By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 11, 2006; C09
One of the grandest of Washington's grande dames, Eleanor Davies Tydings
Ditzen, who was the wife of one U.S. senator and the mother of another
and who dined with presidents for more than 80 years, died June 6 of
cardiac and respiratory arrest at her home in the District. She was 102.
From childhood, Mrs. Ditzen led a storybook life, and over the years she
was never far from Washington's center of influence. She was a leading
society figure who had a strong influence on the powerful men in her life.
Her father, Joseph E. Davies, who helped Woodrow Wilson win the White
House in 1912 and was Franklin D. Roosevelt's ambassador to the Soviet
Union in the late 1930s, played a key role in brokering the U.S.-Soviet
alliance in World War II. Her second husband, Millard E. Tydings, was a
four-term Democratic senator from Maryland. Her son, longtime Washington
lawyer Joseph Davies Tydings, served a term in the Senate.
Mrs. Ditzen vividly chronicled her colorful life in a frank
autobiography, "My Golden Spoon: Memoirs of a Capital Lady," published
when she was 93. She recalled being bounced on Wilson's knee at the
White House, entertaining John F. Kennedy at her Maryland estate and her
friendship with Bill and Hillary Clinton.
"I had a darn good ride on the merry-go-round," she told The Washington
Post in 1994.
Her name first appeared in society columns in 1921, when she was a
17-year-old debutante and, according to The Post, "considered one of
Washington's most beautiful and popular belles."
During World War II, she was chairwoman of the Red Cross nurses' aide
corps and later mustered political support to establish Washington
Hospital Center, which opened in 1953.
In 1956, when her second husband was attempting to regain his Senate
seat, he withdrew his name from consideration at the last minute because
of illness. She was drafted to run in his place and narrowly lost the
Describing her political leanings to The Post in 1994, she said, "I'm a
howling liberal suffragette."
Eleanor Davies was born in Watertown, Wis., on April 27, 1904. In 1912,
her father managed Wilson's western campaign, helping him win the
presidency, and moved to Washington the next year. He held a series of
high-level government positions and later was a prominent international
and corporate lawyer.
Mrs. Ditzen graduated from the Holton-Arms School in Washington and, in
1925, from Vassar College. In 1926, she married Thomas Patton
Cheesborough Jr., a 6-foot-4 collegiate athlete from North Carolina.
"He was a basketball All-American," she told the Baltimore Sun in 2000.
"Very handsome, all legs. He could pick up a keg and pour it down. And
did so. Regularly."
In 1935, /her/ family's private affairs suddenly turned into a soap
opera that was eagerly followed in the press. Accompanied by her mother,
she went to Reno, Nev., to obtain a divorce. Her mother went along
because she was also seeking a divorce from her husband, Joseph Davies,
who had taken up with Marjorie Merriweather Post, the General Mills
heiress and Washington hostess who was one of the richest women in the
In the meantime, Mrs. Ditzen -- then Mrs. Cheesborough -- moved back to
Washington, where her courtship with Millard Tydings, considered the
capital's most eligible bachelor, was an open secret. They were married
Dec. 27, 1935.
Her father and Post were married the same month, and the couples
honeymooned together on Post's palatial yacht. Davies and Post were
divorced in 1955; he died three years later.
Mrs. Ditzen's two children from her first marriage, a boy and a girl,
were adopted by Tydings. The boy, Joseph Tydings, would become a senator
in his own right.
Before her marriage to Tydings, her son said, "She was seen in public
rollerskating with her 7-year-old son down Massachusetts Avenue. Word
got out to my father [Tydings] that it was unseemly for her to be seen
in this way. We didn't do it again."
Millard Tydings was one of the first political figures to speak out
against the red-baiting hysteria of Sen. Joseph McCarthy. When Tydings
was up for reelection in 1950, political opponents altered a photograph
of him with his arm around his wife, inserting the image of Communist
Party leader Earl Browder in her place. It became known as one of the
dirtiest tricks in campaign history.
In 1966, five years after Tydings died, she married the Rev. Lowell
Russell Ditzen, the one-time director of the National Presbyterian
Center in Washington. He died in 1987.
For decades, Mrs. Ditzen presided over the Tydings estate, Oakington,
near Havre de Grace, Md., and over her father's Northwest Washington
home, Tregaron. Oakington is now the site of a drug rehabilitation
center. Tregaron, on Macomb Street, was sold in 1980 after years of
family wrangling and is the home of the Washington International School.
In addition to her son, of Chevy Chase and Monkton, Md., survivors
include her daughter, Eleanor Tydings Schapiro of Monkton; a sister;
eight grandchildren; and 14 great-grandchildren.
At a 1994 dinner-dance to commemorate "the 70th anniversary of her 20th
birthday," Mrs. Ditzen danced until midnight. On her 100th birthday, she
was back on her feet, dancing.
"Let's face it," her son said. "She lived an extraordinary life."
© 2006 The Washington Post Company