The “Other” Women of Graeme Park
We spend a lot of time at Graeme Park on the history of Elizabeth Graeme, but with Mother’s Day coming up, it might be nice to delve into the history of some of the less-discussed women of Graeme Park.
Ann Newberry Diggs Keith, or Lady Ann, was born in 1675 near London. Nothing is known of her parents or childhood, but she was first married to a Robert Diggs and the two were living in St. Albans England in 1700 when their daughter Ann Diggs (later Graeme) was born. By 1705 Ann was widowed from Robert and remarried to Sir William Keith, with whom she had six sons and a daughter: William (b. 1705), John (b. 1707), Jane (b. 1708), George (b. 1710), Alexander (b. 1711), Robert (b. 1714), and James, born in 1717 while the couple was mid-voyage to Pennsylvania. In 1727 Sir William returned to England, leaving his wife and children in Pennsylvania. They were never to be reunited, but letters indicate that they maintained cordial relations. After Keith’s departure Lady Ann lived at Graeme Park and in Philadelphia, sometimes with the Graemes, sometimes alone (or with whatever children remained at home). She died on July 31, 1740 at the age of 65 and is buried at Christ Church next to the Graeme family.
Ann Diggs, daughter of Lady Ann Keith and her first husband Robert Diggs, was the second mistress of Graeme Park. She was born in England and traveled to Pennsylvania in 1717 along with her mother, step-father Sir William Keith, and her future husband, Dr. Thomas Graeme. Ann and Thomas were married at Christ Church in Philadelphia on November 12, 1719.
Ann and Thomas had between 9-12 children and she took an active role in their social training and education. The nine for which there are records include, Thomas, William, Ann, Mary Jane (Jane), two sets of twins—Rebecca and Rachel, and Patrick and Elizabeth— all four of whom died in infancy, and the Elizabeth who would grow up to become a writer and heir to Graeme Park. Elizabeth may have also had a non-surviving twin named Sarah. Dr. Rush described Ann Graeme as having a “masculine mind, with all the female charms and accomplishments which render a woman agreeable to both sexes.” Ann was noted for her fine needlework, spinning, and weaving—skills she passed down to her daughters. Reference is made to an embroidered crocodile which hung in the Keith House and which Elizabeth kept with her to the end. Like her daughter Elizabeth, Ann kept commonplace books—the one she presented to Betsy Stedman largely consisted of transcriptions of the sermons of Reverend Jacob Duche, which she felt contained “many excellent rules, good instructions and sublime reflections.” Ann’s strong faith would comfort her through her final illness and allow her to pass on to the next world in peace on May 29, 1765. More than ten years before her death she had woven her own burial shroud and planned her own funeral. She begged her family not to mourn, as she was willingly giving up “everything in this Life for a Better one.”
The last “mistress” of Graeme Park was Margaret Marshall Strawbridge. She was born in Philadelphia in 1898 and was a descendant of John Marshall, one of the first Justices of the Supreme Court. Her family was a member of Philadelphia’s high society. She was educated at the Agnes Irwin School, and Lake Erie College for Women. Before their marriage, her future husband, Welsh Strawbridge asked her if she would prefer to live in the Horsham farmhouse he’d recently purchased or a castle in Spain—she chose the former and, following their marriage in 1922 and a 3 month honeymoon tour of Europe, they moved into what is currently known as the Penrose-Strawbridge House on the grounds of Graeme Park. Mrs. Strawbridge was involved in many cultural, historical and philanthropic endeavors, lending her support to the Philadelphia Art Alliance, the Colonial Dames of America, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Union League, and the Daughters of the American Revolution. In an oral history interview she recalled marching with the suffragettes for women’s right to vote.
She and Welsh respected the history and significance of Graeme Park, choosing to preserve it, rather than add to, update or modernize it. They used the house for entertaining and tours and in 1957 donated it to the state to ensure its long term preservation, a move Welsh was hesitant about but Margaret persisted in. After Welsh’s death, Margaret continued to live at the property for nearly 30 more years, passing away here in 1996 at the age of 98. Her will transferred several artifacts to the PHMC, including one of Elizabeth’s commonplace books, original tiles, and the ledger books currently on display in the Visitors’ Center.