“Carlo, you are not so much, the woods are full of artists, but your wife is a miracle.” —Carl Schmitt’s friend Donald Powell, in the Catholic Worker, 1934
Gertrude Lord, the second child of Austin and Margaret (Gaige) Lord, was born in 1891. Her father, Austin W. Lord, was a prominent New York architect who in his later years devoted himself to painting. He was an original member of the “Knocker’s Club,” a group of painters and other artists who met at the studio of the sculptor Solon Borglum in Silvermine, Connecticut, a bucolic hamlet about an hour’s train ride from Manhattan. Lord bought a farmhouse just down the road from Borglum and began to spend his summers there with his family.
In the fall of 1908, nineteen-year-old Carl Schmitt arrived in Silvermine, where he took up with the Knocker’s Club and began painting with Gertrude’s father. Austin Lord held Carl’s talent and character in high esteem, and likely introduced Carl to his family at this time. Gertrude, then sixteen, was a student at Mrs. Keller’s School in Manhattan, an accomplished pianist, and active in drama and dance. Carl, first attracted to Gertrude’s livelier sister Margherita, was eventually taken by the quiet charm of her more thoughtful younger sister.
Later, Gertrude would say that Carl courted her for “seven long years,” suggesting that their relationship became serious in 1910, around the time Carl first became active with the Knocker’s Club. By 1912, it is clear from friends’ letters that Carl is deeply in love but anxious about his future. Carl would first travel to Europe and be drafted into the Army before he and Gertrude were finally married on October 28, 1918 at the Catholic cathedral of St. Matthew in Washington, DC. They could afford only a brief honeymoon at Mount Vernon before Carl returned to his work drawing maps for the Army command in the capital. It would be over fifteen years before the couple would take an extended second honeymoon, this time to Carl’s beloved Dalmatia.
The measure of Gertrude’s devotion to her husband can be seen in her embrace of a life so unlike the one to which she was accustomed growing up. Gertrude had been given everything her successful architect-father could offer a daughter: a city and a summer home, servants, finishing schools, trips to Europe and Central America—even one of those exclusive contraptions, the automobile.
As one of her sons tells it, “New Canaanites were surprised to see this young lady perched high behind the wheel of a Franklin (or was it a Pierce Arrow?) speeding down the dirt highways. Her car was not only one of the first seen in those parts, but she was one of the first women drivers and assuredly the first to receive a ticket for going thirty miles an hour! Given her affluent youth, it is a wonder that her marriage to my father took place at all.”
Yet Gertrude was willing to forgo this life for herself and her children for Carl’s sake. Doubtless, her own father’s impression of Carl as a young man molded her picture of the one to whom she would devote her life. But her love grew to embrace ten children and a rich life with her husband.
A friend visiting in the 1930s described her as “a miracle—a natural woman in an unnatural world, a woman of charm, unfailing tact and fine sensibilities. Schmitt, of coarser mold, a man,” he continued, “must make great demands upon her, but I have never found her wanting.” Gertrude, for her part, never regretted her choice.