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'She was gifted with never-failing tact'

Clara Cook Kellogg was born in Rochester in 1861. And became a friend of the Queen of England, visited world capitals, and acted as hostess to world and government leaders.

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Clara Cook Kellogg (back row, second from left) and Frank Kellogg (back row, third from left), in a group photo from 1880.

In Clara Cook Kellogg’s day, the wives of accomplished men were expected to be seen and not heard.

They were supposed to lend support to their husbands, to be gracious hostesses, and to fade into the background when the spotlight turned their way.

By all accounts, Clara Kellogg filled that role to near-perfection. She was the wife of Frank B. Kellogg—a successful attorney in both Rochester (1877-87) and then St. Paul, a U.S. Senator (1917-23), ambassador to Great Britain (1924), U.S. Secretary of State (1925-29), a Nobel Peace Prize laureate (1929).

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Frank Kellogg, Clara’s husband, was the former Rochester attorney who went on to serve as U.S. Secretary of State and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1929 (and was featured on Time magazine in 1925).

Due to the important offices he held and the honors that came his way, we know quite a bit about the life of Frank Kellogg. To learn about Clara Kellogg, though, we need to peer through the large shadow cast by her husband.

“Women’s stories can be remarkably difficult to trace, in part because they often give up their birth names when they marry, and typically their achievements are not as readily recorded in public records such as newspapers,” said Virginia Wright-Peterson, a Rochester historian who has written extensively on women’s history topics.

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It’s true even for someone who, like Clara Kellogg, became a friend of the Queen of England, visited world capitals, and acted as hostess to world and government leaders, both in Washington and London.

That alone would qualify as an amazing life journey for someone from a frontier village, which is what Rochester was when Clara Cook was born here on Dec. 30, 1861. Her father, George C. Cook, operated a livery and harness shop on East College Street (now Fourth Street Southeast). The family, led by mother Elizabeth, lived at 509 S. Prospect (now Third Avenue Southwest).

Young Clara was an acquaintance of William J. Mayo, who was the same age and whose family moved to Rochester in the early 1860s. In a 1925 reception for the Kelloggs, Dr. Will recalled “Clara Cook of the good old days.”

Meanwhile, Frank Kellogg, born in 1856, had moved from his family’s farm to Rochester to study law. He was admitted to the bar in 1877, and soon formed a partnership with attorney Burt Eaton. Kellogg served three terms as city attorney and three terms as county attorney.

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Clara was teaching at Phelps School in Rochester when she met and fell in love with Frank. They were married on June 16, 1886, with Eaton serving as best man. The bride was described as “shy,” but if that was the case, she would soon grow to be a confident, capable woman who was comfortable accompanying her husband on the world stage.

The transformation began perhaps in 1887 when the young couple relocated to St. Paul, where Frank joined the law firm of Davis & Severance. The Kelloggs built a $12,000 mansion in the Crocus Hill neighborhood of St. Paul, which remained their home for the rest of their lives.

In 1916, Frank Kellogg was offered an opportunity to be a candidate for the U.S. Senate. He mulled the offer over for three or four days, the Post-Bulletin later reported, and then consented to run for the office. “He did not tell Mrs. Kellogg about the telegram until he had made up his mind,” according to the newspaper story. It was probably the last time he would not seek her advice when making a decision.

From then on, Clara was an important influence on every step of Frank Kellogg’s career. Theirs was a true partnership. “She has progressed with him, sharing equally and justly in the achievements and the honors that have come to him,” Dr. Will Mayo later said.

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It was Clara who welcomed and enhanced Frank’s appointment as American ambassador in London

The Kelloggs had arrived in London on Dec. 30, 1923, after disembarking from their ship at Plymouth. “They saw little of the city, however, as great clouds of fog hung over it,” according to a news report.

The ambassador’s duties included hosting receptions at Crewe House, the sprawling mansion in London’s fashionable Mayfair district. “Her charm, her modesty and tact certainly pleased the English people,” Frank Kellogg said of Clara. The Kelloggs soon developed a warm friendship with King George V and Queen Mary. They spent a weekend with the royal couple at Windsor Castle.

Clara was frequently credited for the Kelloggs’ positive reputation in London.

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Clara Cook Kellogg in 1923, at age 62. (All photos courtesy History Center of Olmsted County.)

“She was a tactful, patient woman whose grace often counteracted her husband’s impulsive conversation,” according to a 1942 Time magazine article.

“She was gifted with never-failing tact and a sense of fitness,” wrote Kellogg biographer David Bryn-Jones.

And it was Clara who, in 1925, urged Frank to repay President Calvin Coolidge’s loyalty by accepting the post of Secretary of State.

“You came here at the President’s request,” Clara told Frank in London. “He now asks you to go to Washington. If you feel that the President has called you to a task which you can perform and in which you can render real service, it is your duty to accept.”

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As Bryn-Jones noted, “There was nothing more to be said.”

When it came time to return to America, the Kelloggs were surprised when King George V and Queen Mary showed up to attend their farewell luncheon at Crewe House. But Clara handled their presence with “ease and dignity,” according to her husband. As a parting gift, the queen gave Clara a favorite pin.

With Frank as secretary of state, Clara served again as hostess and confidant in Washington. “She was ready with her counsel, and generally wise counsel at that,” Bryn-Jones wrote.

In retirement, the Kelloggs, who had no children, returned to their Crocus Hill home in St. Paul. Frank Kellogg, who had been in ill health for some time, died on Dec. 21, 1937, with Clara at his bedside.

During her later years, Clara kept in contact with old friends in Rochester and around the world. In one of her last Christmas cards, Clara wrote to a cousin: “Sorry to say I am not well but the dr. says rest and more rest so I hope to be all right some day.”

On Oct. 1, 1942, Clara Cook Kellogg, age 80, died at her home in St. Paul. She was buried next to her husband at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. There, the loving partnership that had begun in Rochester found its final resting place.

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Clara Cook Kellogg, 79, stands in front of her home in St. Paul in 1940.

Related Topics: ROCHESTERHISTORY
Thomas Weber is a former Post Bulletin reporter who enjoys writing about local history.
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