FEW people have known so many members of the Royal Family, and seen so many of them grow up from childhood, as Mrs. Ada Travis Lewis, the foundress of the Ada Leigh Homes for girls in Paris, who will celebrate her 90th birthday on March 3rd .'' I found this news-cutting when rummaging through a box of old family letters. My thought flew back in happy retrospect to that day 55 years ago. I had crossed London to bestow greetings, a kiss, and a modest gift on this venerable lady. My mother had already been in late in the morning, and as I arrived in the afternoon visitors were still coming and departing, along with cables and yet more flowers from all parts of the world.
Cousin Ada, as we girls addressed her, was my mother's first cousin; both were born Leighs. The difference in age had made the relationship rather that of aunt and niece, but with passing years my mother said, ``I feel I have caught up with her.'' We girls, too, thought of her as a very kind aunt, though we were a little in awe of her, but this would be our training rather than Cousin Ada's manner.
When she put on a concert in the Albert Hall, London, to raise funds for the furthering of her important work, we girls were asked to sell programs. On arriving we discovered that all the other program sellers were titled people. Our work finished, we two were invited to sit in the Royal Box behind Princess Louise and our relative, which we felt atoned somewhat for the lack of title.
Gradually I became less in awe and grew to love Cousin Ada sincerely. She took an interest in my career and would send me letters of encouragement. Always she wanted to hear about us. Never did I hear her talk about herself. She would arrive from her worldwide traveling to her home (4 Vicarage Gate) and then we would see her separately, Mother being the first to be invited. Once, when for reasons of distance I felt I must refuse, she wrote again saying she would put me up. I spent the night there feelin g very cherished.
At dinner we were a cozy foursome -- both gentlemen were gaitered clergymen. One, a suffragan bishop, told me that as we went down to the ground floor dining room from the first floor drawing room he had overheard his little grandson explaining to his friends, ``My grandpapa is not a real bishop, he's only a suffering one.'' ``Very good for me,'' the bishop commented.
Cousin Ada was the widow of the first archbishop of Ontario, John Travis Lewis, D.D., who for a period was archbishop of Canada. His immediate recognition of the importance of her work had caused him to speak about it whenever he could and to subscribe to it. the time frame needs clarification. presumably he began to sponsor her work when he first heard about it? Three years after the passing of his wife he married Ada Leigh, and it was known to be a very happy union, as was indeed his firs t marriage.
Cousin Ada was a friend of Queen Victoria, who at one time made a Dorothy bag (a handbag then quite fashionable) for Ada. Princess Louise also became a great friend. One afternoon when my mother arrived to have tea at Vicarage Gate, she found the princess there. When I asked Mother about this, she replied, ``Oh, it was very informal. We were just three elderly ladies enjoying a chat.''
King Edward and Queen Alexandra traveled to Paris to open the Ada Leigh Homes for girls, taking with them Prince George and the young Duke of Clarence. They all attended the ceremony, but when their parents were about to visit the Homes, the boys hung back, Prince George saying, ``I'm not going in there, that's a place for girls,'' and the two boys sat on a windowsill dangling their legs and whistling.
As an art student Ada Leigh had gone to Paris for further study at the Louvre. One day when shopping, she was surprised to find an English assistant in the store and to learn that she and other English assistants were not happy. They missed the comforts of home.
It was quite usual, in those far-off days of the 19th century, for these girls to sleep in dormitories on the shop premises. Ada had a comfortable apartment and she invited these girls to luncheon on the following Sunday. Thus was started what was to become a cozy gathering that meant a great deal to the girls.
When the time came for Ada to return to England, she disclosed her plan to start a home. One of the girls handed her hostess a franc by way of a start and, flinging her arms around her, begged her to press on with the idea. Maybe she had thought it wiser to discuss the matter first with her parents. But now, convinced that the idea was right, she went ahead, found a suitable house, and trustingly signed a contract for 10,000 to be paid the following May. Six weeks before this sum was due, the money was
paid. When the house was ready, a tablet was hung indoors: Asked of God August 11th 1874. Given of God May 3rd 1875. Surely God is in this place.
An English Protestant church was also built in Neuilly, and Cousin Ada undertook the planning and arranged for an English builder to go and build it.