This is the second in a series of blog posts by Jeff Groff, Director of Public Programs at Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, looking at the history of Woodcrest on the Cabrini campus and its notable residents.  The Main Line Antiques Show 2014 will be held on the Cabrini campus and Jeff is a speaker in our Lecture Series during the Show weekend.

The Mansion’s original owner James Paul died in 1908 and Woodcrest became the home of his daughter Mary Astor Paul and her husband Charles Munn.  The Munns, a wealthy Chicago family figured prominently in the social world of Palm Beach.  In the small world way of society back then they seemed related to everyone “who mattered” including Wanamakers, Armours, Pulitzers, and Bakers.  The marriage of Mary Paul and Charles Munn at St. Martins Church in Radnor in 1909 drew international attention.

Mary Paul Munn 1917

Mary Paul Munn 1917

The Munns moved between Radnor, Palm Beach—their Addison Mizner designed house was called Amado–and Europe. In 1925 they sold Woodcrest to the John T. Dorrances and Mary made France her home. Moving beyond her conventional social life she would take a different direction, revealing strong character and daring.  In 1930 she divorced Charles Munn to marry Jacques Allez, a renowned WWI French flying ace.  Director of the American Aid Society in Paris, she took a more covert role after the Germans occupied the city during WWII using the code name Pauline and acting as a liaison with the French Resistance.  After the war she was named a chevalier of the Legion of Honor and received the American Medal of Honor.  Her obituary in the New York Times in 1950 declared her a “Heroine of the War.”

Her two daughters led very long and active lives.  Frances married New Yorker George F. Baker, Jr., heir to a large banking fortune and lived in New York, Palm Beach and France.  Her sister Mary married Frederick Edward Ponsonby, Viscount Duncannon, who became the 10th Earl of Bessborough in 1956. Mary, Countess Bessborough divided her time between England and Paris before returning to Philadelphia in later years.  A talented painter, her interests also included the Benjamin Franklin House in London, Drexel University and the American Philosophical Society.

Next installment:  Woodcrest Farms , Woodcrest Lodge and Box Hill