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The Andalusia Journal

February 7, 2023

Centennial Wedding Year: Charles J. & Katharine L. Biddle

The Washington, DC weather forecast for February 10, 1923, called for possible rain or snow with a high temperature of 44 degrees and a low of freezing. This was important because family members from Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Chicago and a few intimate friends were in the city to celebrate a joyous occasion: the wedding of Katharine Legendre Keep and World War I Ace Pilot Charles J. Biddle.

Charles J. Biddle, 1923, and Katharine Legendre Keep, c. 1922.

Katharine’s parents were deceased. Her mother died in 1914 at age 44 from a heart ailment and her father passed away in 1922. Therefore, the wedding invitation was issued by her aunt Mary Jennings, widow of Hennen Jennings, brother to Katharine’s mother. The Washington Evening Star reported that for the ceremony at St. John’s Church, Katharine wore a “beige colored dress made on long simple lines and a hat to match.” The only attendant was Matthew Gault of Baltimore acting as best man for Charles J. Afterwards a reception tea was served to the small gathering at her aunt’s home on Massachusetts Avenue. On the centennial year of their anniversary, it is fitting to briefly take a glimpse into the lives of a couple so important to Andalusia.

Wedding Invitation

Katharine & Charles J. at Andalusia, late February or early March 1923, upon returning home from their honeymoon to Palm Beach, Florida

Charles J. Biddle was born at Andalusia in 1890, the only child of Letitia and Charles Biddle, where he lived his entire life. Katharine Legendre, born in 1892, was the eldest of six children born to Cora and James Legendre of New Orleans. To escape the extreme heat and humidity of summertime New Orleans, the Legendre family summered in Camden, Maine as early as 1907. Philadelphia families also enjoyed a respite from the heat with homes in Maine, as did the Chauncey Keep family from Chicago. Photo albums in Andalusia archives show a young Katharine Legendre in Camden with her siblings and friends, including numerous Philadelphians, engaged in leisure time activities such as bicycling, swimming, golfing, and playing tennis. After a time, beginning around 1912, the photo albums began to identify a handsome young man, Henry Blair Keep; the two married in New Orleans in December of 1916, after cooler weather arrived. Their happiness was short-lived, however, as World War I intervened, and Henry was killed in October 1918 in the Meuse-Argonne Campaign in France. Katharine had given birth to their son Henry B. Keep Jr. only a year earlier. A note written by James Biddle (1929-2005) in the Andalusia archives states that Henry never saw his son.

Henry Blair Keep, Camden, Maine, 1914

Sailing in Maine, 1913

According to an oral interview of Charles J. and Katharine conducted in 1971, they met in Camden a few years before Katharine married Henry Keep, through mutual friends, the Charlton Henrys. Letitia and Charles Biddle, her brother John and other relatives, and Charles J. often spent time in Maine during the summer. Albums contain photos from the Northeast Harbor and Mt. Desert Island region. A 1912 photo shows Charles J. and mutual friend Gertrude Henry in a photo resembling other photos from Camden in Katharine’s albums and, according to Katharine, from about the time she met Charles J.

Gertrude Henry & Charles J. Biddle, 1912.

Several Philadelphians were mutual acquaintances of the Legendres, Keeps, and Biddles including the Henry, Dodge, and Meigs families, so it is easy to understand how they met in this way. Katharine, her family, and the Keeps continued to visit Camden after her first husband’s death, and there she played golf and went sailing with Charles J.  The first photo album showing Charles J. and Katharine together is in a photograph in Camden the summer after their marriage with her son Henry Jr. and members of the Henry family.

Camden, Maine, Summer 1923

Growing up in the country, Charles J. Biddle joined his father and uncles hunting in the fields of Andalusia and along the Delaware River. Katharine stated that she knew not to plan a wedding in the fall as it was the beginning of duck hunting season and she would be forgotten. February was chosen instead. During their marriage, numerous photos show that Katharine joined Charles J. on frequent hunting vacations throughout the United States and Scotland. They also enjoyed shooting matches closer to home at places like the Philadelphia Gun Club, just upriver from Andalusia.

Charles J. Biddle in 1900 with his first Reed birds, aka Bobolink.* He wrote that the gun seen shot only black powder.

Katharine and Charles J. Biddle hunting in Scotland, August 1957.

The newlyweds first lived in the “Boys Wing” of the Big House while the Cottage was being renovated for them. Sadly, Charles J.’s father unexpectedly passed away after surgery in July 1923, and his mother then moved to the Cottage after the renovation was completed. She lived there until her death in 1950.

Katharine relates in the 1971 interview that she had only visited Andalusia once before her wedding, stopping by on her way back from Camden to New Orleans with Henry Jr. and her father. Her thought at the time was that Andalusia “was a perfectly beautiful place, but I wouldn’t live here for anything in the world.” Indeed, in 1922, Andalusia was quite rural and Katharine was accustomed to city life. Her New Orleans home was located in the Garden District and the Keep’s home where she lived in Chicago was on Lake Shore Drive. State Road was established by then, but Charles J. wrote in the 1920s against modernizing the road as it would increase traffic (if he could only see the traffic today!). Nevertheless, proof that minds can be changed, Katharine agreed to Charles J.’s proposal, they became residents of Andalusia’s Big House much sooner than ever expected, and raised their family there. Two years after their wedding, Charles J. and Katharine welcomed a son, Charles, followed by another son, James, in 1929. In all, their married years amounted to just shy of five decades.

Charles J. and Katharine Biddle with Charles Biddle, Henry Keep Jr., and James Biddle at Andalusia, 1932.

Charles J. graduated Harvard Law in 1914 and began work in his father’s firm. The year after his father’s death, Charles J. joined attorney Henry Drinker in a firm begun in 1849 by John Christian Bullitt. In 1925 Charles J. became a partner in the firm that became known as Drinker, Biddle & Reath. He brought prestigious clients with him including the Philadelphia Contributionship, the oldest building insurance company in the nation founded by Benjamin Franklin, as well as the Philadelphia Savings Fund Society. Katharine settled in at Andalusia and became involved in community charities such as the Red Cross and served as President of the Visiting Nurse Society for many years. The Biddles also opened their home for fundraising events to support various community causes.

For their 40th anniversary celebration, held at the Philadelphia Gun Club, Charles J. noted that he was very proud he could still wear his wedding tuxedo. Guests were greeted by the Biddles at the Clubhouse entrance near a stuffed “hunter” standing in a recreated duck blind and duck decoys served as table decorations. Katharine cut the cake, made in the shape of Andalusia’s Big House, with a military sword belonging to a Biddle ancestor.

Katharine and Charles J. Biddle at their 40th Wedding Anniversary, 1963.

Katharine Biddle cutting the anniversary cake with a military sword, 1963.

Charles J. and Katharine were unable to celebrate their golden anniversary in 1973. He passed away in March 1972 and she in May 1973. Over the years, both made a conscious effort to document the many photo albums in Andalusia’s archives with names and dates. By their doing so, we’re able to piece together a part of their lives, learn about their families, and history at Andalusia.

Katharine and Charles J. Biddle aboard the RMS Queen Mary during their 35th year of marriage, August 1958.

Written by Connie S. Griffith Houchins

Photographs from photo albums in the Andalusia Archives

*An article written in 1910 records the earliest sightings of the season of Bobolinks in the Philadelphia region for a twelve year period notes that they were an “exceedingly abundant gamebird.” In 1900, when Charles J. Biddle shot his first Reed birds, the season’s first sighting was stated as “many.” As shown in his album, CJB’s hunting in September was well within the allowed season for “Reed birds”, so-called because they first settled on the wild rice (called reed) in the marshes. Great numbers of “Reedies” would be shot and sold in Philadelphia markets. (Miller, Richard F. “The Bobolink at Philadelphia, Pa., and Vicinity in Summer and Autumn.” The Auk 27, no. 1 (1910): 81–83. https://doi.org/10.2307/4070998.)

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