New Hampshire’s Former First Lady: Constance Rivington (Russell) Winant Eppley Earle (1899-1981)

Mrs. Constance (Russell) Winant, circa 1941

Mrs. Constance (Russell) Winant, circa 1941, at the time of her husband’s appointment to the Court of St. James.

Constance Rivington Russell was born on 18 September 1899 in New York, the daughter of Archibald Douglas & Albertina Taylor (Pyne) Russell. She was the granddaughter of Percy Rivington Pyne, and great-granddaughter of Moses Taylor. Her father was a financier and philanthropist, her grandfather a banker, financier and philanthropist, and her great-grandfather an early president of the National Bank of NYC and stockholder in the Lackawanna and Western Railroad. The family were benefactors of Princeton University.

Mrs. Albertina T. (Pyne) Russell, seated, with her daughters (L to R) Helen Rutherford Russell, Constance Rivington Russell, and Ethelberta Pyne Russell.

Mrs. Albertina T. (Pyne) Russell, circa 1909 seated, with her daughters (L to R) Helen Rutherford Russell, Constance Rivington Russell, and Ethelberta Pyne Russell.

Constance had a privileged early life, and as a young woman was very well known in Princeton and New York Society. In 1900 she was living with her parents on Stockton Street in the upscale section of Princeton, New Jersey. In 1910 then 10-year-old Constance and her sister Helen  had an Irish governess, 41-yr-old Frances M. Jackson.  Possibly Constance and her sisters attended Miss Fine’s School in Princeton, NJ. The 1930 census (after Constance was married and living in Concord NH) states that she completed four years of college.

A young Constance traveled abroad to Europe at least three times with her parents–in 1908 on the SS Celtic, in 1912 on the Kronprinzessin Cecile, and in 1914 on the SS. Mauretania. In 1911 her mother, Albertina, founded the Garden Club of Princeton, and no doubt Constance, was also part of the club’s ongoing events.

In 1917, Constance along with her sister Helen were the guests of Mr. & Mrs. Andrew Carnegie and their daughter, Margaret Carnegie of NY at their country home in Lenox, MA. Constance’s mother Albertina T. (Pyne) Russell died in 1918, when Constance was only 19 years old.

John G. Winant, Bain News Service pub., George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington DC

John G. Winant, Bain News Service pub., George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington DC

Constance  met, and was courted by, a handsome, ex-WW1 pilot, and former NH legislator named John Winant.   The Oct 19, 1919 issue of the Trenton Evening Tribune newspaper announced: “Archibald D. Russell of Princeton and New York announced the engagement of his daughter, Miss Constance Rivington Russell, to John Gilbert Winant, son of Frederick Winant, of New York City.”  A month later on November 28, Constance’s father died suddenly, precipitating great changes in her life, and she inherited a substantial amount of money.  In the midst of her grief, she did not wait until Spring to marry. Instead, on 20 December 1919 in the Church of the Incarnation in New York City, Constance R. Russell quietly became the wife of John Gilbert Winant, son of Frederick Winant.

John G. Winant was a member of the class of 1913 Princeton University and at the time assistant to the headmaster of St. Paul’s School in Concord, NH. During the war (WW1) he served in the Aviation Corps with the rank of captain.  From 1919-1923 the newlyweds were living at Edgerstoune, the Russell mansion on Stockton Street in Princeton, New Jersey. By 1924 they had moved to Concord, New Hampshire, where John was president and treasurer of the Merrimack Realty Company, and vice-president of Steven-Winant Lumber Co.

News article from 14 August 1924 News Herald (Franklin PA) with Headlines: "Millionaire Seeks Governorsihp To Fill Desire to Be Second Lincoln"

News article from 14 August 1924 News Herald (Franklin PA) with Headlines: “Millionaire Seeks Governorship To Fill Desire to Be Second Lincoln.” Constance is seen seated on the right with her two eldest children. He became the youngest New Hampshire governor at age 36.

John Winant continued in politics in Concord, as New Hampshire representative and senator, and then he was elected to three terms as governor of the state (1925-1927; 1931-1935). His portrait hangs in the New Hampshire State House.

An April 1926 Granite State Monthly article, entitled “The Governor’s Herd,” provided some detail about his home-life on his “Edgerstoune Farm,” but offered little insight into his, or Constance’s, personal lives. Later in December of 1926 the same publication on then-Governor Winant’s administration added: “Governor Winant could not have made his administration the success it has been without the background of an ideal home life to give him rest and strength. Of that home life the public has had glimpses on such occasions as the reception at the Winant GatheringGovernor’s home to the editors of the country on the occasion of their visit to New Hampshire or the join meeting at Edgerstoune Farm of the Pomona Grange and Farm Bureau; but only those who have had close association with the Chief Executive appreciate the extent of the inspiration for his career which has come to him from his family life.” Constance was the driving force behind organizing the huge gatherings that frequently occurred at their home.

The John G. Winant family in February of 1941. Constant (Russell) Winant and John G. Winant seated. Standing (L to R), Mr. & Mrs. Carlos Velando, John G. Winant Jr. and Revington R. Winant.

The John G. Winant family in February of 1941, after his appointment as ambassador.  Constance (Russell) Winant and John G. Winant seated. Standing (L to R), Mr. & Mrs. Carlos Velando [daughter Constance], John G. Winant, Jr. and Revington R. Winant.

During this time, Constance was also making her own public appearances.  A news article in the Fitchburg Sentinel (Fitchburg MA) of 29 Jan 1932 mentions Mrs. Constant Winant’s speaking at a meeting of the Greenville (NH) Women’s Club, where she told of her trip to India, “showing motion pictures which she took.”

In 1935 President Roosevelt appointed him as chairman of the first Social Security Board. Later he became chief of the international labor office in Geneva, Switzerland (an affiliate of the League of Nations). Constance and at least one of their three children were with him constantly during this service.  John was known throughout his life for working late into the night, and so, no doubt, the responsibility of caring for the children was almost solely Constance’s. In 1941, John Winant resigned from the post of Director of the International Labour Office in order to accept the appointment as American Ambassador to London (succeeding Joseph P. Kennedy). Following this service, Winston Churchill called him “a true, faithful and unyielding friend.

July 1942 Dominion Day Service at Westminster Abbey, London, England. From left to right: Constant (Russell) Winant [Mrs. John], John G. Winant ambassador, and M. Maisky, Russian Ambassador.

July 1942 Dominion Day Service at Westminster Abbey, London, England. From left to right: Constant (Russell) Winant [Mrs. John], John G. Winant ambassador, and Ivan Maisky, Russian Ambassador.

The St. Petersburg (FL) Times of 28 February 1941 printed an article about Constance entitled, “Mrs. Winant Plans for Service in Role of Ambassador’s Lady.” It states that Constance was “sure England will win the war. ‘Right will always win out,’ she told the interviewer. ‘The English are defending democracy and everything a Christian would want in these days.’ She adds, “I hope to be of service there. I wouldn’t go if I didn’t think I could be. I want to help in whatever way I can find to help–to be the most use possible.”

The article goes on to state, “She seems surprisingly young for the mother of a married daughter and two sons in their teens. There are no deep lines in her face, no gray in her light brown hair. She talks with a mixture of reserve and eagerness and spills a quick river of words when she is interested. She likes pretty clothes well enough, but I doubt if they mean a great deal in her life.” The story tells that she enjoys flying, and that her plan is to follow her husband in London in the next few months, wanting to spend a holiday with her children, the youngest of which are still in school.

In the past two decades she has been busy keeping herself informed on his job problems, running the Winant’s big colonial house on the outskirts of Concord, N.H., mothering the three children and doing a good deal of church and civic work. Her only hobby, she says is her Edgerstoune kennels…

Edgerstoune Kennels advertisement

Edgerstoune Kennels advertisement

After moving to Concord with her husband, Constance had begun Edgerstoune Kennels in Concord, New Hampshire (apparently named after her New Jersey homestead) and bred both Scottish Highlander Terriers and West Highland White Terriers. She continued the business during and after World War Two. Mrs. Winant was a top breeder and a prominent importer having won Best in Show at Westminster in 1942 with the Westie bitch, Ch. Wolvey Pattern of Edgerstoune . In 1950 she also won Best In Show, this time with the Scottish Terrier dog, Ch. Walsing Winning Trick of Edgerstoune.

During their time in England, the British newspapers focused mostly on John Winant.

May 1941, Mrs. Winant (far right) visited the Regent Lodge Receiving Nursery, following her husband's presentation of $280,000 to the W.V.S from the American Red Cross. On left holding the child is Lady Reading, Chairman of the Women's Voluntary Services in Britain. The child is not named.

May 1941, Mrs. Winant (far right) visited the Regent Lodge Receiving Nursery, following her husband’s presentation of $280,000 to the W.V.S from the American Red Cross. On left holding the child is Lady Reading, Chairman of the Women’s Voluntary Services in Britain. The child is not identified.

There are a few published photographs showing Constance moving into her new home, and of her visiting a local nursery (see). So though she is mostly left out of the official histories, it is obvious that she indeed was “of service there” in England. In 1943 their son John Jr., was a prisoner of the Germans during World War II after the Flying Fortress he was piloting was shot down. No doubt although greatly relieved that he was alive, the news of his capture was stressful and troubling for Constance and her entire family. On January 22, 1944, their younger son, Rivington R. Winant, then 18-years old and a freshman at Princeton was inducted into the Marine Corps at Grenier Field Station, Manchester NH.

In March of 1946 President Truman appointed John Winant as permanent U.S. representative on UNESCO. By May the Winants returned to the United States. He resigned in January of 1947 because he wanted to “pick up my life again as a private citizen in my own country.” Ten months later, on 3 November 1947, he was dead, from a suicide. His book, “Letter From Grosvenor Square: an Account of a Stewardship,” was published the following day.

The News-Herald newspaper of Franklin, Pennsylvania report on the funeral of John G. Winant

The News-Herald newspaper of Franklin, Pennsylvania. dated 14 November 1947, reported on the funeral of John G. Winant

At the time of his death, John Winant was alone in their Concord, New Hampshire home.  Constance was at their home in New York, and distraught at the news,  she quickly flew to New Hampshire.  John G. Winant was mourned locally and internationally. A simple funeral was held at St. Paul’s Protestant Episcopal Church in Concord, and John Winant was buried in the St. Paul’s School cemetery nearby.  A few days later, on 19 November 1947, a memorial service attended by 23 ambassadors and ministers was held at St. Paul’s Cathedral for John Winant. Prime Minister Clement R. Attlee spoke briefly, and Winston Churchill paid tribute to him.

Constance Winant and her family mourned John G. Winant as a husband, a father, and a son. No doubt in her time of grief she was plagued with questions by reporters, and probably refused such interviews, as I find none mentioned in the newspapers. In 1948 and 1949 the papers of John Gilbert Winant were deposited in the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum by his widow, Constance. These were later donated to the same institution by descendants.  In 2014 a Winant Memorial Statue Committee was formed, a sculptor chosen and fund raising began to build a memorial on the grounds of the NH State Library. Reportedly the “sculpture will feature Winant sitting on a bench, with room for passers-by to sit down next to him.”

winant houseEventually the Winant home in Concord was sold to the State of New Hampshire for a child study center that was never built.  The property was sold again, the large house was torn down, and a Unitarian Church was built on the spot.

John G. & Constance (Russell) Winant had three children, now all deceased: (1) a daughter Constance Russell Winant, b. 3 January 1921 in New York City, NY who m1) 9 February 1941 Carlos W. Velando de Cossio, a Peruvian scientist, and had a son Charles Winant Velando.  They divorced in June 1953,  and she m2d) 21 December 1953 as his 3rd wife, Claude K. Williams of Houston TX, son of Mrs. Pleas B. Rogers of Llewellyn, Berryville Va., and the late Earl K. Williams. She died April 7, 1978 at the age of 57 and is buried in Memorial Oaks Cemetery, Houston TX ; (2) John G. Winant, Jr. of Princeton, and (3) Rivington R. Winant of New York who married Joan O’Meara. He died 3 February 2011.

In June of 1952 Constance’s older sister, Ethelberta Pyne (Russell) Eppley, died in New York at the age of 65, after an illness of five months. Ethel was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. She was the wife of Marion Epply, a scientist, and owner of Eppley Laboratory, who served in WW2 as chief of staff of an Eastern Sea Frontier and as chief of cencorshop of the Pacfiic Fleet on the staff of Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz and they lived in Newport, Rhode Island from 1922 to 1942 mostly at “Beacon Rock” on Harrison Avenue, then later at “Eastover” in Portsmouth RI before moving to Oyster Bay.

Six months later, on 22 December of 1952, Archibald D. Russell, Jr. announced his sister Constance’s engagement to widower, Capt. Marion Eppley, USNR, (ret). in the newspapers.  At that time she is described as being a member of the Colony Club, New York, on the board of managers of St. Luke’s Home, that city,  and founder and owner of the Edgarstoune Kennels.  Constance and Marion married in January of 1953 at Church of St. Mary the Virgin, New York City. Her son, Rivington R. “Riv” Winant was best man for Captain Eppley. A reception followed in the Colony Club.  They were married for 8 years when Marion Eppley died 22 November 1960 at their home on Steamboat Landing Road, Oyster Bay, Long Island. He was 77 years old.

Five years later, Mrs. Marion Eppley (Constance R. Russell Winant) married in September 1965 to Walter K. Earle, becoming the 2nd Mrs. Walter K. Earle.   He was a partner in Shearman & Sterling, New York lawyers, was the founder and curator of the Whaling Museum Society in Cold Spring Harbor, L.I. and the author of “Scrimshaw Folk Art of the Whalers.”  Walter K. Earle died February 10, 1969 at their home on 510 Park Avenue in New York City.


Headstone of Constance R. (Russell) Winant Eppley Earle in Arlington National Cemetery, beside that of her 2nd husband, Marion Earle. Photograph courtsey of Arlington National Cemetery web site.

Constance Rivington (Russell) Winant Eppley Earle died on February 10, 1983 in New York City after a long illness. A funeral service was held at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, 145 West 46 Street, New York City, and she was buried in a private ceremony in Arlington National Cemetery, along side her 2nd husband Marion Eppley. In her will, she bequeathed an oil painting of George Washington, originally belonging to her older sister, to the Art Museum in Princeton New Jersey in memory of their mutual husband, Marion Eppley.

In 2009, Rivington Winant, with his wife Joan, donated 85 acres of land in Concord for the creation of Winant Park in honor of his late father and mother. The property sits on what was formerly the elder Winants’ estate and offers the public biking, hiking and cross-country ski trails.

Among Constance’s paternal ancestors were Lewis Morris, chief justice of New York from 1715 to 1733 and governor or New Jersey from 1738 to 1746; Lewis Morris, judge of the New York Admiralty Court and member of the New York Assembly, and Lewis Morris, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a delegate to the second and third Continental Congresses. Among other paternal ancestors were John Watts, first president of the New York Hospital 1770-1784 and his son-in-law William Alexander, Lord Stirling, one of George Washington’s generals during the Revolution. Her maternal great-grandfather was Moses Taylor, early New York City merchant and financier and president of the National City Bank of New York. She was also a descendant of Galcerán de Pinós.

Editor’s Note:
My thanks to:
1. Ruth Speed, past president of the Penacook (NH) Historical Society who provided some information and photographs on the lives of the Winant family while they resided in Concord.
2. David Levesque, Technical Services Librarian/Archivist, Ohrstrom Library, St. Paul’s School, who returned my email and provided several leads on where to obtain more information.

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4 Responses to New Hampshire’s Former First Lady: Constance Rivington (Russell) Winant Eppley Earle (1899-1981)

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  4. Julie Cathleen Davies says:

    Clearing out my mother’s paperwork and found a letter to her mother from Mrs Winant dated December 15th 1947 ..Was strange reading the letter to my grandmother about Mr winants death and reading about them both above .

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