William Eustis served as the personal secretary to General Pershing during the First World War.
As the United States felt the toll of another world war, Morton Eustis left the comforts of home to serve his country. Receiving his Army Air Corps commission in 1942, he was stationed in North Africa doing primarily desk work. However, Morton continued to push for combat roles, knowing that at age 36, he had very much surpassed the 28-year mark typically admitted into the infantry. What drove Morton to strive for combat?
Morton came from a well-connected family. His grandfather was former Vice President Levi P. Morton of New York. His father, William Corcoran Eustis, served as personal secretary to General Pershing during World War I. One would think he had all the connections necessary to keep him out of harms way, but Morton chose to join the fray. Under George Patton’s 2nd Armored Division, known as, “Hell on Wheels”, Morton got his wish.
From the front of a tank, no doubt, Morton’s memories of pleasant times spent in the Virginia countryside at Oatlands grew more precious. In his letters home, he recounts swimming in the pool and playing the organ at the old abandoned church. In one letter, he paints a vivid picture of fitting 162 men into a space the size of the drawing room at Oatlands!
June 6, 1944 marks the D-Day invasion, when over 156,000 American, British, and Canadian troops executed a critical turning point for the war. After participating in the Sicilian campaign, Morton was sent to England for cross-channel training—one week after D-Day—and was immediately thrown in to defend the Cotentin Peninsula.
Morton participated in the liberation of Avranches in July of 1944. As the Division progressed, they made their way to Domfront, France where, on August 13, 1944, Morton was killed by enemy fire. In his pocket, a casual photograph of the President, with the inscription on the back that read, “From his old friend Franklin Roosevelt.”
Among his commendations, Morton Eustis is the recipient of a Silver Star medal and a Purple Heart. Today, a memorial stands near where Morton fell while leading his platoon between St. Mars and Domfront, France. This tribute to the French resistance has a plaque that reads, “To American Lt. Eustis. Killed in the liberty of the people.” Morton was buried in Normandy and there is a cenotaph in his memory at Oak Hill Cemetery, in Washington D.C. that reads, “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.”
It’s no surprise that when Edith Eustis settled in at Oatlands and the time came to decide on the education of her young daughters, she embraced the pioneering teaching ethics of Charlotte Haxall Noland and the Foxcroft School, in nearby Middleburg, Virginia.
Edith was the daughter of Vice President Levi Parsons Morton—who served under 23rd President Benjamin Harrison. Her mother was the beloved Second Lady of the United States, Anna Livingston Morton. Mrs. Morton handled the entertaining duties of the administration, due to First Lady Caroline Harrison’s poor health and eventual death. Edith was raised with a great emphasis on education. She was an accomplished musician, playing a variety instruments, spoke several languages, and was a woman of society.
Miss Noland, an acquaintance of the family, was an avid athlete, attending the Sargent School of Physical Education at Harvard and Oxford University. In 1914, she founded Foxcroft School. Foxcroft was—and continues to be—a boarding school for girls that embraces sports as part of the curriculum. Noland strongly believed in the importance of athletic activity and chose the Latin phrase, “mens sana in corpore sano,” meaning, “a healthy mind in a healthy body” as the school’s motto.
Miss Noland appears in letters written to Margaret while she was a Foxcroft student. The Oatlands archives has a picture of Babs Eustis photographed with her basketball team; a sport Miss Noland introduced to the girls at Foxcroft.
Like Oatlands Historic House and Gardens, Foxcroft School continues to stand as a pillar of the Loudoun County community.
Now, more than ever, we rely on the care and compassion of medical professionals and essential workers. Citizens are banding together (separately!) to support these individuals by sewing masks, donating blood, and sending donations. It puts us in mind of our Margaret…
When the United States entered World War II, millions of Americans served their country by performing both civilian and military jobs left vacant by those fighting on the front lines. One such woman answering the call was Mrs. Margaret Eustis Finley, whose family owned Oatlands as their country estate from 1903-1964.
No stranger to volunteerism, Margaret and her siblings were taught early to give back to their communities, and beyond. Margaret’s own mother, Edith Morton Eustis, served as president of the first Ambulance Red Cross Equipment Society of New York in the late 1890’s, and even gave French lessons to American soldiers in World War I. It was only natural that Margaret followed the example set by her mother.
Margaret (who became Mrs. Finley in 1931) began volunteering with the D.C. chapter of the American Red Cross in 1939, eventually flexing her leadership ability as a member of its board of directors. As the United States entered the second World War, Mrs. Finley led the Camp and Hospital Service of the American Red Cross District chapter. This role encompassed Fort Belvoir, Bolling Field, Fort Washington and some outlying camps in Virginia.
After the war, Finley continued serving at the District’s Red Cross headquarters in various capacities, such as chairman of the blood donor recruitment committee. Balancing this and other projects, such as her involvement with the National Gallery of Art with her husband David E. Finley, who served as its first director.
Having lived her life with an altruistic spirit, Mrs. Finley received several accolades. Among them, in 1952, she was the first woman to receive the “Citizen of the Month” award from the D.C. Department of the American Legion. Following her death in 1977, she was the recipient of the Mabel Boardman Award, the highest honor given by the D.C. chapter of the American Red Cross.
Her legacy continues to inspire the visitors of Oatlands Historic House and Gardens and we look forward to sharing more.
Following the announcement of their engagement in 1900, William Corcoran Eustis, and Edith Morton experienced an avalanche of congratulatory letters. One in particular caught our eye.
The author of the letter seems sentimental, referencing a poem, the final line of which is, “love is best.” Who could this romantic be?
Is that what it looks like? You better believe it! Edith received a sweet letter from then Governor of New York, Theodore Roosevelt.
Edith enjoyed impeccable connections; her father, Levi P. Morton, served as the 22nd Vice President under Benjamin Harrison.
While we certainly agree with Teddy’s sentiment that, “Nothing in the world in any way compares with happy love”, finding letters like these comes close!
See the complete letter below:
Dear Miss Morton, March 25, 1900
You have touched and pleased me very much by writing me of your engagement; will you think me very old-fashioned if I say, of your great happiness? Nothing in the world in any way compares with happy love. Do you know or care for Browning’s “Love among the Ruins”? Give my warm regards and heartiest congratulations to Mr. Eustis. I feel as though I were fairly well acquainted with the whole Eustis family. Indeed, if by any possibility I can, I shall be at your wedding. Mrs. Roosevelt is away in Cuba, whither she has gone with a very nice Louisiana fellow, John McIlhenny, a lieutenant in my regiment, in her train[?].
Governor Roosevelt illustrates his own interesting affiliations when he mentions his close friend, and fellow Rough Rider, John McIlhenny. If this name appears familiar, take note when next you see a bottle of Tabasco sauce.
Part of the joy in reading the family letters within the Eustis Archive at Oatlands is getting a feel for who these people were and how they lived their lives.
Morton is not merely a face in a photo album; he is a melodramatic teenager, excited to share his school adventures in North Carolina with his sister in April, 1918.
(No snakes were harmed in the making of this blog.)
Dear Margey. April 25, 1918.
Thank you so much for your very nice long letter which I recieved this morning. Today I did something which I have never done before. I killed a snake. It was a deadly poisnesous one. about 1 ½ ft long. I had a shovel with me when I saw him and ⌃a coloured man who was near stuck it down on its tail and it rose right up and struck at the shovel. It also swelled up big. Then I killed it by sticking the shovel on his neck, by the way a master killed a snake 4 feet long and another boy killed one just like mine. Whenever you go out in a motor you see about 5 snakes on the road. Today a boy ran over one on a bicycle. the country is lilteraly full of snakes. It is not safe to sit down in the woods or go in any swamp. They have about
a every kind of poisenous snake down here (here are some of them)
Rattlesnakes, coperheads, mocasins, adders, bullsnakes, pinesnakes, ⌃vipers and about 1,000 other kinds. I for one dont like it very much. (by the way all the snakes that I have mentioned are very poisenous, also it was a adder that I killed. Please write and tell Helen and Mother this.
Goodbye dear Margey Lots of love from Morton P.S. Louis and Win are enchanted cause there are so many snakes here. P.S. I exagerated alittle about the snakes Dear Margey, This is a letter that I wrote a week ago and forgot to mail Very best love (Will write long letter tomorrow) Morton
The snake above is one of the friends to the Oatlands garden, found at his home in what was formerly a carbide plant at the foot of the garden. Not one of the “deadly poisonous” snakes described by young Morton, but a nonvenomous Eastern rat snake.
*Historical transcriptions are precise- grammatical errors, mistakes, misspellings, and all.
*Cousins to the Eustis children, Louis and Winthrop Rutherfurd belonged to Winthrop Chanler Rutherfurd and Alice Morton, Morton’s aunt through his mother.
Morton Corcoran Eustis, the third child and only son of William and Edith Eustis, attended a boarding school in Cornwall, Connecticut during the influenza pandemic in 1918. In October of that year, he sent the following letter to older sister Margaret:
Thank you so much for your nice long letter which I received almost 4 days ago. I know that I should have answered it before but I have been in Bed for a week I got up two days ago and went to Bed again yesterday. There are about 15 boys sick in the Infirmary and as there was no more room there I am over in a single room. Yesterday they closed the School for a few days as there were so many sick boys. It was just my luck to have to go to Bed again during a Holaday. I didn’t no till today that I have had “Spanish Influensa” only I had a very mild case so they say. I started it going in the School. Two masters are sick also with Influenza They think. Also the Boys have it over at the Infirmary and one boy is very dangerously ill and has a special trained nurse with him. Today they think he has Pneumonia. They take the Tempetures of all the Boys every afternoon now, and as I had 99.3 I had to go to bed. It was precaution so that I wont get a cold and get Pneumonia which I would very likely get if I got even a slight cold but Im alright so don’t worry and tell Mother not to Maybe they will have to close the School intirely Hope Helen is better Best love Morton Am in bed now.
P.S. Hope no Influenza at Foxcroft
Thirteen-year-old Morton survived his flu, as did his four sisters. The letters between them mention concern over wearing masks, being isolated from their friends, and fears over schools closing.
*Historical transcriptions are precise- grammatical errors, mistakes, misspellings, and all.