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Famous Heiress “Cissy” Patterson Slept Here

The narrow but tall, grand five-story house at 1601 R Street, NW was built almost 100 years ago, with construction beginning in April of 1910. It was built for Richard T. Mulligan, a retired naval commander, but shortly thereafter became home to a scandalous Austrian countess for a short time, and eventually served as an office for the Knights of Columbus and other organizations.

Mulligan had been born in New York and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy on June 20, 1876. He rose in the ranks to eventually become Lieutenant Commander in October of 1899, and also spent time at the Bureau of Navigation and the Signal Office in Washington, DC.

It was in Washington where he met his wife, the wealthy Emily Ogston; her uncle was George M. Robson, Secretary of the Navy. She died while on an extended holiday in France in April of 1914, and details of her Will reveal a vast estate, and the fact that up until that point, the couple had never resided at 1601 R Street. When in Washington, they resided with her mother, Harriett Ogston at 732 M Street, NW. Mulligan himself moved into 1601 R Street following his wife’s death, and resided there until his own death in 1917.

The house was designed by architect Jules Henri de Sibour, who had been born in Paris on December 23, 1872. The son of a French aristocratic father and an American mother, he lived in Richmond and Washington before enrolling in Yale University in 1892. Upon graduation, he went to work for New York architect Ernest Flagg at the time he was designing the new Corcoran Gallery of Art building. He later partnered with Bruce Price in New York, taking over the firm following Price’s death. Later, in 1910, he expanded the firm to Washington where he opened an office to concentrate on designing homes for the wealthy.

The 1920 City Directory reveals that the house was then the home of Countess Eleanor Gizycka. She was the former Eleanor Josephine Medill “Cissy” Patterson (1881-1948), an American journalist and newspaper editor, publisher, and owner. One of the first women to head a major daily newspaper, the Washington Times-Herald, she was the granddaughter of Joseph Medill, Mayor of Chicago and owner of the Chicago Tribune. Her parents, Robert and Nellie Patterson, had built the white marble mansion at 15 Dupont Circle in 1901, which she eventually inherited in the late 1920s.

She had met Austrian Count Josef Gizycka on a European holiday with her family, and he returned to Washington where they were married on April 14, 1904. They had a daughter named Leonora Felicia in 1905, but the marriage quickly deteriorated and Cissy fled with their child, hiding her in a house near London. The Count pursued her and kidnapped their child, hiding her in an Austrian convent while demanding $1 million in ransom. Cissy filed for divorce, which took 13 years to obtain, and in which William Howard Taft and Czar Nicholas II were personally involved; the Czar ordered the Count to return the child to her mother.

Patterson feuded with her daughter, who publicly “divorced” her in 1945, and with her former son-in-law, Drew Pearson. Alienated from her family and friends, she died in 1948 from alcoholism at her home, Dower House, near Marlboro, Maryland.

The Washington Council No. 224 Knights of Columbus purchased 1601 R Street in December of 1941 for $27,500. At the time, it was occupied by a fraternity, which, as a result of legal action, was forced to move nearly a year later. An offer made by the federal government to rent the house for $400 per month was refused, and in all, the KOC spent a total of $55,143 on household furnishings and general repairs before moving in.

The organization first owned a building at 606 E Street, NW a former Baptist church, which they had purchased in 1900. The local Council had formed in 1897, and they later purchased the former Carroll Institute at 918 10th Street, NW in 1921 at a cost of $65,000. It was designed and built in 1892 as a hall, gym, and library building. The national fraternal benefit society was founded in 1882 by Father Michael J. McGivney with a group of parishioners in the basement of St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, Connecticut.

They remained at 1601 R Street until 1954, when the house was purchased by the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs as their national headquarters. Established in 1896, the organization is considered the oldest black woman’s club in the nation. It was organized at the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, and had grown out of the merger of two nationally representative organizations, the Colored Women’s League of Washington and the National Federation of Afro-American Women. Mary Church Terrell was elected the first president.

The Association’s endeavor is to promote interracial understanding, justice and peace among all people, raise the standard of the home, and advance the moral, economic, social and religious welfare of the family. The Association also strives to promote the education of women and youth through local, state, and regional workshops, seminars and scholarship assistance. They completed a renovation of 1601 R Street in 2000.