Marie Gingras Pickering lived her life, warts and all, under the harsh magnifying glass of the San Francisco society pages, judging by the countless references made to her and her family in newspaper accounts during the early 1900s.
A cursory search reveals that she hosted countless bridge and tea parties, always with elaborate flower decorations; served as a patroness of a charity ball in November 1911 for the benefit of St. Joseph’s Orphan Asylum; went to important theatrical openings; and even attended a lecture by a visiting Catholic bishop.
More comprehensive research might show where she and her family spent nearly ever summer vacations. The papers dutifully that she went to Boston for several months in late 1907 and spent a couple weeks in Santa Cruz in 1897. She also toured the Orient for three months with friends and family in 1911. Further investigation might one day lead to the discovery of this mysterious woman’s past as this amateur genealogist can’t determine where she was born or who her parents were.
Several society page accounts describe festive tea parties, such as the one Gingras hosted in February, 1917 for two score guests. “The house was abloom with daffodils, freesias, roses and other flowers of the season, which served as a gay background for the modishly gowned woman.”
If newspaper reports provided flattering accounts of Mrs. Fred Pickering’s teas and bridge parties, they took occasional bites out of her hide as well. According to the San Francisco Call, she was none too happy when daughter Marie Rose married Julius Kruttschnitt, Jr., before their engagement had concluded, though stories from the San Francisco Chronicle downplay her objections — after all, Kruttschnitt had been appointed to a job in Arizona, and the couple were childhood sweethearts.
A February 29th, 1896, article in the Chronicle highlights a public spat between Marie and one Mme. Luenberger, who was apparently upset that Mrs. Pickering wore her gown. A Judge Carroll decided that Mrs. Pickering would have to pay Mme. Luenberger $100 “for the gown that was intended to be worn at the horse show.” According to the article, the case was appealed. Unfortunately, the newspaper trail seems to end there.
We can also glean from reports that Marie’s husband, Frederick Pickering, was a successful real estate broker, and that the couple eventually lived in a beautiful home on Broadway with a view of the bay. We know that the couple had many equally successful friends in San Francisco society.
Only few accounts reveal critical details about the woman’s character. In an Oakland Tribune story about her daughter Marie’s engagement, the writer talks about Gingras’ “Frenchy way and mannerisms. Mrs. Pickering is a very dainty Parisienne, and in spite of having lived years in America, she is still a French (sic) woman to the tips of her highly polished fingers.”
The only problem with this description is that Gingras probably wasn’t from France; in all likelihood she was born in Quebec, Canada, probably to French parents. We know from family lore that French was spoken in the Pickering household. And a daughter’s baptismal record lists Montreal as her place of origin. In any case, Gingras’ French mannerisms apparently wore off on her daughters, who are described in another society post as “pretty and vivacious, with a piquant, attractive air.”
Yet another post highlights Marie Gingras’ talents as a seamstress. (She produced needlework that remains in the family.) At one bridge party chronicled in the Oakland Tribune, she sewed memorable gifts for her visitors.
“On Thursday of this week Mrs. Frederick Pickering gave another of her delightful bridge parties—the third at which she has been a hostess this season. The prizes on this occasion, as at the delightful dinner party Mrs. Pickering gave, were charming doll bags of the sort popular in Paris, where dainty little dolls are dressed in flounced and ruffled skirts which are in reality bags. The heads of the dolls draw up on strings and inside the fluffy skirts is a dainty bag for fancy work or any trifle. Mrs. Pickering dressed these dolls herself in most dainty fashion and as, like all the other San Francisco hostesses, she has had a prize for every table her labors of love for her friends have been numerous.”
The other piece of psychographic information we get about Mrs. Pickering is that she was an early owner of an automobile, which she shared with her daughter, Marie Rose. That certainly speaks to the woman’s independent, adventuresome mindset. Or not.