Eleanor Tydings Davies Ditzen

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Eleanor R. Davies

Birthdate: (102)
Birthplace: Watertown, Jefferson County, Wisconsin, United States
Death: June 6, 2006 (102)
Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Joseph E. Davies and Mary Emlen Knight
Wife of Millard Tydings, U.S. Senator and The Rev. Dr. Lowell Russell Ditzen
Ex-wife of Thomas Patton Cheesborough, Jr.
Mother of Joseph D. Tydings, U.S. Senator; <private> (Cheesborough) and <private> Schapiro (Tydings)

Managed by: Private User
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Immediate Family

About Eleanor Tydings Davies Ditzen


One of the grandest of Washington's grande dames, Eleanor Davies Tydings Ditzen, who was the wife of one U.S. senator and the mother of another and who dined with presidents for more than 80 years, died June 6, 2006 of cardiac and respiratory arrest at her home in the District. She was 102.

From childhood, Mrs. Ditzen led a storybook life, and over the years she was never far from Washington's center of influence. She was a leading society figure who had a strong influence on the powerful men in her life.

Her father, Joseph E. Davies, who helped Woodrow Wilson win the White House in 1912 and was Franklin D. Roosevelt's ambassador to the Soviet Union in the late 1930s, played a key role in brokering the U.S.-Soviet alliance in World War II. Her second husband, Millard E. Tydings, was a four-term Democratic senator from Maryland. Her son, longtime Washington lawyer Joseph Davies Tydings, served a term in the Senate.

Mrs. Ditzen vividly chronicled her colorful life in a frank autobiography, "My Golden Spoon: Memoirs of a Capital Lady," published when she was 93. She recalled being bounced on Wilson's knee at the White House, entertaining John F. Kennedy at her Maryland estate and her friendship with Bill and Hillary Clinton. "I had a darn good ride on the merry-go-round," she told The Washington Post in 1994. Her name first appeared in society columns in 1921, when she was a 17-year-old debutante and, according to The Post, "considered one of Washington's most beautiful and popular belles."

During World War II, she was chairwoman of the Red Cross nurses' aide corps and later mustered political support to establish Washington Hospital Center, which opened in 1953.

In 1956, when her second husband was attempting to regain his Senate seat, he withdrew his name from consideration at the last minute because of illness. She was drafted to run in his place and narrowly lost the nomination. Describing her political leanings to The Post in 1994, she said, "I'm a howling liberal suffragette."

Eleanor Davies was born in Watertown, Wis., on April 27, 1904. In 1912, her father managed Wilson's western campaign, helping him win the presidency, and moved to Washington the next year. He held a series of high-level government positions and later was a prominent international and corporate lawyer. Mrs. Ditzen graduated from the Holton-Arms School in Washington and, in 1925, from Vassar College. In 1926, she married Thomas Patton Cheesborough Jr., a 6-foot-4 collegiate athlete from North Carolina. "He was a basketball All-American," she told the Baltimore Sun in 2000. "Very handsome, all legs. He could pick up a keg and pour it down. And did so. Regularly."

In 1935, her family's private affairs suddenly turned into a soap opera that was eagerly followed in the press. Accompanied by her mother, she went to Reno, Nev., to obtain a divorce. Her mother went along because she was also seeking a divorce from her husband, Joseph Davies, who had taken up with Marjorie Merriweather Post, the General Mills heiress and Washington hostess who was one of the richest women in the world.

In the meantime, Mrs. Ditzen -- then Mrs. Cheesborough -- moved back to Washington, where her courtship with Millard Tydings, considered the capital's most eligible bachelor, was an open secret. They were married Dec. 27, 1935.

Her father and Post were married the same month, and the couples honeymooned together on Post's palatial yacht. Davies and Post were divorced in 1955; he died three years later.

Mrs. Ditzen's two children from her first marriage, a boy and a girl, were adopted by Tydings. The boy, Joseph Tydings, would become a senator in his own right.

Before her marriage to Tydings, her son said, "She was seen in public rollerskating with her 7-year-old son down Massachusetts Avenue. Word got out to my father [Tydings] that it was unseemly for her to be seen in this way. We didn't do it again."

Millard Tydings was one of the first political figures to speak out against the red-baiting hysteria of Sen. Joseph McCarthy. When Tydings was up for reelection in 1950, political opponents altered a photograph of him with his arm around his wife, inserting the image of Communist Party leader Earl Browder in her place. It became known as one of the dirtiest tricks in campaign history.

In 1966, five years after Tydings died, she married the Rev. Lowell Russell Ditzen, the one-time director of the National Presbyterian Center in Washington. He died in 1987.

For decades, Mrs. Ditzen presided over the Tydings estate, Oakington, near Havre de Grace, Md., and over her father's Northwest Washington home, Tregaron. Oakington is now the site of a drug rehabilitation center. Tregaron, on Macomb Street, was sold in 1980 after years of family wrangling and is the home of the Washington International School.

In addition to her son, of Chevy Chase and Monkton, Md., survivors include her daughter, Eleanor Tydings Schapiro of Monkton; a sister; eight grandchildren; and 14 great-grandchildren.

At a 1994 dinner-dance to commemorate "the 70th anniversary of her 20th birthday," Mrs. Ditzen danced until midnight. On her 100th birthday, she was back on her feet, dancing. "Let's face it," her son said. "She lived an extraordinary life."

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Eleanor Tydings Davies Ditzen's Timeline

April 27, 1904
Watertown, Jefferson County, Wisconsin, United States
May 4, 1928
Age 24
June 6, 2006
Age 102
Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States