For the past 150 years, our historic resort has been owned and operated by the Smiley family. 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment, giving women the constitutional right to vote. Throughout the year, we are celebrating the vital roles played by women that helped shape Mohonk Mountain House into what it is today. Our blog series, HERstory, honors the contributions of a different female Smiley family member each month.
HERstory: Effie Newell Smiley
1858-1951 (Generation 1)
Her story is one of admiration and purpose. She is best known as the matriarch of Mohonk, as all living members of the Smiley family are descended from Effie. The current generations that own and operate Mohonk Mountain House today follow her example by sustaining the resort and caring for its guests.
In 1881, founder Albert Smiley brought on his half-brother Daniel, along with his wife Effie, to help manage the business. Effie and her husband shared a sense of stewardship over Mohonk and throughout the early years, much of its development was owed to Effie’s role looking after the House alongside her husband. Both Smiley brothers valued her advice for guidance on key matters while Effie served as Albert’s private secretary. She brought grace and assurance to her role as Mohonk’s hostess and many guests associated their visits with Effie’s welcoming approach and gracious manner as she attended to all their needs. She also had a deep love for nature and would often drive Albert by carriage around the grounds for inspection. After the founder’s death, Effie took over supervision of what is today’s Victorian Show Garden.
Effie came to know many notable guests from presidents to foreign ministers, famous artists to imposing merchants. Yet her modest and winning ways treated all alike, whether employee, guest, or conference delegate. She shared a common drive for making the world a better place and was an equal and active participant in the annual Mohonk Conferences that became a basis for future peace movements. Guests, employees, and family members were impressed with her kindly spirit, gentle manner, and strong supportive qualities. Seymour Stone captured all of this in Effie’s portrait that hangs in the Parlor alongside her husband, complete with her favorite flowers, peonies.
Effie and Daniel Smiley, 1923
After Daniels’ death in 1930, her sons Bert and Daniel inherited the Mohonk operation in the midst of economic crisis and leaned on their mother for support. While the business faced mounting expenses due to the Depression, world war, rationing, and inflation, Effie focused on maintaining the quality and the core of Mohonk’s purpose and guest service. As her family sought to change and modify Mohonk with electric lights and automobiles, Effie held on to her roots of custom, culture, and tradition.
She saw the importance that Mohonk—its outlook in seeking harmony between people and between people and nature—still remained “Mohonk.” Even though the world was ever changing, Effie provided a continuity for guests to retreat to what seemed an untouched Mohonk, and continue to find peace within nature. 150 years later, as the Mountain House evolves with modern improvements and ongoing historic restoration, the Smiley family continues Effie’s legacy of ensuring Mohonk stays “the same, only better.”
Not only was Effie Smiley a diligent administrator but also a prolific writer. During her era, letter writing was a common form of daily communication. Through many maintained letters that have been passed on to our day, we can reach through time to better understand the thoughts and feelings of Effie Smiley. Lousia Finn, a 4th generation Smiley family member as well as a speech language therapist, remarks that these letters between Daniel and Effie paint a picture of a beautiful, loving relationship with a shared happiness for running Mohonk Mountain House. In reading Effie’s letters one will find a strong poetic voice and expressions of admiration for her husband, Daniel. Even commonplace sentiments such as “thank you so much for your note” become elevated through Effie’s words:
“How glad I was to have had thy lovely telegram that day… with its reassuring and sweet message.”
Effie’s letter to Daniel Smiley (Dec. 7th, 1915)
Try to remember the excitement you felt the last time you received a handwritten letter or postcard by mail. It was probably a very memorable and touching experience. Today, it is becoming a rare activity for people to write and receive letters. Louisa Finn acknowledges that the speed of life around us is causing a growing concern for the lack of time spent to accurately reflect on our feelings and then express them to those we love. It is so easy to send a quick text with a heart emoji or happy face, but to put down in words how we feel about the other person in that moment and share it with touching eloquence has become a dying art.
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, why not use letter writing as a romantic gesture. As Effie illustrates through her letters, this expression of love allows a significant other to ponder the time and effort that is taken to show how much they mean to us.
Celebrate with your sweetheart with a romantic getaway during Valentine’s Week at our historic Victorian castle. Dancing, ice skating, and hiking our scenic trails are just some of the activities that are waiting for you.
Source: BURGESS, LARRY E. MOHONK AND THE SMILEYS: a National Historic Landmark and the Family That Created It. BLACK DOME PR, 2019.