Ridgefield notables: Mary Olcott, Grande Dame of Casagmo

If Main Street ever had a Grand Dame, it would have been Mary Olcott of Casagmo, the mansion that once loomed over north Main Street. A commanding person, she even wrote her own obituary.

Mary Louise Beatrice Olcott was born in Brooklyn in 1864, daughter of George Mann and Jennie Arnold Olcott. Her father, a drug company executive, built Casagmo (“casa” for house, “gmo” for his initials) in 1893 after razing the historic Stebbins homestead.

An ardent feminist, she served in the early 1900s on many committees and spoke at many gatherings in support of woman suffrage. In her obituary, she described herself as “widely known in Connecticut as a forceful and logical speaker.”

Sometimes, she was too forceful. In 1920, she and Ridgefielders Laura Shields and Florence Stokes were asked by the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association, soon to be the League of Women Voters, to try to convince presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Warren G. Harding to get Tennessee to be the 36th and final state to vote for the amendment. At Harding’s office, Olcott was their spokesman but her strong personality sparked a clash with a Harding aide, who ordered them to leave. After they had departed, Allee realized she’d forgotten her gloves and went back to retrieve them. The aide, who’d calmed down, asked why they had come to see the candidate. Allee told him.

“Why didn’t you just say so?” the aide said, adding that she should never have let Olcott do the speaking.

The three explained their mission to the senator. A few days later, Harding announced he was urging Tennessee to ratify the amendment. Tennessee did Aug. 26, making the 19th Amendment law. Three months later, Harding was elected president.

Olcott wrote a book of poetry in 1902 and, in 1956, completed a lifetime work, an Olcott genealogy. She wrote articles on gardening and was a founder of the Ridgefield Garden Club. She maintained elaborate gardens and bred prize-winning poodles, game birds, poultry, and swans at Casagmo.

Olcott was proud that the 1777 Battle of Ridgefield took place around Casagmo. In 1909, her father — probably at her urging — erected the stone plaque in Casagmo’s wall on Main Street, commemorating the burial of British and American soldiers nearby.

She was also proud of her ancestry that included Revolutionary soldiers. Nonetheless, she admired royalty, belonging to the “Sovereign Colonial Society of Americans of Royal Descent.”

She died in 1962. Her heirs sold the estate for development and it’s now the 320-unit condo complex.

Wishing her life to be remembered the way she wanted, Olcott wrote her own 1,000-word obituary, including membership in two dozen genealogical, social, historical, kennel, and gardening societies, a list too long to fit in the Press back then — and now. If you are curious, it appears on Facebook’s “Old Ridgefield” forum.

—Jack Sanders