Elsie’s Font


In the late 1930s, Larz and Isabel Anderson made arrangements to donate an Italian baptismal font to the Washington National Cathedral in memory of Larz’s sister, Elsie Anderson McMillan (1874-1921).  The font had been in the private chapel of a villa near Farrara, Italy, and is said to represent the virtues of prudence and chastity.  The font was installed on the grounds of the Cathedral in what is now known as the Bishop’s Garden.  Isabel Anderson once said of the font: “It is good Gothic…not Romish and so suitable for a Protestant chapel – of fine ringing-bell bronze.”

What little we know of Elsie’s life comes from her mother’s letters to Larz and a few newspaper clippings.  She married Philip Hamilton McMillan, son of Senator James McMillan, in Washington’s St. John Episcopal Church on Lafayette Square in 1899. After a honeymoon in Europe, the couple settled in Detroit, Phil’s hometown. Larz and Isabel often visited Elsie and Phil at their home, “Elsinore,” on Lake Shore Drive in Grosse Pointe Farms when they traveled by train between the east and west coasts. Phil died in 1919 and Elsie died two years later.  Their son, James Thayer McMillan, established the Philip Hamilton McMillan Memorial Publication Fund at Yale University in memory of his father, a member of the class of 1894.

The font was restored in 2010 and is a charming reminder of the devotion that Larz had to his family.

These and many more details about the Anderson family will appear in the forthcoming dual biography, Larz and Isabel Anderson: Wealth and Celebrity in the Gilded Age, by Stephen T. Moskey (iUniverse).


The Elsie Anderson McMillan Memorial Font
Bishop’s Garden, Washington National Cathedral
Photos Copyright © 2010 by Skip Moskey.
(Digimarc® Guardian for Images)