Knickerbocker Greys

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The Knickerbocker Greys is the oldest after school activity in the United States, founded in 1881 for children aged 6 to 16. Since its founding, the primary purpose of the Greys “is to instill in cadets a sense of personal responsibility, and instinct for leadership, the habit of reliability, and the self-assurance which follows mastery of these steps to useful citizenship.” Cadets undergo a series of experiences over the years that build confidence, improve self-esteem, develop character, social skills, patience, perseverance, enthusiasm, public speaking, problem solving and leadership.[1] The tradition of the Knickerbocker Greys lives on in all of the cadets.

Early history[edit]

The Knickerbocker Greys was founded by Mrs. Augusta Lawler Stacey Curtis, the wife of Dr. Edward Curtis, a noted New York City physician who served on the staff of the Surgeon General of the Union Army, and assisted in the autopsy on the body of President Abraham Lincoln. She started the corps as a way to keep her boys out of trouble, since they had taken to hanging out at candy stores after school. At the time, there were no after school activities or organized sports.[2]

With a group of mothers, Mrs. Curtis asked Lieutenant Adolph W. Callison of the 22nd Regiment to be a Drill Master, and found a location at the 12th Regiment New York National Guard Armory. They chose a uniform similar to that of an English organization, consisting of a gray jacket, knickerbockers, and round cap, which were all trimmed with black braid. The group’s name was derived from the original uniform’s knee-length pants that were known as "knickerbockers”, and the color of the dress uniform, “Cadet Grey”.[3] This color is still used on West Point Cadet Uniforms.

In the winter 1886-1887 the 12th Regiment moved into their new armory, so the Greys obtained permission to drill in the armory of the 71st Regiment then at Broadway and 35th Street. They followed the Regiment first to Broadway and 45th Street and later to their armory at Park Avenue and 34th Street. During the construction of this armory on Park Avenue, the Greys used various halls about the city for one season. In 1902 the 71st Regiment Armory burned down and the Knickerbocker Greys were invited to drill in the 7th Regiment Armory (now known as the Park Avenue Armory) at Park Avenue and East 67th Street through the courtesy of Colonel Daniel Appleton.[3]

Members of the Greys[edit]

Over 4,500 New Yorkers have been members of the Knickerbocker Grey Cadet Corps over the past 125 years and have recruited cadets from many New York City families, some from its highest social ranks. Many prominent families enlisted their sons into the Greys, who at the time drilled two afternoons a week. John D Rockefeller III and Nelson Rockefeller were both Greys, as well as Cornelius Vanderbilt III, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and John Lindsay.[4] Along with such famous cadets, many other children have been Greys, from public, parochial, private, and even home schools. Originally an all male organization, the Greys became coed in 1986.[5] There have been three female cadet colonels, the highest rank any cadet can receive in the organization, since 1986.[6] The Knickerbocker Greys have been featured in New York Magazine, Town And Country, The New York Times and most recently The Wall Street Journal.

Notable veterans[edit]

The Blagden Brothers: Linzee and Dexter. Linzee and Dexter’s father, George Blagden, (b. 1835, Boston, died 1905) He married Frances Meredith Dexter in 1864 and served in the Civil War with the 1st Mass Cavalry, ultimately attaining the rank of brevet Colonel, US Volunteers. After leaving the Army, he moved to New York in 1865 and eventually joined the Wall Street firm of Chase & Higginson. He was a member of the Century Association (1874-1905), University Club, St Nicholas Society and the Union League Club.

Blagden, Linzee – (d. 1936) lived on 18 East 36th Street, graduated Harvard in 1896. In 1910, Linzee started a Wall Street firm with Stanley McGraw and Charles D. Draper. Charles D. Draper graduated Harvard in 1900 and had served as a Naval officer in World War I. In 1913, Linzee married Charles Draper’s sister Dorothea (1884–1956). They had no children. Dorothea Draper was part of the founding group of the Junior League, a graduate of the Spence School in New York, and a former president of the board of managers of the Bellevue Hospital School of Nursing. Linzee joined several clubs in New York to include the Union, Racquet and Tennis and University Clubs. Served as an officer in New York Institute for Special Education (NYISE) from1925-1932. The NYISE was founded in 1831 to provide programs for children who are blind or visually disabled.

Dexter Blagden attended Harvard and graduated in 1893. He also became a stockbroker and was a former member of the governing committee of the New York Stock Exchange. He married Mabel Whitney, the sister of Charles L. A. Whitney, in Grace Episcopal Church in 1918. He was a member of the Harvard and University clubs.

P.S. Minnis. Little information is known. Deceased by 1931, when the 50th Anniversary History was written.

Phillips B. Thompson graduated Harvard in 1897 and married Marrion McKeever. They settled down on West 56th street in 1909. She was a member of the Colony club, and he joined the Union, University and Racquet and Tennis clubs. In 1914, Phillips Thompson worked on a committee to create a “Winter’s Sports Club” in New York City, with a proposed location at 45th street and Park Avenue. (Source: New York Times, 17 May 1914)

William H. Wheelock, married Catherine Dix, daughter of Rev. Dr. Morgan Dix, rector of Trinity Church. They lived on 100 E 39th Streets. He graduated Harvard in 1898 and at one time was a Director for Liverpool and London and Globe insurance company on William Street and a former president of the Central National Bank in Manhattan. In 1917, William Wheelock was elected by the vestry of Trinity Church to manage the large real-estate holdings of Trinity Church which included 360 houses with a net worth assessed in 1917 to be $15,000,000. At the time, he was also managing the real-estate holdings of Presbyterian Hospital. He was a member of the University Club, Down Town Association and the New York Athletic Club.

Walter S. Gurnee graduated Columbia University in 1896. He lived on 8 East 33rd Street and was a member of the Union Club and the Seawanhaka Yacht Club in Oyster Bay, New York (Founded 1871) though in 1881 the Club also had a clubhouse in Manhattan.

Louis L. Lorillard, Jr grew up in a family listed in the Social Register. He graduated Yale in 1897 and his younger brother graduated Harvard in 1903. His father was an ardent yachtsman and member of the New York Yacht Club, the Knickerbocker and the Newport Reading Club. His father died in Paris in 1910 from a complication from diseases. Louis Jr spent his summers at the family house, “Oakwood Terrace” in Newport, RI. He was a member of the Union, Saint Anthony’s and the New York Yacht Club

Cortland Field Bishop (1870-1935), lived on 67th street just off 5th Avenue and was a pioneer aviator, balloonist and traveler. He graduated Columbia University in 1891 and continued in his education until receiving a PhD. He was listed in the Social Register and a member of numerous clubs to include the Knickerbocker, the Metropolitan, the Automobile, and the Grolier Clubs as well as the Colonial Wars and Saint Nicholas Societies.

Edmund Maurice Burke Roche and Frances George Roche (twins) were born in Chelsea, England in May 1885 to Frances Eleanor Work of New York City and the Honorable James Boothby Burke Roche, 3rd Baron Fermoy. The twins moved to New York City, lived on 13 E 26th street and joined the Knickerbocker Greys. Edmund later served in the U.S. Army in World War I and returned to England to take the title of 4th Baron Fermoy in 1920. He married in 1931 and had three children who served in the Royal Air Force, World War II and Parliament. He was the maternal grandfather of Diana, Princess of Wales. His brother Frances served in the Navy in World War I and was Secretary of the Lafayette Fund, established to send care packages to French soldiers prior to the U.S. involvement in World War I.

Hugh Auchincloss. He attended Yale, graduating in 1920 and later earned a law degree from Columbia University in 1924. He served in the United States Navy during the First World War and the War Department and the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) during the Second World War. He later founded the brokerage firm Auchincloss, Parker & Redpath. He was friends with Jacqueline Bouvier and gave her away at her wedding to John F. Kennedy in 1953.

Austen Fox Jr. Father was a lawyer attended Churchill’s Military School in Sing Sing, NY and then Harvard. (Austen Hoppin Fox attended Harvard ’03 and was a member of St Nicholas)

Henry Sloane Coffin (1877- 1954, Yale 1897) studied theology and while at Yale is believed to have been excepted to the secret society called Skull and Bones. In 1910, he became the pastor of Madison Avenue Church in New York City. After his time as pastor, Henry Coffin took the position of president of Union Theological Seminary, in New York. He inherited the family furniture business of W. and J. Sloane & Co.

William S. Coffin, Sr, Henry Coffin’s brother, married Catherine Butterfield, who volunteered in France during the First World War, providing aid to soldiers. William Coffin became president of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo: Library of Congress. His son, William Jr, also attended Yale, became an ordained minister and was an ardent peace activist in the 1960’s and 1070’s.

Austen Fox Riggs became a pioneer in early psychoanalysis, developing conceptual systems several years before Freud.

Robert W. Goelet graduated Harvard in 1902. He became a successful real estate investor in New York City. He served with the Guaranty Trust Company, among other firms. He was socially prominent, joining many clubs and societies and donated art to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Bridgham, S. Willard, son of S. Willard Bridgham and Fanny Schermerhorn, descendent of Jacob Janse Schermerhorn, who settled in “New Netherland,” in 1636. Successive generations brought the Schermerhorn family extenstive real-estate holdings in New York.

COL Eugene K Austen Commanded the 108th Infantry Regiment, NY Guard.

Rogers Hammond Bacon, 1909 – only wife listed in SR. Dead? Bartow W. Van Voorhis, Jr. Moved to Mexico on the early 1900s with his wife Edith, perhaps to pursue a career in mining, which he was likely somewhat familiar with, given his father’s iron works business. In 1965, Bartow donated two pieces of rare Brazilian Tourmaline to the Mackay School of Mines Museum. Tourmaline is a crystal mineral made of aluminium, magnesium, iron and other compounds. Bartow’s father died in 1887, when Bartow was young. His father was born in Fishkill, NY and became president of the Manhattan Iron Works, a company with prominence in Manhattan, and which helped to meet the great need of building construction. His father was a member of the Holland Society.

Vail E. Stebbins was a cadet in 1883. He was the grandson of Henry G. Stebbins, who for many years was the President of the New York Stock Exchange and had also served on the Ways and Means Committee for Congress during the Civil War. When war broke out with Spain, he Served with the U.S. Navy on the U.S.S. Yankee during the Spanish–American War in 1898. Following the business traditions of his family, Vail E. Stebbins bought a seat on the New York Stock Exchange in 1908 while with the firm De Coppet and Doremus where he began a successful business career. When the United States entered the First World War, Vail E. Stebbins served in the Navy as the Acting Chief of Staff for the American High Commissioner in Constantinople. He was a member of the Union, Racquet and Tennis and University Clubs.

Lewis C Ledyard Jr. Born in 1879, Lewis C Ledyard Jr. was a cadet in the earliest years. His father was a lawyer and his mother served on the Board of Governors of the Knickerbocker Greys. Like his father, he attended Harvard as an undergraduate and then went on the Harvard Law School. He worked at the firm Carter, Ledyard, and Milburn. Among other clubs, he was a member of the Knickerbocker Club and Down Town Association.

Henry H. Hollister, Jr. graduated Yale in 1899. His father was involved in mining. In 1906, Henry Jr. married Miss Hope Shepley, daughter of COL and Mrs. George Shepley. A fellow Knickerbocker Grey from his youth, Murray Dodge, was an usher. COL Shepley was a prominent insurance businessman in Providence, R.I. He earned his rank as the Aide-de-camp of Rhode Island governor Elisha Dyer.

Robert Hoe, Jr. was born in 1876 and after the Knickerbocker Greys, attended Lawrenceville School in New Jersey. Like many in his family, he went to Harvard, graduating in 1900. That year, he married Ethell Dodd and settled on east 55th street in Manhattan while working in the printing press manufacturing business. His father, Robert Sr, attended Mr. William Forest and Quackenbo’s school on the northeast corner of 14th street and 6th avenue.

The son of two notable social “Patriarchs,” W. Bayard Cutting, Jr. was born in New York in June 1878 and attended Groton School after the Greys. After graduating Harvard, he lived on East 72nd street with his wife, Olivia Murray. Olivia Murray was the daughter of COL William Bayard Cutting, who served in an artillery regiment in the War of 1812. Bayard and Olivia were unusually socially prominent in New York at the time, belonging to almost all the major clubs, societies and associations. He was a close friend of Edith Wharton and other prominent New Yorkers. He and his wife a member of the Union, South Side Sportsmans’, Tuxedo, University, Metropolitan, City, Delta Phi, Players, Grolier, Church, Jekyl Island, Huguenot, Colonial Dames, Colony and Columbia University Clubs as well as the Down Town and Century Association. Although life may have given him good fortune in his early years, his luck sadly changed with poor health until he died from pneumonia in 1910 while visiting Assouan, Egypt. Bayard’s family estate in Long Island, called "Westbrook" consisted at one time of over one thousand acres. By the 1950s, most of the estate lands were donated to the Long Island State Park and Recreation Commission.[7]

The Knickerbocker Greys today[edit]

Today the Knickerbocker Greys meet every Tuesday afternoon from 4:45 - 6pm during the school year at the Park Avenue Armory between 66th and 67th Streets on Park Avenue. The focus of these weekly meetings is to learn traditional marching and drill routines, but the ultimate aim is for the participants to learn more than these drills. The main goal of the Greys is that in the process of this training, cadets develop leadership skills: such as how to motivate others; how to deal with them correctly; and how to command a group of inferior individuals. The Greys also encourage a community within the corps, leading to friendships between older and younger cadets, by not only drilling, but going on trips, learning about American history, and even having parties and games.[8] The Greys also build confidence, by instilling in each cadet a sense of discipline, leadership, compassion and orderliness. As cadets master the military Drill and Ceremony, they pass on their skills onto younger cadets. This helps cadets in many areas, from leadership to public speaking. As one Cadet Colonel said, “I used to be really shy and I had a serious fear of public speaking, my experiences at the Greys helped me a lot, step by step. And since then, as cadet Colonel, I’ve learned a lot about confidence, leadership, and how to teach younger cadets.” [5] Cadets are also instructed in etiquette and learn how to “meet and greet” while acting as color guards for several historical societies and civic events in New York. Some of the annual events include the Father Cadet dinner, marching in the Veteran's Day Parade up Fifth Avenue, George Washington's Inauguration re-enactment, wreath laying at The Soldier's and Sailor's Monument on Memorial Day, Color Guard for the Park Avenue Tree Lighting, Color Guards for the Union League Club, the St. George's Society’s English Ball, the Sons of the Revolution dinner, and the Daughters of the American Revolution ball, and Military Order of Foreign Wars.[9]


  1. ^ [1]. 2006. Retrieved March 23, 2009. Quote comes from a book. Menegon, LTC David. "The Knickerbocker Greys 1881-2006".
  2. ^ "History." [2] 2006, Retrieved March 23, 2009.
  3. ^ a b "History." [3] 2006. Retrieved March 23, 2009.
  4. ^ "Roster." [4]. 2005. Retrieved March 23, 2009.
  5. ^ a b Konigsberg, Eric. "Manhattan's Littest Soldiers." [5] 2007. Retrieved March 23, 2009.
  6. ^ "Cadet Colonels." [6] 2006. Retrieved March 23, 2009. One Cadet Colonel is unlisted.
  7. ^ The Knickerbocker Greys 1881 - 2011 130th Anniversary Register & History of Veterans by COL Thomas Pike
  8. ^ "About the Greys." [7] 2006. Retrieved March 23, 2009.
  9. ^ Shapiro, Gary. "Celebrating 125 with the Knickerbocker Greys." [8] 2006. Retrieved March 23, 2009.

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