Too Rich for Comfort

Atlantic Portrait: Charles J. Bullock, Professor of Economics at Harvard, was the first man to hold the George F. Baker Chair, which was established in 1920. The economist and his forthright wife, HELENA BULLOCK, became close friends of the great financier, and were the people he knew best in the Harvard community. It was to them that he turned with mischievous candor at the time he was donating his millions to the Harvard School of Business Administration.

Every time Mr. Baker came to Boston he was much interested in the progress of the work, and could never understand why we were not more closely tied up with it. He thought that because C.J. was George F. Baker professor of economics at Harvard he must be head of the Business School, and could not understand how sharp the lines are drawn at Harvard between schools. The Medical School, the Law School, the Theological School, the Business School, and so on, are separate from Harvard College. They and Harvard College are all in Harvard University, but a professor in the Business School does not sit on the faculty of the College, and neither does a professor in the College sit on the faculty of the Business School. Once he said to me when we drove out to see the progress of the buildings, "It is queer how little you seem to know about the progress of your Business School."

"It's my Business School, is it?"

"Yes, I gave it to you."

"It's my Business School," I said, "and nobody knows it but me."

When the buildings were pretty well along, there seemed to be a halt in the proceedings and I found out by chance that for want of money they were not going to be able to carry out the original plans. As usual, everything cost more than expected. I thought they should tell Mr. Baker, but they couldn't bear to ask him for more money. So the next time we were having dinner with him at the Somerset I told him about it, and said that I thought he should be the one to decide whether he would prefer to have them keep within their original estimates and leave out the towers and some of the ornamental parts, or to give them another million so that they could stick to the original plans.

He said, "Why doesn't someone ask me?"

And I said, "I'm asking you now."

He gave them another million.

When the day came for the dedication, Mr. Baker had a bad case of stage fright. He made my husband promise he would sit next to him on the platform and prompt him when he needed it, and asked me to sit right in the middle of the front row where he could catch my eye. We arrived at the exercises together, and Mr. Baker clung to my husband and he was carried along in spite of himself. But when I got in the hall there naturally was no place reserved for me as I had stayed with them till the last minute. In fact there was no place anywhere. I edged up the far side aisle, and there in the center of the front row was one vacant seat, between the wife of the President of the University and the wife of the Dean of the Business School. I walked over and sat in it. Those two ladies were surprised but they showed only the best of good manners.


I SAID he never gave us anything. I forgot Crown Prince, our beautiful Belgian shepherd dog. Mr. Baker's Queenie came from the Queen of Belgium's kennels, and just once she had puppies by the champion police dog of America. When Mr. Baker told us about them, and that there were nine of them, I said, "I want one."

"I wouldn't think of giving you one. They are worth a great deal of money, maybe five thousand dollars apiece."

"That's all right. That's the kind I want."

"Would you take the runt?"

"No, I want a good one."

"Would you take a female? There are only three males in the litter."

"No, I want a good one."

"Well, I am not going to give you one. I am going to give these to my wealthy friends who have kennels and know how to bring up dogs."

"I want one."

After he went back to New York I kept after him about the puppy. "The puppy hasn't come yet...When are you going to send the puppy?...Don't forget that puppy you are going to send me." He never paid my attention to my remarks, so we were completely surprised one day to receive a telegram from him saying that he was sending the puppy by express and to be sure and return the crate, prepaid, the next day. So he did, and we did, and had the beautiful thoroughbred dog. We named him Crown Prince because his mother was Queen. He lived to a good old age, and whenever Mr. Baker came to Boston he wanted to see him, as all the other puppies died in the beautiful kennels of their wealthy masters, and Prince was the only one left.

Mr. Baker loved pets but could not have them in a house without a mistress, no matter how many servants there might be. The fact that his house needed a mistress was impressed on me one weekend visit. When we arrived Miss R., the nurse, asked when she could see me. I told her not to come to the library, where Mr. Baker and the Professor would be talking after dinner, but to be out in the hall at nine o'clock and I would come out there.

At nine I found her there and asked her what the matter was. She wanted to know if she might have three extra days on her vacation in order to go to Bermuda. I asked her who was going to take her place while she was away, and when she told me it was Mr. Baker's former nurse, to whom he was devoted, I told her it would be all right. She said there was something else. All the servants were paid by John, the butler. Mr. Baker's secretary brought the money the first of the month, and John paid them. She did not like to be paid with the rest of the servants, as she was a trained nurse and not a servant. I told her she might tell Mr. Baker's secretary that thereafter he was to give her her money separately and then give John the money for the rest of the household.

"I suppose you have noticed that Mr. Baker does not use his new shower bath."

"Well, I thought not. It seems to be full of things, from carpet sweeper to aprons."

"It was just as I thought it would be. The first time I tried it for him, when I turned the water on it knocked him down and I got all wet getting him out."

"If Mr. Baker wants a shower bath, then he is going to have it. Get a bathing cap for your hair and expect to get wet every time."

"I suppose you have noticed how spotted his suit is."

"Yes. It should be sent to the cleaner's."

"But he won't let me have it. He will not wear anything else, even for a day or two."

"Then I'll tell you what you must do. Have the tailor make him two more suits exactly like it, but don't tell him. Then keep one at the cleaner's, one hanging in the closet, all clean, and one on him."

"I don't know what to do about the masseur. He doesn't want to pay a masseur when he has a trained nurse here all the time, and I'm not good at it. It's too hard for me. I'm a trained nurse and not a masseuse."

"That is true, and Mr. Baker needs a good massage every night to put him to sleep, a better one than you can give him. Get that young Swede back, have John pay him without telling Mr. Baker, and tell Mr. Baker that the young man comes for the advertising he gets as masseur for Mr. Baker."

"Now John wants to see you."

Lastly there was Adah, the second-floor maid. She said she was never allowed to go downstairs, and that often a guest would ask her to get her coat, left on the piazza, or her book, left in the library, and Adah had to find another servant to do the errand and bring the thing to her. She wanted to know if, in such a case, she might go down herself. I did not know they marooned them like that but I thought maybe I had done enough mischief so I said she could not leave the second floor. I have always been sorry I left her like that, marooned on the second floor.

Mr. Baker was most generous in every way, but he did not like waste. One night at dinner he complained that the salad dressing was not tart enough, and I persuaded him to have half a lemon brought in. He said that if he could have just what he wanted he would have half of a fresh-cut lemon every night on his salad plate. "But they would throw away the other half."

"All right, come and live with me. I can have half a lemon every night if I want it."

One beautiful Sunday morning when we were both there for the weekend, G.H. and I were up and outdoors long before Mr. Baker was ready for breakfast.

"Now what have you two been doing?"

"Oh, you will be pleased. We have used every marble bench on the lawn. We'd sit on one and then get up and run and sit on another, and finally sat on them all." He really was pleased, said no one had sat on them for years. We said they had all been used now, and would last a long time.

One May when Mr. Baker was at our house I had President Emeritus Eliot, Dean Donham, and President Lowell for lunch; and upon entering the living room after being gone on a domestic crisis, I found them in the midst of a rather acrimonious discussion on age. Mr. Baker and Mr. Eliot were boasting of their ages, and they were getting older by the minute; Mr. Baker was going farther and farther on into the nineties but Mr. Eliot was always a little ahead of him. As a matter of fact Mr. Baker was just eighty-two that month, and Mr. Eliot a few years older.

During all the interminable discussions that delighted Mr. Baker and C.J., I sat and knitted and never made a remark but once. I had saved up nearly $1500, and I thought it would be fun to own one share in Mr. Baker's First National Bank that I heard them talk about so much. So, at dinner, when there seemed to be a slight pause, I said, "How much is one share of the First National Bank worth?" There was a dead silence while the two men looked at each other in dismay, and after a long discussion they told me they did not know.

"What! The professor of banks and banking at Harvard and the president of the First National Bank do not know how much it would cost to buy one share of stock?"

"That isn't what you asked. You asked how much it was worth."

A very good illustration of what a professor's wife was up against. (I never did get that share.)

Presented by

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus


A Stop-Motion Tour of New York City

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book


The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"


This Japanese Inn Has Been Open For 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.


What Happens Inside a Dying Mind?

Science cannot fully explain near-death experiences.

More in National

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In