“Pants and All, She’s Still My Wife”: 1906

NIECE OF MCKINLEY HEROINE OF ROMANCE

Hides in Philippine Transport on Which Husband is Being Carried to Post of Duty—First Met Him While Teaching School in Oriental Island.

Des Moines, Iowa, Nov. 22 From possible mistress of the White House to a starving stowaway on a dirty transport is the startling transformation which love worked in the life of Miss Grace McKinley, niece of the late President McKinley. She is now the wife of Captain Grayson Villard Heidt, until recently of the Eleventh Cavalry.

It is a strange story which is being unfolded at Fort Des Moines, where the gallant captain and his distinguished bride were married last July with impressive military ceremony. It is a tale of love and heroism, in which the pretty niece of the martyred President showed the stuff of which she was made, a will which did not balk even when it was matched against the iron determination of President Roosevelt himself.

The story has leaked out at the army post in military social circle gossip. The girl bride of Captain Heidt herself told the story in a letter which she wrote to friends at the post from Honolulu.

When Miss McKinley became the bride of Captain Heidt it was with the expectation of spending the honeymoon with the gallant captain in America. Well did she know the stern realities of life which an army officer’s bride must face.  Her own experience was proof of that.

Refused to Live in White House.

When Miss McKinley was only 3 years old her father, James McKinley, a brother of the President, died. She was educated at Mount Holyoke College and when still a student there visited President McKinley at the White House. The stately girl was asked to remain. Prospects of social leadership as practical mistress of the White House, with the President’s invalid wife, was offered her. She declined. She wanted to be a school teacher, to be independent, to make her own place in the world. The President urged her to remain, but in vain. She turned her back on social triumphs in Washington and became a teacher in the Philippines.

It was while she was visiting her brother, Captain James McKinley, on the Island of Jolo, that she met Captain Heidt. It was love at first sight, but the captain told the girl that the tropics was no place for a woman and that the must postpone the wedding until their return to America. And so it was that the wedding was solemnized at Fort Des Moines.

Hardly had the wedding bells been run when all their plans for a honeymoon were spoiled. Captain Heidt received immediate orders to go to the Philippines. Miss McKinley might have used her influence to have the order changed, but she was a soldier’s wife and did not intend to use the prestige of her name to influence the war department.

Determined to Follow Husband.

But she plans of her own. Thought she remembered her lover’s opinion of the Philippines as a place for women, she secretly determined to accompany him. Arriving at Seattle, Mrs. Heidt overcame the captain’s scruples and he agreed if arrangements could be made he would not oppose her visit to the Philippines. The President’s niece appealed to the captain of the transport Dix, upon which her husband was to sail, for permission to accompany him. She was respectfully referred to rules expressly forbidding any woman to travel on the transport Dix or any transport used for the carrying of horses. Nothing daunted, the girl appealed to the quartermaster general for a special permit in her case. General Humphrey said he could do nothing.

Still undismayed the military bride sent an urgent telegram to Secretary of War Taft. She also enlisted the services of old friends of the late President in her efforts to obtain the desired order. There was still “nothing doing.” In a last desperate effort she asked President Roosevelt to grant the desired permission. The President was firm—the war department’s rules could not be changed to satisfy a woman’s whim. Powerful Ohio friends of President McKinley also added their pleas, but without success. To make sure that the order should not be violated the President directed the captain of the transport Dix to keep a special lookout to see that Mrs. Heidt did not transgress the department’s ironclad rules.

Captain Heidt accepted the inevitable and his bride apparently did so also. He kissed her good-bye on the day of sailing and hurried aboard the Dix to escape a breakdown. An hour before sailing a dashing cavalry officer, slight of build but with a military air, clambered aboard in full regimentals.

Found in Coal Bunker

Three days later sailors and stokers, shoveling fuel from the ship’s bunkers, discovered a bedraggled figure hidden behind the biggest coal pile. The figure wore a uniform and was apparently a stowaway who was anxious to get to the Philippines. Up on deck the unwilling stowaway was dragged into the presence of the transport’s captain.

“Off you go at the first port, Honolulu!” thundered the captain.

At that moment, Captain Heidt came up on deck. He looked at the sorry appearing figure in the uniform for just a moment, but he glance was sufficient. In a moment the two were clasped in a fond embrace.

“Pants and all,” said the captain, “she’s my wife and I don’t care who knows it.”

Then the truth came out. Mrs. Heidt as soon as she had cast off the uniform and was more becomingly attired in female toggery, told her story. She was still weak from hunger, but happy over all. She confessed then that when the President had peremptorily refused permission to accompany her husband she had determined to go anyway.  So she had borrowed one of his uniforms.

In the meantime she visited him often on the transport and at every visit hid away flasks of water, canned salmon, hard tack and other delicacies. She had just exhausted her supply of food when discovered. She had come aboard just prior to the ship’s sailing and stowed away with the aid of a sailor whom she had rewarded liberally.

All this the President’s niece has confessed in a letter she wrote from Honolulu after the transport landed. The war department has begun an investigation. But Mrs. Grace McKinley Heidt is happy on her honeymoon, though she does have to spend it in the Philippines.  Muskegon [MI] Chronicle 22 November 1906: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil does so like a happy ending. So much nicer than the likely scenario of young Mrs Heidt’s skeleton, picked clean by rats, being found behind a coal pile. It is interesting to observe that Mrs Heidt was not willing to use the prestige of her name to rescind her husband’s orders, yet she worked her way up the military command all the way to the President to allow her to sail on the transport. Then, too, the lady was already living in the Philippines when she first met her husband who high-handedly proclaimed that “the tropics was no place for a woman.” One senses the hastily elided racial prefix; the tropics are full of indigenous women, who were doing just fine, thank you, until these dashed foreigners came along.

Mrs Daffodil would have not have given tuppence for a union with such a master, but the marriage endured until Mrs Heidt’s death in 1943. She was widely known and respected as an educator. Oddly, when searching for an image of the lady, the only photo-gravures to be found are those of her husband, who looks a bit of a stick, but his obituary emphasises his good humour and happy marriage. The obituary also suggests a reason for the Captain’s prejudice against the tropics: he contracted amoebic dysentery in the Philippines, from which he never fully recovered.

Missy Bates, Mrs Heidt’s grand-niece very kindly sent a photo-gravure of Grace McKinley Heidt. Many thanks, Missy!

Grace McKinley Heidt

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

 

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3 thoughts on ““Pants and All, She’s Still My Wife”: 1906

  1. Missy Bates

    I am the great niece of Grace McKinley Heidt. “Heidt” is my middle name. I have a photo of Grace and another of her daughter and husband, but can’t seem to find how I could send it to you. Let me know how and I will.
    Missy Bates

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  2. Pingback: Home from the Wedding Tour: 1902 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

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