Gabrielle Greeley

Gabrielle Greeley

By Grey Williams

This photograph, taken in the early summer of 1872, is one of many taken when photographers and illustrators descended in hordes upon Horace Greeley, seeking to satisfy insatiable public curiosity about the presidential candidate and his family. It is an evidently posed portrait of his two surviving children, daughters Ida and Gabrielle, aged 23 and 15. Ida lowers her eyes modestly toward the basket of flowers before her. Gabrielle, by contrast, gazes directly, perhaps even a little defiantly, at the camera.

On the back of the photograph, Gabrielle wrote, “This is…a picture my father loved to show his friends the last year of his life. It has written underneath `The Lion and the Lamb’ my sister’s gentle nature being the lamb.”

Horace Greeley’s characterization of his daughters was droll but somewhat unfair. Ida was the quieter of the two, but evidence indicates that she was both self-assured and competent. Gabrielle may have seemed more outgoing and assertive, but she was never known to be fierce or short-tempered. She may have been more accurate when she offered her own self-assessments in “mental photographs”—album pages recording personal tastes and values—that she filled out in 1870 and 1880. In answer to the question, “What do you believe to be your distinguishing characteristics?” she first replied, “Ambition and Firmness,” and then simply, “Independence.” But she did not mention the qualities by which she was most widely remembered by those who knew her—her kindness and generosity.

The Orphaned Sisters

Horace Greeley House
Horace Greeley House, headquarters of the New Castle Historical Society. Courtesy Gray Williams.

Within a few months after their joint photograph was taken, Ida and Gabrielle were left orphans. Their mother, Mary Cheney Greeley, died on October 30, 1872, after a long period of ill health. Horace Greeley collapsed, physically and mentally, about two weeks later, and died on November 29. The family had been living at their summer home in Chappaqua, the house on King Street that is now the museum and headquarters of the New Castle Historical Society. Following their parents’ deaths, the daughters moved back to New York City for the winter. They may have lived with their aunt, Esther Cleveland, Horace Greeley’s sister and the wife of New-York Tribune executive John Cleveland.