John Sidney Woollett  1845 - 1917

by Madeleine Widdowson

We gratefully acknowledge the work of Margaret Woollett Goodwin who has provided much of the information contained in this article and without whom it would not have been possible.


John Sidney Woollett 1845-1917

"Mr. Sidney Woollett gave the first of his poetic recitals in the Boston Museum on Tuesday afternoon before a very attentive audience, reciting selections from "Hiawatha". As in the past, Mr. Woollett trusted wholly to his remarkable memory, calling in the assistance of neither book nor prompter. A fine voice, that lends itself to every necessary modulation, exquisitely clear enunciation, refined intelligence, and graceful and easy gestures are among the admirable gifts brought to bear by him upon his work. The swing of the verse was beautifully preserved and its cadence was varied with unerring taste. Nothing could be more finished than his reading, more melodious than his manner of delivery. Face play and action responded sympathetically to the sentiment of the poetry, and a more delightful interpretation of the language of the poem could not be desired." - Saturday Evening Gazette, Nov. 22 1895.


In 1879 Mr. And Mrs. Sidney Woollett, Julia and Sidney arrived in New York City and proceeded to a small and fashionable hotel. They were soon to be seen at the Theatres for evening performances. They dined at Del Monico's and other fashionable restaurants. Julia was eager to learn everything her husband could teach her. She learned to recognize all the popular actors and actresses, studied up on the plays and visited the pubic library. It was a wonderful time to be in New York. The beautiful carriages were filled with rich and beautiful ladies and gentlemen. They saw Bill Sykes; Heron as Oliver, John Drew &c. Sidney knew so many of these famous people, he had exciting friends who greeted him wherever he went.

Sidney continued his engagements in Philadelphia and Newport, and Julia probably accompanied him during the first months of their marriage. Did Sidney as a Catholic take her to church? He was a loyal if somewhat liberal Catholic. Julia converted later to become a Roman Catholic. Then, as was expected and inevitable in those days, Julia became pregnant and on June 3 1880 delivered their first child Christine Julia. Christine was a beautiful child who resembled her father with her dark curly hair and olive skin.

It wasn't long before Sidney Woollett realized that New York City was not the best place to raise a family. Sidney was making a good living, but he would never be called rich in this city where Mrs. Astor and Mrs. Vanderbilt were the crème de la crème.

In 1881, Sidney decided to make his home in Newport, he had always been well received in Newport, and it appeared just the place to raise a family.

1882 - Ralph Sidney Woollett, Sidney and Julia's second child was born, named for his uncle Ralph Woollett. Christine resembled her father with her volatile temperament and her dark good looks, Ralph, by contrast was blue eyed and blond and resembled his mother in her quiet modest way. Sidney enjoyed his summer in Newport with his beloved Julia, his tiny daughter and his new baby son. In July he met Oscar Wilde who had come down to NewPORT 81,102,156,106,130,194 I wonder which of the daughters were presented at court?) All this often embarrassed Julia, his wife, especially, in restaurants where he would demand service, exclaiming loudly, "Don't you know who I am?" 


Anna Pell Woollett was born in 1884.

Anna was gifted with a sweet and giving nature. In 1887 Sidney Dwinelle Woollett was born, and this was Sidney and Julia's last child. 

Ralph, Julia, Christine, Sidney senior, Anna, and in front Sidney junior (abt 1897)

Sidney was seldom home. The adulation he was receiving on his travels was making him rather overbearing. He was making a good deal of money, but he spent a great part of it on travel and hotels. He felt he had to keep up appearances, and to be seen only with the best people in the best places. Julia, his wife was unable to accompany him, as she devoted her time and energies to raising the family. 

Julia understood that Sidney would always act the part of an English gentleman. He never let the family forget that he had a social position to uphold at all costs. He never became an American, and at the sight of anything British he would shout, "God save the Queen". At home if Christine misbehaved he could become King Lear, or if mercy was requested he could become Portia defending Antonio, or as the mood changed the melancholy Hamlet. He had a lighter side when he took the children to the park to see the old stone mill where he recited "The Skeleton in Armour". He loved excitement and when his wife could not quite rise to the heights with him, he called her a Puritan. 

In 1898, John Mary Woollett died in England. Sidney went over to see if his father had left any inheritance. There was none. Naturally he returned disappointed, wondering what had happened to his mother's fortune. He brought back the family portraits and some old legal papers, which he never examined, since no money was left.

Sidney Woollett was well paid for his work. He always stayed at the best hotels, ate in the best restaurants and travelled first class. It was all part of his image as a gentleman of talent and means. But he may have looked richer than he really was. Educating his children was costing him a great deal of money, even though he didn't give them any spending money. Christine was ambitious. She did not like to feel poor. At 16 she painted paper dolls and secretly sold them in Newport. When her father found she had $2, he snatched it away from her. He then told her that any money she might earn was to go to him. Had Sidney forgotten how he felt when he had to give his pay cheque to his father? Or did he, like his father consider it his right? Whatever his motives, his children couldn't help feeling inferior to their classmates in a country where wealth plays a large part in determining ones status in society. 


Christine, Ralph, Anna and Sidney

Christine accompanied her Papa on his social calls when she graduated from college. As she became acquainted with the society of rich people, the more she felt that she belonged with them. She considered Ralph and Anna hopelessly bourgeois in this respect, as they had no interest in rich people. 

Christine Julia Woollett

Ralph was unable to join in any social activities with his classmates, most of whom came from wealthy families. He then discovered that his father was no longer paying his tuition. The Jesuits were allowing him to stay on because of their esteem for his father. To Ralph this was the ultimate humiliation. Sidney met Ralph at college and admitted that he could not pay. Ralph knew he had to leave the school. Papa took him out and bought him a cheap suit of clothes. Then he told him to see a Mr. So and so in Philadelphia who would give him a job. Ralph followed the old gentleman's instructions, and went to Philadelphia, but the person to whom his father had recommended him seemed quite indifferent, and there was no job.

Sidney was apparently finding the demands of his family overwhelming, just at a time when his health was causing him some concern. He had had diphtheria, which had damaged his beautiful voice and when he became ill, if only with the grippe, he could not work, which meant that his earnings immediately stopped. He could not afford to retire. 

In Philadelphia Ralph found himself alone in a strange city with only a few dollars. He fell back on the mechanical skills he had acquired at home, and looked around for any kind of job, and found work as an electrician's assistant. He worked hard and saved his money, until he had a wire from his Papa stating that the family was in desperate straights. In his usual dramatic style Papa said he had no money for coal, and they would all freeze to death in the winter without help. His Papa had been ill, Mamma had rheumatism, &c. Ralph must come home at once and help them.  Ralph returned home, and his Papa took all his money. Ralph got another job at the Telephone Office.

Ralph Sidney Woollett with "the old man" Sidney Woollett
Coney Island, USA. Sunday January 12th 1897

Ralph married Margaret Smith at the age of 30.

Margaret and Ralph arrived at Jamaica Plain and took up residence on the third floor at Park Place. Anna greeted Margaret as her dear little sister. To Christine, now 32 years old, Margaret seemed quite ordinary, and her clothes in poor taste, but of course Chris tried to improve her. Sidney was charming, affectionate and entertaining. 

Margaret saw the Woollett house was filled with old furniture and the family portraits. Sidney had the portrait of his mother hanging over the fireplace and several vases on the marble mantel, as well as portraits of her mother, her grandmother, and an uncle from India. Everyone in the house was an artist. Christine painted trays for the Society of Arts and Crafts and did watercolours of scenes around Boston. Anna was an assistant to Vela Pratt, the sculptor. Sid, the baby, was an accomplished sculptor as well. They were all very serious and excitable and argued constantly. Julia Woollett was very dignified and tried to maintain order and decorum, but when Christine and the old man clashed, fireworks erupted throughout the house. Margaret and Ralph would then retire to the third floor until the storm blew over.

Ralph Sydney Woollett 1882-1969

Sidney Woollett realized that his days were numbered, and that he could no longer travel. The best he could manage was a speaking engagement nearby. He had always enjoyed a good drink, although Ralph said that he was never drunk. Now he tippled at home, knowing his end was near. He loved to visit his granddaughter living on the other side of the Street. His son Ralph brought over a new cylindrical gramophone and got his father to recite a few pieces on it. Sidney asked Ralph if he could keep it, and after playing it over to himself, he destroyed it. He was disappointed that he had never become the great actor he had hoped to be. He knew his recitations would not be remembered for long. He stood before the open fireplace reading the letters he had received from people all over the world, a few he kept for the autographs, but almost everything he owned went into the fire. 

"On 8 January 1917, Sidney Woollett, elocutionist widely known here and abroad, friend of Edwin Booth and other actors died of a heart attack at his home in Jamaica Plain at the age of 71.

After her father died, Christine 34 years old and unmarried was as difficult as ever. She did not hesitate to advise her mother and tried to take over the management of her affairs. In 1919, Christine bought a house, paying $15,000 for the purchase, and insisted her mother and brother Sidney join her. Christine took all her mother's money, and Sidney was expected to pay rent. Sidney hoped to find a nice young lady to marry, but somehow he never did. His sculpture was very popular among the clergy and he did architectural ornamentation for the catholic churches.

Christine had insisted that her mother and brother Sid move in to her house, but when the depression hit, she could no longer afford to keep the house, and Christine also lost all her investments that she had inherited from an aunt. 

Ralph's children were terrified of their aunt Christine. If Christine could find something to criticize, she would inform their parents, and the children were constantly being misquoted and misunderstood, so they chose to remain silent in her company. As time went on, Christine became more and more strident, giving critical exaggerated accounts and setting friend against friend and stirring family ill feeling. There was gossip about a crazy woman on the hill. Christine eventually suffered a mental breakdown. She was weeping and wandering naked in the apartment. Sidney, her brother reluctantly signed the papers to commit her to a mental hospital. Chris was diagnosed as schizophrenic and a manic-depressive. Christine never married.

Anna became a nun in a teaching convent. She established an art department and was much respected and beloved by the community. In 1932 she began haemorrhaging and became very weak, she died at the age of 42 years. Peggy, Ralph's daughter was offered a full four-year scholarship at the Manhattanville College because she was the niece of Sister Anna Woollett. 

 

Anna Pell Woollett 1884-1931


 

Ralph's other children:

Ralph junior was a ham radio operator and devoted himself to science, becoming an electrical engineer. He enlisted and was sent to England at the Royal Air Force Radio School in Cranwell. During his eight weeks there he had met his cousins, the Rayners and John Sidney Woollett, who were very cordial to him. Ralph died when his plane, which he was piloting, crashed in Groton, Connecticut, USA. - March 14th 1984.

He was an Army veteran of World War II and a sonar expert for the Naval department of the Naval Underwater Sound Systems, where he had been employed since 1947.

Ralph was an internationally known physicist whose specialty was transducers, a key part in a submarine's sonar.

Listed in American Men & Women of Science, 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th editions. Who's Who in Government, 1st edition (1972-1973), 2nd edition (1975-1976), 3rd edition (1977).  SSN 010-14-7318

Ralph Storer Woollett (born around 1918) - never married - PHD in Physics from the University of Connecticut. Worked for the U.S. Government on Sonar. He died flying his private plane when he was 65.

Justine the third child became a nurse.

When Julia died (Julia the wife of John Sidney Woollett, elocutionist) aged 87, her belongings were divided up between her children. An old battered suitcase full of old papers found its way to Peggy, Ralph's oldest child, John Sidney's eldest grandchild. She sat down on the floor and opened the old case. It was indeed a mess of old tattered papers, but as she began to read the old scraps it all made sense. Wills, letters obituaries, the whole history of the family since 1630, thrown together like a misshapen sweater, waiting to be un-ravelled and knit anew. To the Woollett children and their descendents this was the key to their identity. More precious than silver and gold is the knowledge of one's ancestry. For a moment emotion overwhelmed Peggy and she was silent. She remembered her grandmother Julia who had laboured for years to preserve and cherish these old memories. Peggy murmured: Thank you, Dear Grandmamma, thank you for this wonderful priceless legacy.

Taken from Grandmamma's Legacy - Margaret Woollett Goodwin - 1998 er Woollett (born around 1918) - never married - PHD in Physics from the University of Connecticut. Worked for the U.S. Government on Sonar. He died flying his private plane when he was 65.

Justine the third child became a nurse.

When Julia died (Julia the wife of John Sidney Woollett, elocutionist) aged 87, her belongings were divided up between her children. An old battered suitcase full of old papers found its way to Peggy, Ralph's oldest child, John Sidney's eldest grandchild. She sat down on the floor and opened the old case. It was indeed a mess of old tattered papers, but as she began to read the old scraps it all made sense. Wills, letters obituaries, the whole history of the family since 1630, thrown together like a misshapen sweater, waiting to be un-ravelled and knit anew. To the Woollett children and their descendents this was the key to their identity. More precious than silver and gold is the knowledge of one's ancestry. For a moment emotion overwhelmed Peggy and she was silent. She remembered her grandmother Julia who had laboured for years to preserve and cherish these old memories. Peggy murmured: Thank you, Dear Grandmamma, thank you for this wonderful priceless legacy.

Taken from Grandmamma's Legacy - Margaret Woollett Goodwin - 1998