Remembering Jane Webster During Women’s History Month

By Elizabeth B. Eaton

Jane dePeyster Hovey Webster/Mrs. Edwin S. Webster (1870- 1969) continued her family’s propensity to enrich the community. Her ability to recognize important sites and secure them for use into the future as private and public spaces is apparent as she spearheaded the acquisition, renovation and restoration of 55 Beacon St., Boston, in 1944 to serve as The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Headquarters.

Portrait of Jane Webster- John Singer Sargent 1920

Declared a National Historic Landmark in 1964, the William Hickling Prescott House museum is open to members and the public for meetings, tours, lectures and events enabling people to congregate and enjoy an historic Beacon Hill townhouse. It houses the 7,000-piece Costume Collection and Society archives. Prescott House is named for the noted historian of late Renaissance Spain and the early Spanish Empire who lived at 55 Beacon from 1845-1859. Eminent American architect Asher Benjamin designed the Double Bow-front Boston Federal-style townhouse in 1808.

Jane Webster became President of the NSCDA MA in 1942. The History of the Massachusetts Society of The Colonial Dames of America 1893-1993 states: “President Mrs. Edwin Sibley Webster was “so indispensable” that the Society unanimously voted for her to remain in office for a fifth year (1946-1947), one more than specified in the By-Laws. When she did retire she became Headquarters House Chairman.” In 1949 she was placed on the National Roll of Honor of the Colonial Dames. Nationally, she served as Sulgrave Manor Board Representative, 1952-1958.                 Opening her homes to support the Dames and the community was important to her. During WWII the music room of her Dartmouth Street home was used for the Dames’ war efforts. Her Chestnut Street home was the site of many important events including the celebratory 50th Anniversary dinner for the Dames. 

Jane Webster also loved flowers and gardens. The renowned Webster Rose Garden at her summer home in Quissett was open to the public for almost 40 years. An article in the Woods Hole Historical Museum’s  Spritsail, 2017 vol. 31.1,  notes “ It is said Mrs. Webster delighted in roaming the gardens, incognito, to assure herself of the pleasure they  afforded her “guests.” Very seldom was there a charge. Once, in 1932, Mrs. Webster joined with three other local gardeners to open their gardens to the public for a fee – $1 to benefit the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.”  At age 95, she won The Antoine Leuthy Prize at the Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s 1965 Spring Show for her group of orchid plants noted in the MHS 1967 Year Book as “…the best display of flowering and foliage plants in the Spring Show.”

Jane’s family has a history of inspiration and involvement. Her grandfather, Charles Fox Hovey, was an abolitionist and supported the first National Woman’s Rights Convention in 1850.  Her great-granddaughter noted her competence, thoughtfulness, caring and humor. With her husband, Edwin, who was President of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society for 13 years, Trustee for the Massachusetts General Hospital and Trustee of the Museum of Fine Arts, Jane benefited her community and their Edwin S. Webster Foundation continues to inspire through five generations.  

William Hickling Prescott House is closed due to COVID 19 restrictions. Please check its website at nscdama.org or Facebook page for updated information.

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