On April 16, 1935, a letter was written to Huldah Cheek at Cheekwood from The Third Secretary of Embassy for the United States in London, Hiram Bingham, Jr. In the letter, Bingham Jr., makes mention that “Ambassador Bingham will be pleased to include your name on his list for Court presentation and will be happy to present you at the Third Court to be held at Buckingham Palace on June 25th .” It would be Ambassador Bingham’s wife, Mrs. Bingham, who would present Huldah and the other American socialites to the British monarchy. A few months after receiving the letter, Huldah and Mabel set sail for England on the S.S. Normandie for what would be a truly grand trip.
In preparation to be presented to Her Majesty Queen Mary of England at the Court of St. James, Huldah also received “a circular regarding Court dress which has been prepared by the Lord Chamberlain’s Office,” which would help in knowing the appropriate attire for the occasion. The palace’s Lord Chamberlain required all ladies wear a full evening dress, three white feather plumes in the hair, a train suspended from the shoulders and extending not more than sixteen inches from the heels. A veil was required to be attached to the headdress, but it must not be more than forty-eight inches long.
Huldah wore a cream, silk gauze gown with a “fern leaf design” in the same color over cream satin, with a satin train accompanied by an ostrich feather fan. According to the Tennessean newspaper, Huldah and her fellow American debutantes “had to go through only half the ordeal customarily faced by those who are presented in court”: one curtsy instead of two. This was because King George V was absent from the presentation ceremony as he was resting and rehabilitating at Sandringham, the home of the Duke of Sandringham.
While in London it seems that Huldah was required to attend etiquette classes as an American newspaper reported the American ambassador held special training sessions for the newly arrived American ladies, teaching them court courtesy and all the other rigid rules for etiquette of court procedure. The court courtesy in itself is a highly technical matter. The secret of the thing is to sink to the floor, without bending the back, which, when accompanied by a train, veil, bouquet, fan, or bag, and a little natural nervousness, may well require rehearsal.
The presentation made news across the United States. Twenty-two young American women were also presented at the same time, ten on June 25th and twelve on June 26th. Huldah was the only woman from Nashville presented, others hailed from New York, Westchester, PA, Washington, DC, Baltimore, MD, Boston, Buffalo, Wichita, KS, and Atlanta, GA.
The trip was not all hard work and court customs. According to a Nashville newspaper clipping, Huldah and Mabel stayed at the Grosvenor House hotel, one of the most exclusive in London. Ironically, the Grosvenor House hotel stood on the site of the former Grosvenor House, home to the Duke of Westminster, whose elaborate, mahogany doors were purchased by the Cheeks for use at Cheekwood. They all attended numerous balls and dances “given in connection with the court festivities.”
Huldah and Mabel went on to attend the 1935 Ascot Races, took a cruise on the Thames River, and later set off for Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Germany. After a whirlwind summer, Huldah returned to Pennsylvania where she continued her studies at Bryn Mawr College as a sophomore.
Leslie Jones | VP, Museum Affairs and Curator of Decorative Arts