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Edwin M. Watson and Mrs. Watson (Frances Nash) Collection

 Collection
Identifier: 21

Scope and Contents

This collection consists primarily of the contents of two large scrapbook albums collected by General and Mrs. Edwin M. (“Pa”) Watson. General and Mrs. Watson built Kenwood, on the grounds of which is located the Jefferson Library.  The albums contain primarily numerous newspaper clippings in chronologic order (from March 6, 1939-March 7, 1945) about General Watson, Mrs. Watson, a nationally known concert pianist who used the her maiden name, Frances Nash, as her professional name, and an occasional clipping about Kenwood. The clippings consist of articles, columns (from such well known columnists of the time as Drew Pearson and Leonard Lyons) and photographs. Most clippings document the appearances of General Watson with President Roosevelt at numerous public appearances during the years leading up to the Second World War through the Yalta Conference. Some clippings include General Watson appearing only in the background. The newspapers (Appendix A) are primarily East Coast and Midwestern papers, although additional newspapers throughout the country carried announcements of the General’s death (Appendix B). There are also several press releases from the War Department and the White House, including a statement from the White House at the death of General Watson. In addition, there are two unidentified photographs, probably of the young General Watson, several letters to Ms. Nash from her mother as she was studying in Germany at the outset of the First World War expressing concern, a labeled photograph of the extended Nash family, and a vinyl record of Beethoven’s “Emperor” concerto for piano and orchestra, presumably with Mrs. Watson as the soloist.

Events covered in particular detail include:

Visit of King George and Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom to Washington in June, 1939

Arrival of Lord Halifax, the new British Ambassador, January, 1941

Visit of the Duke and the Duchess of Windsor to Washington (October, 1941)

Meetings of Roosevelt, Churchill and Allied leaders at various locales, particularly Casablanca (January, 1943) and Tehran (February, 1944)

Dates

  • Majority of material found in March 6, 1939 - March 7, 1945

Administrative History:

General Watson

The clippings begin with General (then Colonel) Watson’s appointment as secretary to Franklin Roosevelt, succeeding President Roosevelt’s son James. Col. Watson had previously served since 1933 as President Roosevelt’s Military Aide, as a Lt. Colonel (promoted to full colonel in 1937). During his tenure at the White House, until his death, at sea, while accompanying President Roosevelt back from the Yalta Conference in 1945 at age 61, General Watson was seen in public appearances constantly at the side of the President, supporting the President on his arm. As secretary to the President, General Watson controlled access to the President in the White House. His amiable personality allowed him to say “no” without insult taken. General Watson accompanied the President on all of his travels and vacations, and was one of President Roosevelt’s closest friends. He often greeted visitors to the White House, from foreign dignitaries to such visitors as boy scouts and regional beauty queens, and accepted gifts on the President’s behalf. General Watson was considered more conservative than most of President Roosevelt’s briantrusters and may have been appointed in part as an aid in bridging the gap between the White House and conservative congressional Democrats. Part of General Watson’s “portfolio” was also to include reviewing all courts martial appeals forwarded to the White House. In 1942 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from George Washington University. General Watson grew up in Martinsville, VA. His father was in the tobacco business and marketed “Little Edwin’s cut plug tobacco, with a picture of the young Edwin on the can. Edwin left for West Point (requiring three attempts to satisfy the math requirements) where he played football. At West Point he acquired the lifelong nickname “Pa”. Two stories are told to explain this. The first was that there were two Watsons in the class of 1908; one was named “Ma” and the other “Pa”. The second was that he acquired the nickname as he was the oldest in his class, graduating in the middle of the class at age 24. His grades did not allow him entry into the artillery corps, his first choice, although he managed entry several years later. After service in the Philippines and elsewhere, in 1915 he served as a military aide to President Wilson and served until war was declared in 1917. As a midlevel officer General Watson served with honor in the artillery in the First World War, awarded the Silver Star (with oak leaf cluster) and the French Croix de Guerre (with palm), in addition to other decorations from the United States and a variety of foreign governments. At the end of the war he was a junior aide to President Wilson at the Versailles Peace Conference and Chief of the military section of the peace commission.  From 1920-1927 Watson served as a military attaché to Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, and from 1927-1931 as the military aide at the American Embassy in Brussels. Col. Watson was promoted to brigadier general upon his appointment as secretary with a plan to promptly resign his commission the next day. However, a regulation required he remain in active service for at least a full year (with a salary less than that of a presidential secretary). He resumed active military service at the outset of the Second World War and a year later was promoted to Major General. General Watson suffered two heart attacks that were unreported in the news: the first at the Tehran Conference, and the second at the meeting of Roosevelt and Churchill at Québec in the fall of 1944. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage at sea while returning with the President from the Yalta Conference. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with the President and other dignitaries in attendance. At his death there were multiple references to General Watson’s personality and dignity (a “Southern gentleman”), loyalty and selflessness to the President, and his bearing (6’3”, “massive shouldered”).

Frances Nash

Frances Nash studied in Washington, Berlin, Paris, Brussels and Vienna. During her husband’s posting to Brussels between the wars she was a favorite, and played privately for Queen Elizabeth of Belgium. She allegedly once accompanied Queen Elizabeth and Albert Einstein as each played the violin. Ms. Nash was not only a respected pianist but was part of the musical establishment during the Watsons’ years in Washington.

Kenwood

Kenwood, built on “the old Porter place” was once part of Monticello, but was sold to satisfy creditors. General and Mrs. Watson built it for their retirement, but often used it for entertaining during his service in the White House, including the President. A small cottage was built adjoining the main house, now named “The President’s Cottage”. President Roosevelt was reported in the newspapers to have rested extraordinarily comfortably there, and Kenwood served as his base for visits to Ashlawn-Highland, the nearby house of President Monroe and to nearby Staunton, Virginia to inaugurate the opening of President Wilson’s house to the public.

Extent

3.00 Linear Feet

Title
Guide to the Edwin M. Watson and Mrs. Watson (Frances Nash) Collection
Status
Completed
Author
Jennifer Treadway and Victor Baum

Repository Details

Part of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Archives Repository

Contact:
Jefferson Library, Thomas Jefferson Foundation
P. O. Box 316
Charlottesville VA 22902