The following History Byte is the fifth of a nine-part series. Click here to read them all.
In July 1877, The Newport Mercury reported “there exists in Newport another social strata, quite distinct from the fashionable one” on Bellevue Avenue, one “which may be called intellectual.… The very best people here, the real crème de la crème, in the highest sense, were the few in whom social and intellectual culture were united.… Everybody knows them,” the journalist concluded “but it would be impertinent to name them…” This special group was Newport’s Town and Country Club and the Fifth City referenced in Thornton Wilder’s Theophilus North. The Newport Town and Country Club was created by Julia Ward Howe and Thomas Wentworth Higginson in an endeavor to combine social pleasures with intellectual pursuits. The first meeting attracted such illustrious personages as the elder Henry James, father of novelist Henry James; Kate Field, journalist and lecturer; Harvard classics professors, George Lane and William Goodwin; newspaper columnist and author of children’s stories, Fanny Fern; and George Bancroft, an historian now famous for his twelve-volume history of the United States, to name a few. Famous guest speakers included, among many others, Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, Edward Everett Hale, the celebrated orator who spoke before Lincoln at the dedication of the Gettysburg cemetery and Anna Leonowens, the English governess to the children of the King of Siam made famous in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical rendering of the story “The King and I.”