Eileen Gillespie Slocum was born in Manhattan on December 21 1915, and during her ninety-two years of life left an indelible mark on Newport society and the world of Republican politics.
Educated at Miss Hewitt’s Classes now the Hewitt School in New York City, Eileen became precise in vocabulary and diction. She made her debut at a dinner-dance hosted by her family at the Hotel Pierre in 1933.
At 17, she became engaged to John Jacob Astor V, whose father died on the Titanic. John had given her a ring worth $100,000, an Astor heirloom, and when she broke off the engagement, the ring went to her best friend. She waited seven years before marrying John Jermain Slocum in a ceremony that took place in her mother’s drawing room at 11 East 89th Street in New York City.
Her husband joined the foreign service and Eileen traveled the world with him. Upon his retirement, she began her long relationship with the Republican Party and became famous for her lavish parties thrown at her Newport home, which she inherited from her aunt in the 1960s. Her domain is called the Harold Carter Brown house, a Gothic Revival-style mansion built in the 1890s on Bellevue Avenue. With Eileen as hostess, it would become the site of many fundraisers for U.S. presidents, U.S. senators, local Republican office holders, and varied cultural and charitable organizations. She was one of the few remaining year-round residents who sill lived along Bellevue Avenue. Her house, in addition to being the scene of elaborate parties, was also filled with family. She had two daughters and a son who brought 11 grandchildren and 20 great grandchildren to visit her.
Eileen was the vice chairman of the Republican State Central Committee for years and became Rhode Island’s Republican national committeewoman from 1992 until the end of her life.
In 2010, a film of her life was shown in Providence and Newport called Behind the Hedgerow, Eileen Slocum and the Meaning of Newport Society. The film, created by Dave Bettencourt and Providence Journal reporter G. Wayne Miller, was told through the voices and eyes of Eileen herself and her family and friends.
Eileen Slocum was justly known as the grande dame of Newport society and was devoted to preserving that society and all of the culture and gentility associated with it. She died on July 27, 2008 in her home on Bellevue Avenue. Although she left a large family there has been no true successor to her position as the last vestige of the bygone Gilded Age society that made Newport famous throughout America and the world.
– Glenn V. Laxton & Patrick T. Conley