A Luncheon in Honor of Caroline Scott Harrison

Written by: Martha Barnhart, Treasurer General
May 6, 2015

Once during each administration, each officer has the opportunity to provide a luncheon for the Executive Board members during board week.  When the time arrived for my luncheon, I knew what theme I would select: a celebration of the 125th Anniversary of the National Society by honoring first President General Caroline Scott Harrison. Mrs. Harrison was the wife of Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd President of the United States and former senator from Indiana, my home state. 

I was delighted to begin with a display of some items from the Caroline Scott Harrison collection from the DAR Museum outside the Banquet Hall. It was prepared by the museum staff and provided a rare opportunity to appreciate Mrs. Harrison’s china painting, gown fabric swatches and jewelry.  A second display inside the newly refurbished Banquet Hall with its sparkling chandeliers and new wallpaper consisted of a print of watercolor orchids from the Treasurer General’s office painted by Mrs. Harrison, along with reproductions of the Harrison White House china, designed by Mrs. Harrison and a cookbook prepared by Mrs. Harrison titled Statesmen’s Dishes and How to Cook Them. Orchids became the official flower of the DAR due to Mrs. Harrison’s artwork.  They were also the official floral decoration at state receptions during the Harrison presidential administration.   

A PowerPoint display with pictures of the Harrison family, their home and art work samples by Mrs. Harrison was lovingly prepared by Elaine Sholty and Jennifer Capps of the Caroline Scott Harrison Chapter in Indianapolis, and I am so grateful to them.  Jennifer is the VP of Curatorship and Exhibition at the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site and Elaine is a Past Chapter Regent of Caroline Scott Harrison Chapter and portrays Mrs. Harrison in the first person at the Harrison home museum.

Thanks to the wonderful volunteers who staff our meals, the luncheon table was elegantly set with heritage DAR silver and china on white damask and decorated with potted orchids and candles.  Table seating was in order by years of membership in DAR – and the accumulated total represented more than 400 years of service by the 13 attendees!  It was an honor and a thrill to have the luncheon served on the 125th NSDAR anniversary commemorative plates donated by the Young Administration executive officers, the first time used as our dinner plates.  The pattern of the new 125th anniversary plates is remarkably similar to the Harrison White House china, and these keepsake commemorative plates are available for sale in the DAR Store.

The meal consisted of recipes obtained from Mrs. Harrison’s own recipe books received from the President Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site and Museum in Indianapolis.  The appetizers for the meal consisted of regent punch, along with fried walnuts, deviled almonds and sausage rolls.  The sausage roll recipe and many of the recipes were written in Mrs. Harrison’s own hand and required some updating by Martina Caputy and Kay Titus, the wonderful volunteers tasked with the big job of adapting the recipes, preparing and presenting the meal. Clear soup and homemade potato rolls with orange preserves followed the appetizers.  The entrée consisted of potted steak, bundled steamed asparagus spears, corn fritters and sliced tomatoes with dressing.  On each dessert plate was a slice of sugar cream pie, which is the official Indiana state pie from the kitchen of Mrs. William Henry Harrison, Caroline’s husband’s grandmother, along with pecan cake from the recipe of Mary Harrison McKee, daughter of Mrs. Harrison.  Each dessert plate held a live tiny orchid flower.

Mrs. Harrison is credited with rescuing and preserving White House china into a collection from previous administrations, as well as designing the Harrison White House china, using the Lincoln china as a guide.  She is also remembered for having cleaned the White House from top to bottom and having electricity installed, although the family did not touch the switches for fear of fire.  She was talented and well liked and remembered as a most gracious and attractive hostess.  As First Lady, she installed the first White House Christmas tree, and she was the first to have an official First Lady’s project and hold a press briefing. 

In 1890, she drove from the White House in her carriage to see if her DAR application was properly completed.  When asked to be President General, she considered her fragile health and official duties as First Lady, weighed against the need for a prominent leader for the Society requiring a visible and active role.  She accepted the honor when assured that she would not need to carry the heavier duties of the office.  At the first Continental Congress, she entertained the regents and delegates with an elegant reception and supper at the White House using the Harrison White House china for the first time.

Caroline Scott Harrison died of tuberculosis in the White House in 1892. She is buried in Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis.

I prepared a small keepsake booklet with pictures of and by Mrs. Harrison which also contained related Harrison history and original recipes for the meal for each of my luncheon guests to treasure the memories of this occasion.  I hope that you will enjoy this PowerPoint on Mrs. Harrison and you can see some pictures from the luncheon on the blog website as your “virtual visit” to the celebration.

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