Ruth Sterling Benjamin (1882-1957) appears far right in this photograph from The East Hampton Star’s archive. The five local girls with her are, from left, Betty Mall, Dorothy Johnson, later Dorothy Bailey (1921-2015), Netty Sherrill, later known as Sherrill Foster (1921-2007), Mary Louise Barnes, later Mary Mayo (b. 1925), and Elizabeth Foster, later Elizabeth Schieck (1921-1999).
The image is from a 1935 birthday celebration for John Howard Payne, a tradition that Ruth Benjamin started in 1931 at the Home, Sweet Home Museum. While those pictured are all wearing historical costumes, most weren’t accurate to Payne’s lifetime, although they certainly capture the pageantry and fun of historical re-enactment.
The young women in this photograph were between 10 and 15 years old at the time. References in The Star suggest several were close friends who remained in touch as adults. Netty Sherrill returned to East Hampton for Dorothy Johnson’s wedding, and they both attended college. Netty later became an enthusiastic local historian. The young woman labeled as Betty Mall, however, remains a mystery.
Ruth Benjamin served as the first director of the Home, Sweet Home Museum, starting immediately after East Hampton Village bought the building in 1927. She devoted her life to the museum, working as the main tour guide, curator, promoter, fund-raiser, and event planner there for 27 years. Ruth and her husband, Walter, moved to Amagansett during World War I, when he was stationed in Montauk.
In 1935, John Howard Payne’s birthday celebration occurred on June 15th, the Saturday following his actual birthday, after rain postponed the originally planned fete. The festivities took place on the lawn behind Home, Sweet Home, with performances by a chorus of schoolchildren and the high school band.
Major John Vernou Bouvier Jr. (1866-1948), paternal grandfather of future First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and a summer resident with a reputation as a talented orator, delivered an address focused on John Howard Payne’s life and the history of Home, Sweet Home. It was considered the highlight of the event.
Andrea Meyer, a librarian and archivist, is head of collection for the East Hampton Library’s Long Island Collection.