By Janee Law
Huntington Historical Society has reunited the portrait of Henry Lewis Stimson with the portrait of his wife Mabel White Stimson, more than 60 years after they were first separated.
Henry Stimson had a prominent role in government serving as a cabinet member to two presidents during the early years of the 20th century. He was secretary of war under President William Howard Taft and secretary of state under presidents Herbert Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He is the namesake for South Huntington’s Henry L. Stimson Middle School on Oakwood Road.
American artist Leopold Seyffert painted the couple a few years apart; Mabel’s was painted in 1915 and Henry’s in 1917. The two portraits hung in the couple’s summer estate, “Highhold,” in West Hills, today the site of West Hills Day Camp.
“They’re a very famous couple who that lived in Huntington for decades and we’re proud of that fact,” Robert “Toby” Kissam, board treasurer of the Huntington Historical Society, said.
The couple’s home was built in 1903, Kissam added, and torn down in the1950s.
The portraits were first separated following Henry’s death in 1950. His was donated to the Historical Society in 1954, but Mabel’s portrait descended in her family.
Now, the portraits have been reunited. Members of the Historical Society purchased Mabel’s portrait in June at the Swann Auction Galleries in Manhattan. Kissam said the society paid more than $3,500 to acquire the portrait.
“It’s nice to have the couple together,” Kissam said. “The fact that they were hanging for 50 years in Huntington and now they’re back together after being apart for over 60 years is amazing.”
Henry Lewis Stimson was born in New York City in 1867 and graduated from Yale University in 1888. After two years at Harvard Law School, Henry was admitted to the New York Bar and joined a prestigious law firm.
Former President Theodore Roosevelt named Henry U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York in 1906. Henry ran for governor of New York in 1910. He did not win, but he was tapped by former president William Howard Taft to serve in his cabinet. He served as secretary of war from 1911 to 1912. Henry also served in World War I at 49 years old and then went into private practice after the war.
He was called back into government service by President Calvin Coolidge who appointed him governor general of the Philippines. He later became secretary of state under President Herbert Hoover. After Hoover lost to Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932, Stimson returned to the private sector.
But itwasn’t long before he was again pressed into service. When he was 73 years old, he again became secretary of war under Roosevelt, , a position he held until the end of World War II. In addition, he became the senior advisor to Roosevelt and Truman on the military employment of atomic energy and assisted in the decision that led Truman to drop the atomic bomb.
When he wasn’t grappling with such grave issues in the nation’s capitol, Stimson enjoyed time in West Hills. Henry and Mabel were known for entertaining Huntington residents at their estate with elaborate sporting events held on Thanksgiving and Columbus Day.
The Nov. 28, 1913 issue of The Long Islander reported that the Stimsons hosted more than 300 guests during what was “known as Thanksgiving Day Sports at Highhold.”
The two portraits in their matching frames and now hang together in the Watson Scholars Rooms at the Huntington Historical Society’s newly expanded headquarters at 209 Main Street in Huntington.