Sunday, June 08, 2008

Clayla Ward

It isn't life so much that matters. It's the courage you bring to it.
—Clayla Ward

An old friend of Andrew sent us a link to this biography written about Clara Louise "Clayla" Ward, his grandmother. In Andrew's words, she was a mover and shaker in the Rochester, NY society.

She had many notable friends, among them Albert Einstein, George Eastman, George Gershwin, and E.E. Cummings.

Andrew describes her as having sparkling eyes and a radiant smile. He remembers that she loved people, and made whoever she was talking to feel like they were special to her. An actress and dancer, she loved to perform.

The memoirs contain lengthy correspondence and stories from her world travels. These are some of our favorite excerpts:

Mrs. Frank Hawley Ward was known as "Clayla" to the city at large, to the newspapers and television, and to the priest who elided her Christian names at her funeral in Christ Church Cathedral. In her early letters from abroad -- now in the University of Rochester Library and central to this memoir -- Clara Louise Werner's alternate nursery contraction is "Clarlie." Her friend Charlotte Whitney is "Chuck." Both girls grew into ladies who transcended a class no longer extant. They fostered music and art, promoted social tolerance, and catalyzed good talk in a town that must have disheartened less robust natures.

Triumphant as an amateur, Clayla decided to attempt a professional stage career. When she left for New York City in October, 1921, she was "provisionally" engaged to marry Frank Hawley Ward, a 45-year-old widower with a six-year-old daughter, Elizabeth Milne Ward ("Betty"), later Mrs. John R. Adams. Hawley wrote daily to his fiancée on the stationery of Ward's Natural Science Establishment, of which he was vice-president under his father Frank Addison Ward (a cousin of Henry Augustus Ward, the founder). Even after their marriage on 6 February 1922, he maintained a faithful correspondence. In 1924 and again in 1925 Clayla was confined by an unspecified illness to private sanatoria in Katonah, N.Y., and Baltimore; she spent the Winter of 1927 recuperating in Bermuda from the birth of her first son, Hawley Werner Ward ("Michael" or "Mike"). On all three occasions she received letters from her husband virtually every day.

Clayla was 32 at the time of her engagement and a leader of the "older younger set." She had attracted other men, but none of them, however sentimental, proposes marriage in his extant letters. "I could transfuse my very soul with yours to-night," an admirer writes; however, "There is no place in a modern world for such love as this" (1919; 2:4). One of Clayla's followers was already married. Others would never marry anyone. By far the most eminent of them was George Eastman, 35 years her senior, who enters the archive with an engraved invitation, one of perhaps 1,200, to a ball at his mansion on New Year's night, 1914. That was the evening on which old Rochester traditionally went to Fanny Whitney's. It was no coincidence. Eastman intended his party to shatter her hegemony, and it did so. Clayla has written "answered" in the upper-right-hand corner, but not whether or not she accepted.

On his way home from Chicago in 1935, Alexander Calder looked in on the work-in-progress and took an historic step in his own career:

On the return trip I stopped off at Rochester to see Mrs. Charlotte Allen, who had been introduced to me by Fletcher Steele, the landscape architect -- he had been interested in my show at the Galerie Vignon in 1932.

Mrs. Allen wanted a mobile for her garden which Fletcher Steele had designed -- this was the first object I made for out of doors. As I remember, it consisted of some quite heavy iron discs that I found in a blacksmith's shop in Rochester and had them welded to rods progressively getting heavier and heavier.

Fletcher had laid out the garden so that it made a zigzag labyrinth round three sides of a pool and then back again, and ended up behind a hedge. By the pool was a large oak tree, and we were very much amused when Charlotte told us one day -- Louisa [Mrs. Calder] and me -- that she once had a bill from Fletcher:

$50. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Concentration on tree.26

Three years later Calder sold her [Clayla] the delightful "Flat Cat" (remembered by him as "The Flattest Cat"27) that sat on a table in the drawing room, flattened perhaps by boredom with the muddy Matisse landscape that hung on a nearby wall. He made jewelry for her, too, and other minor, impromptu objects: during conversation, his restless hands would fish wire from one pocket and pliers from another.

Charlotte and Clayla remained traveling companions and lifelong confidantes. In June, 1921, they sailed to England on White Star's Celtic, where Clayla "had some parleying with Einstein who is homeward bound after his meteoric career. He found it bewildering since he speaks no English. . ." (13 June 1921; 2:7). The single extant sheet of this letter breaks off here, but we may assume that it was America, not the trilingual Clayla, that disoriented Einstein.


The memoir also documents the tornado that destroyed Andrew's home and killed his brother and father:

On Palm Sunday, 1965, a line of tornadoes took about 250 lives in the Midwest. One of them flattened every building in the farming hamlet of Pittsfield Center, Ohio, and killed nine of the 50 inhabitants. Among the dead were Dr. Addison Ward, a 35 year-old assistant professor of English at Oberlin College, and his son Peter, aged seven. Mary Helen was buried up to the shoulders in the pile of bricks that had crushed her husband and child, but she survived, as did another son, Andrew, and the five-year-old Edith, who was blown out of the house and later found in the road.

Sometimes I feel like we're living in Oz, and it's no wonder why.

—Thank you to the Rochester library for compiling this story, and to Jane for telling us about it.


  1. Aha! Now I know what you were up to last night when I called...Holy Rochester! What an amazing history--those "dear friends" must have had a great time.

  2. Cool! Thanks for sharing this Brother Drew!

    Love, Tige

  3. What a delight to find this history! I have been researching Clayla for years.
    Do you know of the film, the RMSC, had in the planetarium basement, in which she was interviewed?
    Please, share any more information you have on your wonderful relative!
    Thank you!