During the late 1920s and 1930s, the personal column of the Royal Gazette and Colonist Daily would announce the names of socially prominent personages arriving in Bermuda and their accommodations. For American visitors arriving on the Furness Withy Line, being mentioned in the paper was both a form of Bermudian welcome and an acknowledgement of social prestige. It could also be a recognition that many arrivals were repeat visitors or guests (never termed tourists) who would spend several winter months on the island. One such American visitor was Mrs J J Storrow, who arrived in Bermuda for the first time in March 1928 and would thereafter visit, to the benefit of many Bermudians, until the outbreak of the Second World War. Accompanied by Miss Storrow, possibly her sister-in-law Elizabeth, the column tells us, she first stayed at the Pomander Gate Guesthouse, which by then was one of Bermuda’s most exclusive accommodations, located on Pomander Walk, now Pomander Road. As Duncan McDowell writes in Another World, the guesthouse “combined chintz, antiques, fine food and English gardens to attract a loyal and snobbish clientele.” He quotes from Alice Sharples Baldwin’s The Days of Buck and Lynk: “Wags joked that ‘guests needed a birth certificate, a vaccination mark and a coat of arms to register at Pomander Gate.’”
Jay Lynk and Howard Buck, respectively American and Canadian, were both domestic partners and Pomander Gate’s founders and proprietors until after the war. They were known for their colourful characters and for their snobbery. “Buck,” according to Another World, “was said to have once evicted a guest for eating peas with his knife.” Both would have been knowledgeable about who was who in the social hierarchy so they would surely have recognised the name “Storrow” and known exactly whom they were hosting.
Born in New York in 1864, Helen Storrow was the daughter of David Munson Osborne who eventually made his fortune by manufacturing agricultural machinery. Her mother, née Eliza Wright, shared her grandparents’ friendship with abolitionist and activist Harriet Tubman, famous for organising slave escapes through the Underground Railway, a fact that may have influenced Mrs Storrow’s attitude towards the racial restrictions she would encounter in Bermuda. The young Helen had a privileged upbringing, attending boarding school for girls, later studying music in Germany, and subsequently graduating from Smith College. Mr Buck would not have to worry she would eat her peas with a knife. During a holiday climbing the Matterhorn in Switzerland, she met Bostonian James Jackson Storrow who would graduate from Harvard as a lawyer and eventually become an extremely successful investment banker. During their long and happy marriage, they both became famous for their devotion to many philanthropic activities and for their generosity, particularly towards the young. Mrs Storrow, for example, supported a cause creating safe play areas for children, especially in the poor North End of Boston, while also becoming a board member of North Bennet Street Industrial School. In addition, she became a supporter of the Saturday Evening Girls Club, which focussed on promoting education for young immigrant women. With their interest in the youth, it makes sense both the Storrows were committed to the Scouting movement in the US. Mr Storrow served as the second national president of the Boy Scouts of America while, from 1915, Mrs Storrow became deeply involved with the Girl Scouts, founding the Pine Tree Camp on her property at Long Pond, in Plymouth, which became the First National Girl Scout Leaders’ Training School. She was for many years first vice president of Girl Scouts, Inc., the national organisation of American Girl Scouts, and chairman of the executive committee of Massachusetts Girl Scouts. Eventually, Lady Baden-Powell would honour Mrs Storrow with the Silver Fish Award in recognition of her long service and dedication to Scouting. Mrs Storrow was one of just three American women to receive it.
It is likely that the proprietors of Pomander Gate were aware of the Storrows’ past activities. They would also know the reason Mrs Storrow arrived in Bermuda without her husband: he had died in 1926. Perhaps Mrs Storrow had chosen a new vacation destination in an attempt to alleviate her grief. Most likely she was also aware that Bermuda had had a Girl Guide movement since 1919 and wanted to pursue a connection.
In any case, her holiday was such a success she returned to Pomander Gate the following March, this time with a friend, Mrs Richard K Connant. In October 1929 she was back again and was by then certainly involved with the local movement headed by Mrs Lockhart, Bermuda’s district commissioner. As reported in the Gazette, Mrs Storrow brought Dame Katharine Furze, assistant commissioner of Girl Guides for all England, and head of the World Bureau of Guiding, to speak to Guides and Brownies in Bermuda. Mrs Storrow was called upon to speak about the importance of “interchange of Guides from one country to another.”
It was probably during this visit Mrs Storrow decided to buy property to build a holiday home in Tucker’s Town, which during the 1920s was being transformed into a new domain for the rich and elite, mostly from North America. By 1930 she had most definitely bought land, according to an announcement in the Gazette’s personal column of January 15, 1930: “Pending the completion of her winter home at Tuckers Town, Mrs. J. J. Storrow and Miss Storrow are staying at the Mid Ocean Club.” Her change of accommodation from Pomander Gate made sense as her new property overlooked the south shore and was on the periphery of the Mid Ocean Golf Course. She would be able to check on her building’s progress. By March she had moved in and given the house the name it has today: Fairwinds. Ronald Williams featured it in The Bermudian magazine of February 1934. He was mostly complimentary about the design saying, “Fairwinds has more Bermudian character than most of the houses in Tuckers Town. On the landward side at least, its lines are low, and a semicircular forecourt reminds one of old Bermuda houses…” He is equally approving of her garden: “Sensibly, and with taste, Mrs. Storrow has done little landscaping…Each view from the house is a painter’s picture. That to the westward is one of the most picturesque, most Bermudian compositions of beach and cedar woodland on this island.”
Mrs Storrow would open her gardens to the public at least twice through the Bermuda Garden Club’s (BGC) Open House and Gardens programme. In the manner of her compatriots, Mrs Storrow lavishly entertained many guests at the Mid Ocean Club by holding private dinner parties there and dinner dances. But unlike many, she took more of an interest in Bermuda’s community than in golfing. She joined the BGC, perhaps encouraged by its president Mrs W C Denny, who was also a Girl Guide leader. In typical fashion Mrs Storrow supported the Club with enthusiasm and generosity. She organised a garden competition in Smith’s and Hamilton Parishes while also donating generous prizes for their Roadsides Contest. It’s possible the Club introduced her to the Agricultural Show. Her cocker spaniel, Pepys, was placed first after she entered him in the dog show at the 1932 exhibition. She also supported further education in Bermuda by giving $1,200 a year to a Bermudian boy or girl winning a scholarship to Harvard. She even contributed two recipes to Bermuda’s Best Recipes, published in 1934 by the Bermuda Welfare Society. One was for a tomato cocktail and the other for “yum yums” or sweets made with raisins.
However, her main interest was Guiding. On several occasions she would invite Guide leaders from the US to stay at her house and train Guiding leaders in Bermuda. Fairwinds’s garden became the venue for first aid enactments, fire drills, folk dancing and story-telling sessions. According to the Gazette, the governor’s wife Lady Cubitt, Mrs Denny, Mrs Lockhart and Mrs W E Zuill all attended. One person’s name is not mentioned, that of Mrs Millicent Neverson, educator and philanthropist, who would become Bermuda’s first black Girl Guide district commissioner.
When Dame Furze spoke to the Guides in 1929, the Gazette says she was “especially delighted” with the white uniforms of the island’s Guides. What it does not mention, however, is that Girl Guiding in Bermuda was restricted to white girls. Though Guiding had been introduced in 1919, there were no Girl Guide companies in the black community, as the late Miss Enith King, former Girl Guide commissioner and educator, remembered in Bermuda Recollections. Millicent Neverson had arrived in Bermuda from Antigua in 1921 to teach at the Berkeley Institute. She would not meet Mrs Storrow until 1930, but with hindsight it can be seen they had much in common despite the differences in their backgrounds. Mrs Neverson was similarly passionate about education and support for impoverished youth. According to Bermuda Biographies, she established the Excelsior Secondary School in 1926 on the north shore in Pembroke, just east of Government House. Early on she was determined to found a Girl Guide company for black girls, but as Miss King put it,“she had a rough time time getting it off the ground.” The Bermuda Guiding Association was of little help until Mrs Storrow invited her friends Lord and Lady Baden-Powell, founders of the Scouting and Guiding movements, to stay with her in 1930. Mrs Storrow had heard about Mrs Neverson, sympathised with her determination and duly introduced her to the Baden-Powells, who apparently said, “You must have a Guide company. Mrs Neverson must have her wish.”
The following year the First Excelsior Girl Guide Company became a reality with 32 Guides enrolled, Miss King, a pupil at the Excelsior School being one of them. Mrs Neverson was captain. A report in the Gazette about the Excelsior’s prizegiving in 1931 reveals Lady Cubitt, a good friend of Mrs Storrow, as a staunch supporter: “It is worthy of mention that during the year the school had the honour paid it of a visit from His Excellency the Governor and Lady Cubitt.‘This large hearted Governor,’ said the Headmistress, Mrs. M. Neverson, ‘and his wife set us at ease the moment they entered the school, and the visit was an exceedingly pleasant one. Further honour was heaped on us during the same visit when Lady Cubitt named the patrols for our guides after her three daughters, [Rosemary, Veronica and Lavender] and as we have four patrols, she graciously named the fourth Red Rose.’ (Loud Cheers).” Eventually the First Excelsior Company was so popular, Mrs Neverson set up the Second Excelsior Girl Guide Company in 1934. She also founded a Brownie pack who would meet in the grounds of Government House.
In 1932, Mrs Storrow gave the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts a retreat in Switzerland. Our Chalet, outside Adelboden in the Bernese Oberland, is still in existence today. Meredith Ebbin, in Bermuda Biographies, says Wenona Robinson, leader of the First Excelsior Girl Guides, and two of the company’s Rangers, Doris (Heyliger) Corbin and Gaynell (Paynter) Robinson, were chosen to attend George VI’s coronation in London. They spent nearly five months abroad and stayed at Our Chalet.
Mrs Storrow’s last visit to Bermuda was in 1943 when she arrived by seaplane accompanied by a young evacuee from the Blitz in Britain, Peter Downing, who lived with her in the US, along with his brother. He remembered playing chess with her every night at Fairwinds during their fortnight’s holiday. In November 1944, she died in Lincoln, Massachusetts, at the age of 80. Tributes poured in from the US, Europe and, of course, Bermuda.
An anonymous appreciation in the Gazette said: “Helen Storrow will continue to live very vividly in the memory of her friends. Her personality had a quiet strength which exercised a strong influence on others…Her generosity was widespreading and consistent; there was nothing spasmodic about it: she saw things through—quietly, unobtrusively, but thoroughly.”
But perhaps Mrs Neverson’s words at a remembrance gathering held in Bermuda were the most moving: “Did she not give Girl Guides and Girl
Scouts irrespective of race, class and creed ‘Our Chalet’? I thank God for the honoured privilege of knowing a woman whom I feel was set apart as a friend to all and who I know has left the world richer for her passing through it.”