The riveting biography of an heiress, equestrienne, spy-hunter, and patron of ecology
Belle W. Baruch (1899–1964) could outride, outshoot, outhunt, and outsail most of the young men of her elite social circle—abilities that distanced her from other debutantes of 1917. Unapologetic for her athleticism and interests in traditionally masculine pursuits, Baruch towered above male and female counterparts in height and daring. While she is known today for the wildlife conservation and biological research center on the South Carolina coast that bears her family name, Belle's life story is a rich narrative about one nonconformist's ties to the land. In Baroness of Hobcaw, Mary E. Miller provides a provocative portrait of this unorthodox woman who gave a gift of monumental importance to the scientific community.
Belle's father, Bernard M. Baruch, loomed large in his daughter's life. Known as the "Wolf of Wall Street," he held sway over the financial and diplomatic world of the early twentieth century and served as an adviser to seven U.S. presidents. In 1905 he bought Hobcaw Barony, a sprawling seaside retreat where he entertained the likes of Churchill and FDR. Belle grew up at Hobcaw, and ultimately her understanding of its value led to the protection of the last pristine estuary on the southeastern U.S. coast.
Belle's daily life reflects the world of wealthy northerners, including the Vanderbilts and Luces, who bought tracts of southern acreage. Miller details Belle's exploits—fox hunting at Hobcaw, show jumping at Deauville, flying her own plane, traveling with Edith Bolling Wilson, and patrolling the South Carolina beach for spies during World War II. She recounts Belle's efforts to win her mother's approval and her father's attention, as well as her unraveling relationships with friends, family, employees, and lovers—both male and female. Miller describes Belle's final success in saving Hobcaw from development as the overarching triumph of a tempestuous life.
After a twenty-five-year career in journalism, Mary E. Miller left the world of magazine and newspaper writing to enter Washington Theological Union in Washington, D.C., where she earned an M.A. in pastoral studies. Miller is now a spiritual director and retreat leader who lives in Surfside Beach, South Carolina.
"Belle W. Baruch loved horses, airplanes, women, and an occasional man. Raised Episcopalian, she was the eldest child of Bernard Baruch of Camden, South Carolina, one of the wealthiest and most famous Jewish Americans of his era, and Annie Griffith of New York. As Mary Miller tells us in the heiress's first biography, Belle pursued life not at a 'sedate trot' but at 'a thundering gallop through moonlit woods.' Hobcaw Barony, a vast coastal property she bought from her father and left in public trust for the purposes of research and conservation, remains her lasting legacy."—Dale Rosengarten, College of Charleston, curator and co-editor of A Portion of the People: Three Hundred Years of Southern Jewish Life
"In Baroness of Hobcaw, Mary E. Miller introduces readers to the colorful life of Belle Baruch, an heiress, athlete, world traveler and would-be spy hunter whose greatest legacy was the bequest of her South Carolina coastal estate for conservation and research. Miller doesn't shy away from the more complex aspects of Belle's biography, offering a direct treatment of her relationships with a string of male and female lovers. The vigorous style and well-paced action carry us along for an engaging ride with a woman who embraced life with verve and vigor."—Susan Millar Williams, author of A Devil and a Good Woman, Too: The Lives of Julia Peterkin