The Governor’s Race
While Aimée was a woman with a pyrotechnic past and effervescent spirits, sister Jennie was of a more subdued temperament. She was cut from the same gown as her philanthropic mother, Margaret. Hers would be a prosaic, socially conscious, politically active life after marrying the Honorable Jacob Sloat Fassett in 1879. Jacob was a lawyer, New York state senator, congressman (1905-1911), industrialist and Republican politician of national stature. He was the secretary of the National Republican Committee from 1888 to 1891 and was the keynote speaker of the 1892 GOP convention.
On September 9, 1891, at the state convention held in Rochester, Fassett became the nominee for Governor of New York on the Republican ticket. The young, cocksure Fassett, aged 37, went head-to-head with the corrupt Democrats of Tammany Hall. The hall began innocently as a social club, but drifted into politics and graft. It acquired a lock on elections in the city, and its bosses protected crime and vice in Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs.
Fassett was hailed as “the young plumed hunter knight of New York” and “the fearless hunter of the Tammany tiger,” as well as, “a brilliant leader, a fair fighter, an incorruptible legislator, a tireless worker, a most-agreeable gentleman, and a true friend.” The Buffalo Commercial wrote, “No man was ever nominated for Governor by any party who was better equipped in every way for the position.”
His battles with the Tammany tiger began a year earlier with the Fassett Investigation (or Fassett Committee), a probe by the New York State Senate into political corruption, favoritism and blackmail in the City of New York. Testimony revealed substantial payoffs between Tammany Hall “Chieftain” Richard Croker’s and his associates and Mayor Hugh Grant. Republican and Tammany commissioners alike were shown to have winked at the abuses as did the Police Department. The testimony ran to over 3650 printed pages. However, it brought no indictments or convictions.
A parallel campaign against Tammany Hall was spearheaded by a very energetic Presbyterian minister named Charles H. Parkhurst, who was elected president of the New York Society for the Prevention of Crime in 1891. The preacher recognized that Tammany Hall, the police, and organized crime were interconnected. Parkhurst formed a society of moral crusaders, including a team of detectives who took the reverend on a tour of New York’s fleshpots, everything from opium dens to dirt-floored “stale beer” joints to a whorehouse where the reverend and an oversensitive congregant watched naked women play a game of leapfrog.
“While we fight iniquity, they shield and patronize it; while we try to convert criminals, they manufacture them,” declared the zealous Parkhurst from the pulpit.
During the campaign, Jennie remarked that she was a woman “devoted to [my] children, in love with [my] husband… [which is] a little unusual in these days of woman’s individuality.” A woman’s dependence on man, she believed, “developed the chivalry in man’s nature.” To place women on the right path, she advocated early marriage and refused to discuss political subjects “on the grounds that I have a competent representative in my husband. My duty is to my home.” Jennie took pride in being a “womanly woman,” which to her meant being a person “content and secure with the idolatry of man’s love and the security of his protection.”
Tammany’s candidate, Roswell Pettibone Flower, campaigned that Fassett was the arch enemy and foe of labor who continued to delay a rapid transit bill and was instrumental in New York losing its bid to host the 1893 World’s Fair to Chicago. Roswell claimed that Fassett took $100,000,000 out of the pockets of the people of Harlem. He maintained that the Republicans feared that Democrats in New York City would control the fair and after that the presidential election and ordered it sent West.
Another key issue during the campaign was the “Blue Laws” preventing bars from serving alcohol on Sundays. Tammany was decidedly against them. Fassett moved to limit the Sunday privilege to places with hotel licenses. Some Republicans suggested giving local principalities the option. Many other Republicans feared that a large element of the people in the country would regard any attempt to give New York County the option of whether saloons should be open or not on Sunday, would be the first step toward a desecration of the Christian Sabbath.
Fassett (and Parkhurst) lost. He attributed his defeat by 45,000 votes to bribery and corruption. New York City, aka Sin City, the vice capital of the United States with 8,000 saloons and 30,000 prostitutes, voted for Tammany.
On October 29, 1900, then New York State Governor Theodore Roosevelt was in Elmira on a stop on his Vice Presidential campaign. While riding in a carriage with Jacob Sloat Fassett, a mob of about 100 people pelted them with rotten eggs, vegetables, and the “vilest epithets.”
Had Fassett been chosen as running mate by William McKinley in 1900 as promised, he would have been the one to go to the White House upon McKinley’s death. Instead that honor was bestowed to Theodore Roosevelt. So the story goes…
A woman of unusual dignity and intellectual attainments, Mrs. Fassett was a capable partner of her husband in his rise to influence in business and politics. Traveling frequently to Washington, D.C. to accompany her husband, Jennie became an advocate and a substantial contributor to national organizations devoted to the elimination of child labor and the promotion of child labor legislation.
The woman behind the man, sister Jennie, was a respected leader in civic affairs in Elmira. She was a member of the Elmira Chapter of the New York State Suffrage Party, the Director of the local Chamber of Commerce and the Founder of the Federation for Social Services. Under her leadership many health and social welfare service agencies in the community were developed. In 1907, Jennie helped in the construction of the Federation Building which sheltered civic clubs, provided a small dance hall, swimming pool, community laundry, a cafeteria, a gymnasium, a fully equipped theater, day care services and housing for single women. During the late 1920s, Mrs. Fassett donated funds to Elmira College’s Fassett Commons Dining Hall and the Hamilton Library. Jennie was a trustee from 1911 to 1939 and was bestowed the degree of doctor of humane letters in 1933, in recognition of her long and devoted service to Elmira College.
Unlike her younger sister, Jennie married a stable, remarkable, accomplished man and had a fulfilling home life. The Fassetts had eight children. Six made it to adulthood. They built a 53-room grand mansion, the showcase of the city of Elmira, NY in 1896. The “Strathmont,” set on 47 acres, featured a theater and stage on the third floor, a secret staircase and a nine hole golf course. Many Elmirans learned the social graces at a dancing school conducted at Strathmont. In 1917, Jacob and Jennie, built a summer home called Greycourt on the north shore of West Falmouth harbor, across from Chapoquoit Island. There they staged many a lovely family gathering.
The Fassetts went on many excursions including a 1912 visit to Korea, where they were among the first Westerners welcomed by the Royal Court. These travels inspired Jennie to collect Korean ceramics, fine jade, ivory and sculpture, which were all later gifted to the Crocker Art Museum’s permanent collection. A champion of the struggling Crocker Art Museum, Jennie contributed $10,000 in 1911 toward the City of Sacramento’s purchase of the former Crocker family home to provide additional gallery and office space.
After retiring from politics, Jacob Fassett was active in many business enterprises. He was the principal owner of the stock of the Second National Bank of Elmira, NY. He prospected and supervised gold mines in Korea for the Oriental Consolidated Mining Corporation, and held lumber interests in the Philippines and Canada. He was the president of the Insular Lumber Company with offices in Manila. He was the proprietor of the Elmira Daily Advertiser and a partner in the Standard Typewriter Company. This company would develop and manufacture the Corona 3 folding portable typewriter, launched in 1912. By the time production of this model ended, in 1941, 692,500 had been made. At $50 a typewriter, sales had totaled $34 million.
Jacob Sloat Fassett was a club man, a life member in all of the local Masonic bodies, including Ivy Lodge, St. Omer Commandery, Knights Templar, Corning Consistory, and the Scottish Rite Masons, where he reached the 32nd degree. Like his brother-in-law, Harry, Jacob was a member of the Larchmont Yacht Club.
During World War II, the United States liberty ship SS Jacob Sloat Fassett was named in his honor.
Sadly, the gulf between the lifestyles of Aimée and her closest blood relative was too wide. The generous, civic minded and ultraconservative Congressman’s wife and ultra-Bohemian, independent Aimée became estranged. Jennie did exactly what heiresses should do: marry well, donate, endow and bequeath. Aimée chose a different path. While there were reports of gifts to charities, and while Aimée was a renowned lover of children and animals, the great gifts that she endowed were far rarer treasures: her unshakable joie de vivre, her spirit of adventure, her knowledge of foreign lands, cultures and religions, and her inspiring eccentricities. Aimée was like Tammany, a tigress who wouldn’t be tamed.