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Meet the woman who crafted Cincy's A-list

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Posted at 7:00 AM, Dec 06, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-06 07:00:25-05

God bless you please, Mrs. Devereux. Cincy loved you more than you will know.

And you knew just about everyone back in the Gay Nineties: Procters, Gambles, Goshorns, Groesbecks, Moerleins, Haucks, Kempers, Kilgours, Fleischmanns, Pogues, Shillitos, Sintons and Tafts.

Devereux's book set the standard for public registers. Photo provided by Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

And thanks to your 1894 “Mrs. Devereux’s Blue Book,” these elite Cincinnati families and about 2,000 others whose names and addresses you listed in your 176-page social register knew when to come calling.

Massachusetts blue blood Clara Ann Rich Devereux wrote social columns for two Cincinnati newspapers over a 30-year period that ended with her death in 1920 at age 71. Her “friends” list was the largest in the Midwest, and the book she self-published redefined social registers.

Its purpose was to bring Cincinnati’s A-listers together when they wanted to come together to talk business, gossip, play cards or take tea in the drawing rooms of the city’s fanciest downtown homes and country mansions in suburbs such as Clifton and Avondale.

She did this by listing in her address book the days of the week the social elite welcomed guests. Before her “Blue Book,” knowing when to call on a person of high social standing was a matter of word of mouth. Or, if you saw that the exterior vestibule doors of an elite family’s house were open, you knew someone would ask you in if you knocked on their second, interior front door.

“Mrs. Devereux’s Blue Book” was “largely an address book among friends,” wrote one-time “Blue Book” editor Jane Finnerman. “If you have to ask what it is, you don’t belong there.”

The book's cover page shows C.A.R.D. as the publisher. Photo provided by Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

Mrs. Devereux certainly belonged there. She and her Civil War hero husband, Brig. Gen. Arthur F. Devereux, lived on Fourth Street, Cincinnati’s first millionaire’s row. Her job as a woman society editor made her a desirable person for people of power in Cincinnati to know and her personality made her popular.

Education, grace and politeness were in her New England blood, which was very much the same color as her book.

Clara Ann Rich was born in Boston on Nov. 14, 1839. Her ancestors included governors and Mayflower passengers, opening doors into the Society of Mayflower Descendants and the Massachusetts Society of Colonial Dames to which she belonged later in life.

She married at age 21 in 1860 and the couple moved to Cincinnati several years after her husband served the Union with high honors in Civil War battles that included Shiloh and Gettysburg.

The couple had 10 children, only five of whom lived to be adults. Their daughter, Marion (1873-1948), was their ninth child and assisted Clara in compiling the “Blue Book.”

Devereux was a lover of literature and became a newspaper reporter about the time her last child was born. She wrote for national magazines on subjects such as the arts in addition to her social column, initially for the Cincinnati Commercial Gazette and later for the Cincinnati Enquirer.

“The products of her pen were eagerly sought by publishers,” read the Enquirer’s Feb. 27, 1910, obituary about Devereux.

“Born in the purple,” it read, “the talented writer had no difficulty in gaining the entrée into the best society. … As a woman, Mrs. Devereux was a lovable character, and her many charms of minds made her a delightful companion. She possessed the happy faculty of making friends and holding them.”

Such was not the case with Marion Devereux, who inherited her mother’s social column and edited “Mrs. Devereux’s Blue Book” into the Great Depression, when its publication halted temporarily.

Marion, wrote Joan Fox and Kitty Morgan in a 1999 Cincinnati Magazine article, “could be as catty as a Dorothy Parker,” often pulling rank “as if she were loyalty.”

Clara Devereux saw her society editor job and “Blue Book” as services, but Marion Devereux seemed to perceive them as a way to wield power.

“She ruled her social domain with the tyranny of her indescribable adjectives,” wrote Richard K. Mastain in his 2009 book “The Old Lady of Vine Street.” “She was a tyrant. No daughter of a social family dared schedule her debut without prior approval of the diminutive society editor, nor had any couple the audacity to fix a wedding without the consent of Miss Devereux.”

Clara Devereux died of pneumonia in the Burnet House following a two-week illness. Two of her daughters, likely Marion and Dayton resident Louise, were at her side. She was buried at Spring Grove Cemetery, four years after her husband.

Devereux’s legacy lasted for decades as this entry under her name in that 1894 register seems to suggest she expected: “Mrs. Devereux has been identified with newspaper work in Cincinnati for the past twenty years and needs no introduction to the ‘Blue Book’ world.”

Also in the ‘Blue Book’

  • Names, addresses and calling dates filled the first 125 pages of that first annual social register by Devereux. At the book’s end were lists of the members of important social clubs: Apollo, Cincinnati Art, Cincinnati Bicycle, Queen Cycling, Cuvier, Ladies’ Musical, Woman’s Art, Queen City, Riding and University.
  • Photographs of 16 women, Devereux included, were interspersed throughout the pages of names and addresses. None of the women’s first names were listed. The photo caption of Rookwood Pottery founder Maria Longworth Nichols Storer, for example, was “Mrs. Bellamy Storer.”
  • Many of the city’s top businesses advertised in “Mrs. Devereux’s Blue Book,” providing revenue that allowed her to give copies away. The last two ads in the book are finely designed ones for two of the region’s famed beer makers: Christian Moerlein and Wiedemann.
  • You didn’t have to give a street address to be in the “Blue Book.” Scotsman and international oil baron James McDonald lived with his wife on Fourth Street downtown in 1880 and on Station Avenue in Winton Place (now Spring Grove Village) in 1910. Yet in 1894, Devereux’s listing of him reads: “McDonald, James, London, England.