Nostalgia

Wildflowers and Women’s Rights: Mt. Cuba & Marion Coffin

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The Copelands

Mt. Cuba was the home to the Copelands. Lammot du Pont Copeland worked for DuPont and his wife was so involved in the community and organizations that I can’t list everything here. Her biggest passion project was horticulture. Primarily saving the naturally occurring wildflowers instead of installing the European gardens that had become standard in America.

Lammot had a promising career ahead of him when he graduated from Harvard (he was the great-great-grandson of the founder E.I. du Pont of Hagley, his mother was Pierre’s sister of Longwood). He was a trained industrial chemist and maybe most importantly a du Pont. Even a last name like du Pont didn’t make him immune to the stock market crash and in 1929 he was laid off like so many Americans.

During his layoff he married Pamela Cunningham from New England in 1930. They would have three children.

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This side of the house was designed to look like a lovely English cottage when you were in the garden, instead of a sprawling mansion.

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Soon after his layoff he had worked his way back into the company, first in small roles like assistant to a sales manager and eventually to the Presidency by 1962.

When Lammot and Pamela settled on a place to build their estate (Pamela wanted the highest hill she could find like the hilly New England) they chose this area and bought up the farms around it, expanding to 500 acres.

They used Williamsburg, Virginia brick to build the mansion because brick reminded her of home as well. In Delaware and Pennsylvania most homes were made partially with stone from the many nearby quarries.

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In 1971 Lammot resigned from DuPont to focus on his son, Lammot Copeland, Jr. who had then filed the largest personal bankruptcy case in history at $55 million in 1970.

Lammot died in 1983 at Mt. Cuba. Mrs. Copeland passed away in 2001 and since then their home has slowly transformed into a public educational center.

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The Trailblazing Gardener

I thought it might be interesting to mention one of their landscape architects who also worked on many other du Pont projects. I think we mentioned her in a Winterthur post before. Marian Cruger Coffin often felt creative growing up but with little musical, painting or obvious artistic talent she hadn’t found a way to express it. When it came time to earn her living a friend suggested landscape school hearing that they were beginning to accept female students into some programs. Marion decided to try her hand at landscape architecture.

She had after all only been left $300 by her father when he died of malaria in 1883, at 38-years old. Through her father she was a descendant of the early settlers of Nantucket but the family’s holdings on St. Helena Island and a house in South Caroline were lost during the U.S. Civil War. He had married Marian’s mother, Alice Church, in 1874 and Marian was their only child.

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Marian began her training in landscape architecture at MIT and practiced out of New York City primarily, beginning in 1904. She worked for 53 years, right up until her death in 1957. Marion and Beatrix Farrand were the only two women designing college campuses at the time when Marian completed work on Delaware College.

For the men’s campus she created a stately feeling with rows of elms and clean lines. The women’s campus was more romantic and creative with flowering trees and a yellow and white color scheme.

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After school Marion found herself repeatedly turned away from design firms who couldn’t imagine hiring a woman for such a position so Marion did the only thing she could think of. She started her own business. She had already been one of the first woman to study landscape architecture and graduate from a university program for it.

One of Marian’s classmates summed up the attitude towards them at the time: “It was considered almost social suicide and distinctly matrimonial suicide, for a woman to enter any profession.”

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Marion’s deep family roots on the East Coast gave her introductions to many influential people, but no connection would be so impactful as one from her mother. Alice Church Coffin had been a bridesmaid at the wedding of Colonel Henry du Pont to Pauline Foster (I wrote about them previously, here).

Through her mother’s friend Marian became close friends with Henry Francis who would own Winterthur and his sister Louise. While at MIT, Marian would often meet up with her friend Henry Francis who was also in Boston studying at Harvard.

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After graduation, Marian and her mother moved to New York City where Alice was from. Her first job was in Flushing, New York and it was detailed in an article in Country Life in America which she wrote herself.

Because the family who lived in the home summered elsewhere she had created a landscape that would be most powerful in the spring and fall.

The publicity from her article, her connection with Henry, and the proof of her thoughtful work, led to more and more commissions.

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Marian worked on the formal garden at Winterthur and began to take on larger projects. At the end of WWI country homes became more popular, often with large gardens and staff to attend them. In a time before air conditioning in your home, people utilized their gardens for shade and cooler air. It was an important gathering place if you had one.

The end of the war also brought her associate back home. James Scheiner was an architect and engineer who had left to serve in the military. Once the war was over Marian was able to open her own offices and grow her practice even more.

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She also used professional photographers from New York to come and photograph her work, then wrote all the captions herself and had them published in magazines. She was a shrewd business woman in a profession where the landscapers were often overshadowed by the architects of the actual house. She often used a female photographer, Mattie Edwards Hewitt, who was supporting herself through her profession.

In 1927 Marian, now 51-years old, and her mother inherited a substantial sum from a cousin and moved to New Haven to be closer to family. At that time she contracted a hip infection that left her using a cane to walk. But her success allowed her to hire a driver who brought her to all her appointments and sometimes even carried her around.

During the Great Depression, Marian, like many others, saw her business suffer. On top of that her mother passed away. She took on boarders who were mostly landscape design students.

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Marion’s pool design.

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In 1941 she fell and underwent a hip operation which actually greatly improved her walking and gave her a renewed energy in her work. One of her last commissions was for Mt. Cuba where she was hired to do the terrace and pool (what you see, that’s the design still intact today) and the rose garden at the New York Botanical Garden.

Marian died in New Have in February of 1927 at the age of 81.

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Sources: 1, 2, “Money, Manure & Maintenance” by Nancy Fleming