918 as assistant director of transportation, reporting to President Wilson on her return. She attended the Paris peace conference, lobbying for T.E. Lawrence as well as for expedited leave for those in the military whose wives were ill, and was made a delegate to the Inter-Allied Women's Council to consult with committees on issues relating to women and children.
Though Daisy Harriman was a longtime supporter of Woodrow Wilson and his policies, she parted company with him over his opposition to women's suffrage. While president of the Colony Club, she had felt she could not publicly declare her sympathy, but free of that responsibility by 1917, she led a march for women's suffrage in New York City. On the whole, however, she believed that persuasion was more effective than confrontation.
In 1923, Daisy Harriman published From Pinafores to Politics, a memoir of women's political activity before suffrage. During the 1920s, when the Republicans were in power, she defended progressive ideas. She saw the Equal Rights Amendment proposed by Alice Paul and the Women's Party as a threat to protective legislation for women, and opposed it as chair of the campaign committee of the Consumers League. She also worked for American membership in the League of Nations and the World Court, as well as for disarmament and the movement to outlaw war.
After the 19th Amendment granting all women the right to vote passed in 1920, Harriman strove to increase support for the Democratic Party among the newly enfranchised women. In 1922, she co-founded the Women's National Democratic Club and served as its first president until 1930, creating a place where Democratic women would feel at home as they often did not in the regular party councils. She was Democratic Committeewoman from Washington, D.C., from 1924 to 1936. But it was as the host of Sunday night supper parties at "Uplands," her house on Foxhall Road overlooking the city, that she became renowned. Originally a gathering to boost the out-of-power Democrats' morale, the parties expanded to include the most stimulating members of Washington society, from ambassadors and senators to left-wing columnists. Daisy created an atmosphere formal enough and diverse enough to provoke "the exchange of healthy home truths" that might not have taken place in smaller, more partisan groups. Cocktails were not served lest they interfere with the diners' mental agility; as her guests were finishing dessert, Harriman would toss out a question for general debate. It was also noted that, unlike other political salons where women were banished to the drawing room, her brilliant gatherings were comprised of equal numbers of women and men; according to journalist Anne Hard, author " Mary Roberts Rinehart will stand off Senator Robinson, Senator Walsh, Senator Harrison, Mr. Houston and half-a-dozen distinguished Democrats in a play of wit at once serious and gay."
Daisy Harriman was a delegate to the 1932 Democratic convention, but she was loyal to Newton D. Baker, Woodrow Wilson's secretary of war. When Franklin Roosevelt secured the nomination, she worked for his election, but her failure to support him from the start was held against her for four years. During this bleak period, she amused herself by writing a novel, but feeling that the characters were wooden, destroyed the only copies. Daisy maintained close ties with many in the New Deal, sharing her house with secretary of labor Frances Perkins during the summer of 1933 and entertaining members of the administration at her "tea cup chancellery," even though she sometimes had to supplement her income by interior decorating or renting out her house. She campaigned vigorously for FDR in 1936 and supported his controversial plan in 1937 to expand (or pack) the Supreme Court.
At the start of his first administration in 1933, Roosevelt had appointed Ruth Bryan Owen (Rohde) as his representative to Denmark, the first woman to head a U.S. embassy. She resigned in 1936 after marrying a captain in the Danish Royal Guards, creating an opportunity for Roosevelt to nominate a second female chief of mission. In April 1937, Roosevelt named Daisy Harriman to head the post in Oslo. She was well-suited to diplomatic life, given her interests in politics and reform, her ability to see both sides of a question, and her skill as a host. Tall, erect, and handsome, she made a striking impression with her white hair, blue eyes, and severe dark clothes, and she delighted the athletic Norwegians by swimming in the fjords and taking up skiing. She was a conscientious emissary, entertaining visiting Americans and touring the countryside to learn all she could about her host country, even going out with fishing boats north of the Arctic circle. A Christian Scientist, she worried secretary of state Cordell Hull by refusing medical attention when she fell ill with pneumonia.
Minister Harriman's first international crisis came in November 1939 when an American freighter, City of Flint, was seized by a German crew on the pretext that it was carrying contraband to England. Seeking to evade patrolling British warships, the Germans sailed it to the Norwegian port of Bergen. Daisy learned the whereabouts of the ship before the press could, and she negotiated the return of the City of Flint to the United States.
Because it was a neutral country, Norway was surprised by the German invasion in April of the following year. Two invading troop ships were sunk in the fjord, enabling King Haakon and his government to flee, with Daisy following behind, sometimes under fire, on roads crowded with refugees, pausing often to telephone reports to the U.S. minister to Sweden, Frederick Sterling. "How are you?" he anxiously asked the 69-year-old woman. "I've never been better in my life," she answered in her usual brisk manner. Secretary of State Hull cabled her: "I congratulate you on the courage, energy, and efficiency with which you are performing your duties under such trying and dangerous conditions. It is in the best traditions of our diplomatic service." Her military attaché, Captain Losey, after arguing strenuously for her to remain behind, had gone north without her to report on the evacuation of American dependents to Sweden, when he was killed. Daisy, who reached the Swedish border by sled after her car became stuck in the snow, waited in Stockholm for news of the whereabouts of the Norwegian government so she could join them.
When King Haakon and his government went into exile in London, they requested Daisy to accompany the Crown Princess Martha of Sweden and her children to the United States, as guests of President Roosevelt, who had met her on an earlier visit to Washington. An American transport was dispatched to Petsamo, in the extreme north of Finland, and Daisy oversaw the evacuation of nearly 900 American women and children.
Harriman campaigned again for Franklin Roosevelt in the 1940 election, served as vice-chair of the White Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies, to counter the desire of isolationists to stay out of the European war, and supported a postwar international organization. In 1941, she published a memoir of her experience in Norway, Mission to the North. After the war, she resumed entertaining; her political salon was rivaled only by that of Alice Roosevelt Longworth.
In 1953, Harriman's daughter Ethel Harriman Russell died of leukemia. In 1955, at age 84, Daisy Harriman led a parade through Washington, D.C., to protest "taxation without representation" in the nation's capital, whose citizens had no elected members of Congress. "It's time for another Boston tea party," this tireless champion of political rights wrote in a letter to The New York Times. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy awarded her the first Citation of Merit for Distinguished Service (the Presidential Medal of Freedom). Florence Harriman died of a stroke in Washington, D.C., at age 97. Throughout her long life, she had enjoyed what she described as "a box seat at the America of my times." It would be more accurate to say that she had been on stage for almost every act.
Harriman, Florence J. From Pinafores to Politics. NY: Henry Holt, 1923.
——. Mission to the North. Philadelphia, PA: J.B. Lippincott, 1941.
Correspondence and papers are located in the Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Kristie Miller author of Ruth Hanna McCormick: A Life in Politics 1880–1944 (University of New Mexico Press, 1992)