Princesss Julia Cantacuzène, 1907. From her book My Life Here and There, retrieved from archive.org.

Princess Julia Cantacuzène Speransky
1711 New Hampshire Avenue
Washington, D.C.

July 10, 1925

My dear Princess:

I have read with much interest in The Hartford Times that you are to speak in Hartford on November 13, under the auspices of the Hartford Women’s Club. For some time I have been hoping that our finances would permit our inviting you to address our Society, but as the Hartford Women’s Club has gotten ahead of us, I wish it might be possible for you to be a guest of this Society for a part of the time at least while you are in this vicinity.

As a subscriber to the Fund, you know that our Society has just purchased the Lt. Walter Fyler homestead [now called the Strong-Howard House] which is within a few hundred yards of the site of Matthew Grant’s homestead in front of which we placed a temporary marker the year before last, a fact you will also recall as a contributor. We are now restoring the Fyler house, installing modern conveniences and plan to open it before August 1 as social headquarters of the Society where guests can be made welcome and comfortable.

It occurred to me that you might have some pleasure and satisfaction in spending a day or a night at least in this lovely old house in the most attractive and unchanged section of old Windsor. If so, it will be a pleasure to the Society of which you are a member to extend its hospitality in any way most agreeable to you.

Very sincerely yours,
George E. Crosby, Jr.

Who was this princess whom our Society president invited to visit Windsor? She was Julia Dent Grant Cantacuzène Speransky.

Julia was born in the White House during the presidency of her paternal grandfather, Ulysses S. Grant. She describes the scene of her birth in a book of her memoirs, My Life Here and There: “[…]in June, 1876, in a quiet room, its windows looking out under the great portico of the President’s mansion, a first child was born, an unusually large girl, thirteen pounds of chubby health—myself.”

A letter Julia wrote in 1923 to then WHS President George Crosby, apologizing for the tardiness of the payment of her membership fees, which had been difficult to attend to with her frequent travels abroad. WHS collections OD 3-236.

Through Ulysses S. Grant, Julia Dent Grant was a descendant of Windsor founder Matthew Grant. Apparently because of this, Julia eventually became one of Windsor Historical Society’s charter members, though we cannot find any evidence as to how she would have heard of us in 1921, when we were first founded.

In any case, she was involved with us enough to be in occasional contact with our various presidents, and in 1944 she even donated two blue cloisonné vases that she told us once belonged to her famous grandfather, which we reported in our annual report for that year.

Cloisonné vases

Cloisonné vases that Julia Grant Cantacuzène inherited from her grandfather, President Grant, which she donated to us in 1944. The symbols on the bottom of the vases indicate that they were manufactured in the city of Shunde in Guangdong (Canton), China. WHS collections 1944.1.1, gift of Julia Grant Cantacuzène.

President Grant died when Julia was nine years old. She remembered that they were great friends and loved the outdoors:

“A wonderful experience was when he let me go out to drive in his buggy with the fast trotters, which were his single luxury. I stood between his knees, which steadied me, and held the reins out in front of his hands, and found skimming over the good hard road as great a joy as he did.”

As a teenager she lived with her family in Vienna where her father held a diplomatic position. At 16 she was “presented at court” shortly before returning to the states. A few years later she returned to Europe for a social season in Rome and met the Russian prince Mikhail Cantacuzène, Count Speranksy, a grandson of Czar Nicholas I. Mere weeks after meeting one another the couple became engaged and, four months later, married in Newport, Rhode Island, at her aunt’s home.

Part of the Cantacuzène wedding party in Newport. From My Life Here and There, retrieved from archive.org.

For nearly 20 years they enjoyed the splendor and pomp of Russian court life, until 1917 when they fled St. Petersburg and the Bolshevik Revolution with their three children “bringing little more than the clothes they were wearing.” They resettled in the U.S., first moving to Washington D.C. and later Sarasota, Florida, where the prince worked in a bank.

To supplement the family’s income the princess wrote an article about her family’s experience in Russia and submitted it to a national magazine for which she received $500 and a request for more stories and lectures. Thus, she launched her career as an author. She wrote three books: Revolutionary Days, Russian People and My Life Here and There.

Revolutionary Days book cover

Cover of her first book, published in 1919. Retrieved from archive.org.

Julia divorced Mikhail in 1934 (which was, according to her obituary in the New York Times, “on the grounds that the Prince ‘failed to show interest in matrimonial duties'”), abandoned her aristocratic titles, and returned to Washington. She also regained her American citizenship, which she had surrendered at the time of her marriage.

In her later years she slowly started losing her eyesight, and by age 80 she had gone completely blind. However, in June 1966 shortly before her 90th birthday, the retina dropped in one eye enabling her to see again. Doctors were unable to explain the phenomenon. “I can’t read. I see color. I see people, but things are a little blurred. You can’t imagine what it’s like to see again!”

This event did not go unnoticed by our Society. Our president wrote her in 1966 with:

When good fortune visits a long-time member, benefactor and friend of our Society, the joy of it spreads out to all the members. It is in the spirit of deep thanksgiving and sincere friendliness that we, the members of The Windsor Historical Society, offer you our congratulations on the miraculous recovery of your sight.

Julia died in 1975 in Washington, DC, at the age of 99, leaving two daughters and many descendants. The Washington Star described her as “a sprightly and witty grand dame of Washington society…who lived history that her contemporaries could only read about.”

Did she stay at the Strong-Howard House while on tour in Hartford? We don’t think so.