Henry and Clover Adams: star-crossed or victims of a tragic fate (pt. 1)

In spite of the fact that Marian “Clover” Adams was herself a photographer, few photos of her exist. In those that are available her face is obscured or turned away from the camera.

Henry Adams and Marian “Clover’ Adams both came from families with troubled histories. Ellen Hooper, Clover’s mother, was the daughter of Captain William Sturgis and Elizabeth Davis. Ellen’s oldest brother William died in a tragic boating accident while attending Yale and Mrs. Sturgis withdrew into a bitter life of solitude thrusting Ellen into the role of surrogate mother of the five remaining siblings. Ellen Sturgis married Robert William Hooper, a doctor. The Hoopers had three children, Ellen (Nellie), Edward (Ned), and Marian (Clover). Ellen loved her husband and her three children but she was especially fond of Marian who she nicknamed Clover, “my blessed Clover.” Ellen and her sisters were a part of the burgeoning cultural scene in Boston and Ellen wrote ethereal poetry in the style of the Transcendentalists. She died of consumption when Clover was only five.

Traumatic as this must have been, Clover had a large support group that included her father, brother, and sister along with aunts, uncles and cousins who lived close by in Boston. They also summered together at Beverly Farms on Boston’s North Shore where ‘[h]er summer days matched the description in the opening pages of Henry Miller’s 1878 novel Daisy Miller:

…a flitting hither and thither of ‘stylish’ young girls, a rustling of muslin flounces, a rattle of dance music in the morning hours.

Still, fresh tragedy awaited. Five years after her mother’s death, Clover’s Aunt Sue, her favorite, took her own life by drinking arsenic. It is possible that Clover was with her when she died. The following year her sister Nellie traveled overseas on her “Grand Tour” of Europe and the next year her Aunt Cary (Caroline) left with her family for an extended tour of Europe. ‘Aunt Cary… offered Clover a vital link to the lively, intellectual Sturgis side of the family, and what must have been a valued proximity to memories of her mother. Her disappearance from Clover’s daily life for five years must have seemed another severed connection.”

After the death of her mother, Clover came especially close to her father, Dr. Hooper. Her father accompanied her on her Grand Tour of Europe in 1866 and they corresponded weekly for as long as Dr. Hooper lived. Since Daisy did not keep a diary, most of what we know of her life came from the letters she wrote her father. Although she kept herself busy with volunteer work, friends and visits with her family, as Clover approached the age of 30 she found herself “caught between eagerness and an uneasy boredom, not knowing what to do next, counting the months, waiting for something to happen.” This was a condition she shared with other well-bred, well-educated women of her time. The irony is that for such women the only chance for a secure and independent life was through marriage.