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Eliza Keese Willets

A Year in the Life of Eliza Keese Willets

Chronicled in her 1908 Diary

by Jennifer Wiggins, CNPHS Trustee

The Willets family was the second family to reside at “Homewood,” our Sands Willets House. The family consisted of Eliza “Lila”, her father Thomas, her Aunty Anna, her sister Anna “Nan”, Nan’s husband Edward Lapham following their marriage in February, and her grandfather, John Keese. Servants were also in residence as Lila mentions hiring cooks and maids from the Colored Mission in New York, a Quaker charitable organization.


There were often houseguests staying for a week or more, including Lila’s sorority sister from Swarthmore, Grace Stevenson, who lived with them most of that year and became engaged to Aron Wright Chapman, son of Marianna Wright Chapman of “Westover” in Sands Point. The impression is that 34-year old Lila had a happy secure family and an active social life with much coming and going of friends and relatives, including the Motts and Frasers.


There is not much mention of farm activities apart from the killing of pigs and making sausages and lard but she writes of planting her vegetable and flower gardens. There is a brief mention of the strike and arrests on the property they leased out to sand miners, stretching to Hempstead Harbor.















Lila frequently travelled to New York City or Brooklyn where the Willets had strong ties. She saw the first trolley came to town in 1908 and her father was invited to the opening ceremonies. Although Lila found the trolley  “strange,” the very next day she and Aunty were riding it to the train in Roslyn. She was much involved with charitable endeavors, particularly Nassau Hospital (now Winthrop) for which she organized a fundraising Musicale at “Homewood.” She attended regular sewing sessions at various homes to make items for the poor. Linen showers were held for both Nan and Grace, and Lila and Aunty attended meetings for Woman Suffrage. Alumni events at Swarthmore and Adelphi were also mentioned, as were opera and plays. Not all members of the household went to Meeting every Sunday but Locust Valley, Matinecock and Westbury were attended and there was usually visiting afterwards.


The family certainly moved with the times as they had a telephone, hired autos on occasion, and had friends who drove them. Otherwise they must have got about in a horse and buggy. Lila mentions playing tennis at Mrs. Coggeshall’s and golfing at the Flushing Country Club, and she and Aunty took physical culture classes, a popular activity of the time. She joined Nan and Edward who often went out on their sailboat, and went out on the 150’ Yacht “Kehtoh” with her friend, Louise, once spending the night aboard. There were clambakes and a trip to Greenport, and a week away at Buck Hill Falls in August. They hosted houseguests for an “auto house party” in October, then travelled to Hick’s Nursery for the race, which, given the date, may have been the first Vanderbilt Cup Race held on the newly opened Vanderbilt Parkway.











The year ended on a sad note when Grandfather Keese became ill with the grippe and died on December 29th at the age of 89. Nurses were engaged for his care and Dr. Wysong often made calls. The funeral and burial were held at the Manhasset Friends Meeting House on the 31st. Lila and Nan had lost a dear relative.


The year opens happily, however, as the family is preparing for Nan and Edward’s wedding at “Homewood.” Excerpts from January in Lila’s 1908 diary follow, and the remainder of the year’s entries can be read on our website at

[Errata have been retained in the transcription for authenticity.]

Eliza Keese Willets

at Swarthmore graduation

Excerpts from Eliza “Lila” Keese Willets’ 1908 Diary




5th Grandpa, Aunty and I went to meeting. Joe drove us. Nan and Edward proposals were read at meeting (Preparative) and are forwarded to the monthly meeting.


7th Went to N.Y. to Mission for a second girl. Went to 225 W. 30th St. N.Y. Colored Mission.


8th Aunty and Nan went to Flushing and ordered Nan’s going away suit, Father, Doug and Elbert cut up two pigs.


9th Jane came to make lard from our two pigs. Grandpa and I took 94lbs of sausage to be ground at the butcher.


10th Grandpa and I went for the sausage. I helped put it in bags(?) and jars. Mashed currants (8lbs) preparatory to making Nan’s wedding cake tomorrow.


11th Cornelia, Nan, Edward and I made the wedding cake. C, E and I took it to the P.W. Bakery to have it baked. One large cake and the rest for boxes.







14th Went to N.Y. Colored Mission and engaged Carrie Williams as second girl.


16th Sick with grippe. Grace proscribed asafotida 5 of 5gr pills at once, then one each hour for 12 times then 1 every 3 hrs until cured.


21st Mary Mewes and Bulah came. Mary to work for $16 per month.


22nd Patty gave Nan a beautiful “linen shower” this am.


25th Grandpa, Grace and I went to P.W., in sleigh to shop.


28th Aunty and I shopped bought my Maid of Honor dress. White(?) Crepe de Chine and lace.


29th Changed the telephone to 19L Port Washington. Have phone upstairs today.


31st Saw first trolley car past here.  First trolley passed the house at 2.30pm. Looked very queer.




1st Father went on the trolley as an invited guest with others this p.m. Two cars passed. Seems strange.


3rd Aunty and I went to Brooklyn by trolley to Roslyn. Went to N.Y. too. Came home on trolley for p.m. with Edward. It seemed very strange.


19th Had the front parlor swept today and (?) ready for the 22nd. Grace Nan, Edward and I put cake in boxes for wedding this eve.


21st This eve, Patty, Val, Can(?) and Kendall helped us decorate with Smilax for tomorrow.


22nd Nan’s wedding day. A lovely day. Nan calm and composed all day. Miss Monanhan came and dressed us and then staid with the presents. Everyone seemed to enjoy the day. Over eighty here. Nan and Edward left at 2.10 and will go direct to Ashville and then to Tryon, N.C. Had 28 for tea.


28th Aunty went in to attend Suffrage Tea at Mrs. Catt’s. Florence went with her.




2nd Grace and I took down wedding decorations in hall and parlors and cleaned up.


6th Miss Burtis, Mrs. Mitchell. Florence Parmelee came to sew for the poor this pm. We had a real social time. Grandpa and father sat in the room with us.


9th Mr. Eldridge came home before I left and we talked about raising money for Nassau Hospital. I am on the P.W. committee. Mr. Eldridge is chairman of the main committee.


10th I walked to Mrs. Munson’s where I had a pleasant call and then went to see Mrs. Hewlett and Miss Donalson.  Cousin Ida and Uncle Joe here for tea. The house at Sunnycroft is to be rented to Mr Linnen on the 23rd.

12th Heard first robin or rather saw first one. Piano was tuned this pm. Paid $3


14th  Kappa Kappa luncheon. Went to Phila. On 10 o’c train. Went direct to Belleview-Stratford Hotel where at 1.30 we held an alumni meeting and at 2.20 had luncheon. Fifty two present. 34 old girls.


20th Sewing Society met here in Nan’s room.


21st Grace and I went to N.Y. on 8.07 train. Went straight to Chic’s office and he went to opticians with us to have Grace’s glasses fixed. Went to meet Chas, and Chic at Knickerbocker Hotel for lunch. They took us to the opera and we were delighted with Farrar in La Traviata. Had 5 o’clock tea late at Belmont Hotel.


26th Mary, Grace and I went to the kindergarten this a.m. and to N.Y. to the Aquarium.


30th Went begging for the hospital this p.m.


31st Nan and I went to Aunt Lilabeth Whitson’s funeral at Flushing this p.m. New cook, Esther Brown, came this p.m.



3rd Attended Alumni Meeting at Adelphi


4th Father had some cedar trees put in the corner of the orchard and by our gate. I supervised the planting of the latter.


11th Went to Nassau Hospital Reception this a.m. I saw the new service building for the first time.


12th Patty, Val and children came to tea in Nan’s apartment. We all went up and enjoyed their first supper party.


16th I went out begging for the Hospital this p. m.


19th Found Charles, Will and Chic here on our return (from Meeting) working on the Reo which has been here since Nov. They fixed it up with a little advice from M. Walter Lapham and departed at 6.30. Chas. telephoned at 8.45 to say they had been home 20 minutes.


22nd Went to Ossining for the night. Saw a play “The Little Rebel” in which May took a part this p.m. Had a “Tea” given in my and Mrs. William’s honor at Mrs. Hart’s.


23rd Planted in vegetable garden this p.m.




2nd Aunty went to Arbor Day exercises at Children’s Home this p.m.


3rd ...talked autos most all the eve. with Effingham.


4th This p.m. took the 2.40 trolley to P.W. Called to solicit cake and candy from a number.


5th This p.m. Grandpa and I went to Hicks nursery for pear trees and Ampleopsis, two Eng. ivies and hardy plants for my garden.




8th Went to cake and candy sale at Baxter’s Store this p.m. Benefit of Nassau Hospital. We made $50 much to our surprise and pleasure.


15th Called on Mrs. Hewlett and Mrs. Hyde this p.m. Former gave me $45 more for Hospital.


16th Went to Kinder Garten Alumni luncheon at Mohawk. Met Miss Aubrey this a.m. at Adelphi to see about my picture for Entertainment a week from now. Am to be Priscilla.


18th Many men arrested this morning at the sand banks. The strikers have been very persistent.


19th Uncle Tom, Patty and Martha stopped in the auto and took me to Central Park. L.I. Enjoyed the ride. Went to Rockville Center to see Maude and Dot this p.m. Took trolley which runs every half hour each way.


21st Frank helped set out geraniums.


25th Ramsauer started bathroom in Nan’s old room today.


26th Grandpa and I went out driving again this p.m. Dropping off tickets for our Musicale.


30th At 11 a.m. Father, Edith, Jim and I went out in Capt. Jack’s boat. It was very rough.


31st Father hired an auto from Garden City and he, Edith and I went to Oyster Bay.




6th At the close of our Entertainment in the form of a Musicale for the benefit of Nassau Hospital we made $90. Program in back of diary.

7th  This eve by moonlight we had another auto ride.


8th Went to Swarthmore. Saw “As You Like It” on the campus by the senior class.


9th Alumni Day. Attended the functions at college today, enjoyed meeting old friends. ‘93 had 15th reunion this eve and had a table in Gymnasium. 23-25 of our class back, counting husbands and wives.


13th Went with Aunty to Mineola this a.m. to two meetings. Had lunch at Children’s Home. We went to Baldwin this p.m. to a Suffrage meeting at Mrs. Craig’s. I went on and paid Maud with a short call at R. Center.


18th Jessie and I went to the League this p.m. to hear practicing for Sat. when corner stone of Nurses’ Home will be laid.


19th In Flushing. Jessie and I went out to the Country Club with Mr. Eugene Wright and went round the golf course once with him. We did not play.


21st Nan and Edward went out in their boat this p.m.


27th This p.m. Nan, Irene, Florence Parmalee and I went on the Ida with Edward and had a sail. Coming in we ran on ground.


29th Tied flowers for Sunshine Society.


30th Aunty, Nan and I went to a sewing at Westover this a.m. Nan staid for lunch. Grandpa, Grace and I picked currants at Cousin Mattie Willets this p.m.




4th Mr. and Mrs. Lapham came out on 7 a.m. train. They went sailing with E.N., Sue and Martha. Returned late this eve. Aunty and I went to clam bake on Mr. Lippincott’s shore and lawn.


5th Daniel and Henry Underhill here for tea.


6th Grace and I went to NY she to shop and I to look for cook. Found one. To be out tomorrow. Ellen Louise Nicoll.


7th Martha’s 17th birthday. Celebrated it by Father’s taking Aunty, Grace, Sue, Martha and me in 23’ on the water. Capt. Jack and a mate took us out. Had clam bake in Cold Spring Harbor. Lovely day.


16th Went to sewing at Mrs. Lippincott’s. Bessie, Florence and I went to play tennis at Mrs. Coggeshall’s this p.m.


17th Aunty, Nan, Bessie and I went out on the Kehtoh this p.m. and others on board. Miss Monahan, Grace and I went to the Fair at P.W. this eve.


18th Grandpa, Grace, Bessie, Florence Parmalee and I went to Westover, Florence and B played tennis w. Mr. Downes and Wright.


20th Went to NY and found a cook at the Colored Mission. Sarah. Hope she will prove good.


24th Took Grandpa on the trolley to Mineola.


25th Aunty, Nan, Mrs. Purdy and I went to Quarterly Meeting at Westbury. Poured tea during lunch hour. Mrs. G. Clack poured coffee. Henry Haviland read a fine paper this a.m. Aunty and I returned alone. Wright here for tea.


26th Father went out in motorboat. Nan, Edward and I went sailing with Ida for the day.


28th Went to Flushing to play golf with Mr. Eugene Wright. Jessie was my caddie.




1st Were ready to start for shore to go to see the motor boat race at Huntingdon Harbor but Father telephoned. Capt. Jack thought it blew too much and would be too rough so we staid home.















2nd Nan, Grace, Bess, Chic and Edward went sailing this a.m. Came home to dinner this p.m. Grace staid home and Florence and I went with the other three. Had an exciting time as our bow sprit was broken off by a motor boat running into us. Wright here to tea.


3rd Grace left for a month visit back home. Aunty and I went to Miss Law’s delsoit(?) class at Mr. Fraser’s this a.m. at 10. Nan did up blackberries. Charlotte and children here this a.m.


4th Went to Greenport. Aunty and I left Mineola on the 9.16 train for Greenport. Had dinner and are to stay at The Clock House. Had a lovely trip to Shelter Island this p.m. Drove to South Ferry and different hotels. Called on Cousin Joe Townsend this eve.


5th Rested this a.m. and at 2.30 Aunty and I started for Orient Point with a nice team and Mr. Young to drive us. Called on Mabel Young Mattise but she was out. Talked with her on the phone this eve.


6th Aunty and I returned from our lovely trip to Greenport just before six. Surprised the family. Lorraine came with Edward. She is to spend a month with us.


10th Aunty and I attended the physical culture class this a.m. at Mr. Fraser’s and the sewing in the afternoon. Nan and I took trolley to East Williston this p.m. and called upon (or tried to) Annie Titus and Jessie Wright. They were out. Called on Cousin Hannah Hicks, Miss Rachel and Julie.


11th This p.m. Aunty, Lorraine and I went to Glen Cove in auto of Mr. Remsen’s which Father hired for us. Called on Mary Shotwell and found Margaret Wright and Margaret Moores there. Asked them to come over for dinner tomorrow.


17th Came to Buck Hill Falls on 2 o’c train. Shall spend a week with Charlotte and children and Henry part of the time in Sylvan Lodge. Took tea at the Inn.


18th Had breakfast in the cottage and supper and dinner at the Inn. Went for a drive with Uncle Joe this p.m. and had a lovely time seeing the country.




25th Cake sale at the Baxter Store for Nassau Hospital. Made $25.








26th Went to Great Neck on the 1.28 train am to spend the night on the Kehtoh.


27th Had the loveliest time on the Kehtoh last night. Cousin Louise, Miss Hooker, Miss Reynolds and I made up the party. Came home on 2.48 train. Jessie here, came yesterday and will spend a week. Cousin Sherwood and Ida, Henry and Fred here this p.m. Wright took Grace and Jessie for a ride.


28th Frances Whitson came this a.m. and she, Aunty, Jessie and I went to lunch with Mary Chapman and Miss Lanst(?). Aunty and I first attended the physical culture class.


30th This eve we had an informal party of 23 in all here. Played a guessing game and later, cards. It was especially to have the Misses Wysong here from WVa.




1st Aunty and I went to Nassau Hospital this a.m. to see Cousin Lella(?). Power gave out coming home. Aunty, Frances, Jessie and I went to see Cousin Louise this p.m. She comes off the Kehtoh tomorrow so we did not see her but saw the gardens.


3rd Called at Mrs. Fraser then went on to The Old House. Walked on Gould wall before dark.


4th Grace went sailing with Wright. Will took Father, Jessie and I for auto ride.


6th Went to Westover.





7th Invited Florence to go to auto race on Saturday.


8th Went to NY for a maid. Brought Ermie Robb home and hope she will stay as I like her.


9th Went to Florence Parmelee’s this p.m. to a piazza party.


10th Father, Florence Parmelee and I went to the auto race at Cock’s Corner.


11th Cousin Jim and Annie here for tea. Grace told us of her engagement.


12th Aunty left for Buffalo this a.m. to attend Suffrage Convention.


13th Wright’s birthday. Grace went to Westover to be at the dinner. W. brought her back  his eve. Lovely to see them so happy.


14th Wright came for supper. He and G drove down to the Fraser’s and The Old House to tell of the engagement.


18th Grace spent day with Wright. They were here for tea.


21st Lily Biddle came at 1.49 to be here for the auto race seventh day a.m. Took some notes asking Grace’s friends for articles for the linen shower to be on Nov. 2nd.


23rd Auto house party. Lily and I took lunch at Mott’s Pt. Pattie and Cam(?) there. Collie and Fannie, Jessie Wright, Charles, Will and Chick arrived in time for supper. A jolly good crowd!


24th Auto Race. Up at 4 o’c. Chic aroused the house. Rained. Will took Father, Lily, Jessie and me in his car. Collie took Fannie, Charles and Chic in his. We went to Hick’s Nursery and like it there. Mr. and Mrs. W. Lapham came up at 4 o’c to be with us and then we lost them on the way up here for supper.




25th Grandpa and Grace were driven to meeting by Lily. Will took Jessie, Chas, Chic and me to Glen Cove and Locust Valley for an auto ride. This p.m. he took Lil, Jessie, Chas and Chic to O.B. to see President Roosevelt’s house.




2nd Linen shower for Grace. Cousin Louise and Miss Hooker came over this a.m. for dinner and the linen shower this p.m. Nineteen of us in all the p.m. to see Grace enjoy her linen articles. Cousin Noah, Mary Wright and Howard here for supper.


16th Met Aunty at Lord and Taylor and she bought Dutchess Lace for Grace’s wedding present. Bought a suit for myself at Bonwit, Harris and Co. Green trimmed with black.


21st Uncle and I went to NY on 9.18 train.  Attended NY Alumni luncheon at Adelphi.






26th Thanksgiving Day. Seventeen of us took dinner here.


28th Went to New Haven to visit Susie and Philip until third day.




3rd Spent the day in NY. Brought a girl home but do not expect to keep her.


4th Went to Phila. on 10 a.m. train. Met Grace at Wanamaker’s at 12 and talk was mostly about Wright! ace expects to meet him tomorrow.


6th At Swarthmore.


7th Left Lansdowne 10.10 a.m. and reached home at 3.15. Found Grandpa sick with grippe. Spent rest of p.m. with him. Miss Wood, nurse, came this eve. to help take care of him.


8th Grandpa better. Dr.Wysong came this a.m. to see him. He dressed before dinner. Staid in his room all day.


9th Grandpa had a bad night. He was up this a.m. cutting pictures when the Dr. came. Tried to cut more this p.m. but could not. He became very unsettled this p.m. after 3.30 and was so until he went to bed soon after six. His mind affected. Cough loose. Miss Wood went to PW for good sleep.


10th to 14th Nurses, doctors visit. Sometimes came downstairs and wanted to get dressed.


14th Grandpa had a good night. Slept about 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. I went in at 3 and again at 6. Miss Wood slept some. Nan and my fur coats, mittens and robe came today from three Rivers, Michigan.


16th Grandpa a little more quiet.


17th Grandpa seems a little clearer this a.m. Had a pretty good night. Met Miss Reynolds at 6.30 p.m. She has come to take Miss Perry’s place. Tied up a few Xmas gifts this p.m. Fixed up my window box. Woman making lard as we killed pigs this week. 3 pigs.


18th Snowed last night. Staid indoors all day. Directed Xmas cards.


19th to 24th Grandpa quiet and weak. Dr. Wysong spent over an hour with him. Looking for untrained nurse to help.


29th Grandpa passed quietly away at 3.30 a.m. Miss Reynolds called me at 12.30 and I called Nan. We went in and sat by him until he was called to our Heavenly Father. The dear, sweet grandfather, how we shall miss him.


31st The year closes for us with taking dear Grandfather to Manhasset meeting house for the last time. The funeral was a little after two p.m. One side of the meeting was opened and just about filled up. Was very hard for Nan and me after all these years. We have been with him so much. Miss Mary Navilla(?) spoke very beautifully.

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