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Cissy Patterson

Sale of Patterson Home


Cissy Patterson home at Dupont Circle


Eleanor Medill "Cissy" Patterson (November 7, 1881 - July 24, 1948) was an American journalist and newspaper editor, publisher and owner. Patterson was one of the first women to head a major daily newspaper, the Washington Times-Herald in Washington, D.C..


Elinor Josephine Patterson was born in Chicago, Illinois, the daughter of Robert and Nellie (Medill) Patterson. She would change the spelling of her first name to "Eleanor" as an adult, but would always be known as "Cissy," the name her brother gave her in childhood. Her grandfather Joseph Medill was Mayor of Chicago and owned the Chicago Tribune, which later passed into the hands of her first cousin Colonel Robert R. McCormick, Joseph Medill's grandson. Her older brother Joseph Medill Patterson was the founder of the New York Daily News.


She was educated at Miss Porter's School in Farmington, Connecticut. When her uncle Robert S. McCormick was named ambassador to Austria-Hungary, she accompanied him and his wife, Cissy's maternal aunt Kate, to Vienna. There she met Count Josef Gizycki and fell in love with him, a romance not interrupted even by her return to America, where she lived in Washington, D.C.. In Washington, she was a leading light in society, where the press labeled Alice Roosevelt (daughter of Theodore), Marguerite Cassini (daughter of the Russian ambassador), and Cissy the "Three Graces." Count Gizycki came to America and they were married in Washington on April 14, 1904 despite the objections of her family, which later proved well-founded. A daughter was born to them September 3, 1905, and was named Leonora Felicia. Cissy went with the Count to his home, a huge feudal manor in Russia. Their family life did not go well, but when Cissy wanted to leave, he tried to keep her there. She fled with their child, hiding her in a house near London, but the Count pursued her and kidnapped the little Countess, hiding her in an Austrian convent while demanding a million dollars in ransom. Cissy filed for divorce, which took thirteen years to obtain, and in which William Howard Taft and Czar Nicholas II were personally involved. The Czar ordered the Count to return the child to her mother.


After her experience abroad, she moved to Lake Forest, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, but she returned to Washington in 1913. In 1920, her brother Joseph finally succumbed to his sister's entreaties and allowed her to write for his New York Daily News, founded the previous year. She also worked for William Randolph Hearst. She published two novels, romans a clef, Glass Houses (1926) and Fall Flight (1928), part of her feud with former friend Alice Roosevelt Longworth.


Patterson tried to buy the Washington Herald and the Washington Times, then separate papers, from Hearst, who hated to sell anything, even when he needed the money. Although he had never made money from his Washington papers, he refused. However, at the urging of his editor Arthur Brisbane, Hearst agreed to make Patterson editor of the Herald. She began work on August 1, 1930. Patterson was a hands-on editor who insisted on the best of everything--writing, layout, typographic, graphics, comics, everything. She encouraged society reporting and the women's page and hired many women as reporters. In 1936, she was invited to join the all-male American Society of Newspaper Editors. Patterson made her paper popular with all strata of Washington society and doubled its circulation.


In 1937, Hearst's finances had gotten worse and he agreed to lease the Herald and the Times to Patterson with an option to buy. Eugene Meyer, the man who had outbid Hearst and Patterson for The Washington Post in 1933, tried to buy the Herald out from under Patterson, but failed. Instead, she bought both papers from Hearst on January 28, 1939, and merged them as the Times-Herald.


Along with her brother at the New York Daily News and her cousin at the Chicago Tribune, Patterson was an ardent isolationist and opponent of the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1942, after the Battle of Midway, the Times-Herald ran a Tribune story that revealed American intelligence was reading the Japanese naval code. Roosevelt, furious, had the Tribune and the Times-Herald indicted for espionage but backed down because of the publicity, charges he was persecuting his enemies, and the likelihood of an acquittal (since the Navy's own censors had twice cleared the story before it was published). During World War II, she and her brother were accused by their enemies of being Nazi sympathizers. Representative Elmer Holland of Pennsylvania on the floor of the United States House of Representatives said Cissy and Joseph Patterson "would welcome the victory of Hitler."


She feuded with her daughter, who publicly "divorced" her in 1945, and with her former son-in-law, Drew Pearson . Alienated from her family and friends, she turned to alcohol, and died alone at her home Dower House near Marlboro, Maryland. She left the paper to seven of her editors who within the year sold the paper to her cousin Colonel McCormick. He held onto the paper for five years, and despite being on the verge of profitability once more, he sold out to the Post, which promptly closed the paper.


On a lighter note, as Countess Gyzicki, Patterson was a frequent visitor to Jackson Hole, Wyoming in the 1920s where Donald Hough records an unexpected aspect of her personality: the ability to speak effectively to horses in language worthy of a native cowboy.


---Ms. Patterson was one of the "bad" girls during the Gilded Age's/early 1900's society in Washington, she delighted in stirring up trouble whenever and whereever she could. She was also a good friend of Alice Longworth Roosevelt who lived in the 2200 block of P St. just a short distance away until a feud broke up their friendship


FYI: Alice Longworth Roosevelt was the one who made the phrase "if you don't have anything nice to say, come sit by me" famous.


---Charles A Linburgh stayed at the Patterson home on the circle and made an hero’s appearance to thousands after his historic solo flight to Paris from the 2nd floor balcony to people gathered in Dupont Circle


One such grand residence is the marble and terra-cotta Patterson house at 15 Dupont Circle (currently the Washington Club).


This superb Italianate mansion, the only survivor of the many mansions that once ringed the circle itself, was built in 1901 by New York architect Stanford White for Robert Patterson, editor of the Chicago Tribune, and his wife Nellie Patterson, heiress to the Chicago Tribune fortune.


Upon Mrs. Patterson's incapacitation in the early 1920s, the house passed into the hands of her daughter, Cissy Patterson, who made it a hub of Washington social life.


The house served as temporary quarters for President and Mrs. Calvin Coolidge in 1927 while the White House underwent renovation.


The Coolidges welcomed Charles Lindbergh as a houseguest after his historic transatlantic flight. Lindbergh made several public appearances at the house, waving to roaring crowds from the second-story balcony, and befriended the Patterson Family, with whom he increasingly came to share isolationist and pro-German views.


Cissy Patterson later acquired the Washington Times-Herald (acquired by the Washington Post in 1954) and declared journalistic warfare on Franklin Delano Roosevelt, from 15 Dupont Circle, continuing throughout World War II to push her policies, which were echoed in the New York Daily News, run by her brother Joseph Medill Patterson, and the Chicago Tribune, run by their first cousin, Colonel Robert R. McCormick.


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Taken on February 16, 2010