Lighthouse International began the new year with an appreciative look back to its roots.
The occasion was a gathering for descendants of our founders, earliest Board members and benefactors — without whom the seeds of our now world-renowned organization would never have been sown.
When sisters Winifred and Edith Holt opened up their family home to help people who were blind, they ushered in a new era — and unprecedented possibilities — for people without sight to gain the skills needed to earn a living, provide for their families and become self-sufficient.
But they didn’t do this alone. The industrious Holts called on their friends and fellow charitably minded members of New York City’s society to donate their time and funds to launch the Lighthouse. A corps of influential supporters rose to the challenge and helped to initiate the young organization’s broad-reaching job training, home teaching, social service, eye care and blindness prevention programs.
New York’s Leaders and Social Elite Heed the Call
Early Lighthouse officers, trustees, advisors, social committee patrons and patronesses were members of some of the most prominent families at the turn of the 20th century — and today. They include such last names as Tiffany, Morgan, Carnegie, Roosevelt, Schurz, Auchincloss, Frick, Whitney, Phipps, Warburg, Loeb, Butler, Hewitt, Choate, Juilliard, Peabody, Schiff, de Forest and Low, among others.
These philanthropists ranged from debutantes and socialites to captains of industry and university presidents; from senators to archbishops; and from US ambassadors to Supreme Court Justices.
They comprise a virtual “who’s who” of the day — some self-made, and some born or married into families with wealth and status earned from their contributions to the worlds of medicine, banking, industry, law, higher education, publishing, the arts and letters, the clergy, politics, government and global diplomacy. Their comings and goings, marriages and parties — as well as their charitable activities, including those for the Lighthouse — were recorded regularly in the society columns.
Some women who held early positions on key Lighthouse committees also left their mark as social reformers, educators and advocates for women, children, immigrants and the poor. Names like Louisa Lee Schuyler, Lillian Wald and Martha Lincoln Draper top the list.
Adding notoriety were some first Lighthouse officers — Helen Keller, Vice President; Annie Sullivan Macy, Helen Keller’s teacher, a member of the Advisory Board; and Mark Twain, an Honorary Vice President.
Fast Forward 100+ Years: Descendants Gather
The Lighthouse invited descendants of some of these early ambassadors and philanthropists to celebrate their family connection with us.
The event was an afternoon tea in The Plaza Hotel’s Palm Court. The Plaza, our neighbor and fellow landmark New York City institution, opened its doors just two years after the Lighthouse was founded. Very quickly, The Plaza became the venue for several Lighthouse grand balls, beginning in 1908.
The following special guests joined us for our 2011 tea: Samuel Hopkins, a grandson of our co-founder, Edith Holt; Thomas S.T. Gimbel, a devoted Lighthouse Board member and visionary philanthropist, whose grandmother, Alva Gimbel, and other friends joined the Holt sisters as early Board members and patrons; Whitney Douglass, Victoria Donaldson and Lisa Pulitzer Love — all descendants of the Pulitzer family; Elisa Miller-Out, a Tiffany descendant; and Alexander Peters, along with his daughters, Maude and Louisa — all Warburg descendants. It’s no surprise that this special event was covered in the New York Social Diary!
Samuel Hopkins, left, Whitney Douglass and Thomas S.T. Gimbel — three descendants of our founding families