Mary Irick Drexel

MARY IRICK DREXEL

1868-1948

Vincentown, New Jersey

Mary Irick Drexel

Born in Vincentown, NJ in 1868, Mary Stretch Irick would become, through marriage, a philanthropist and a patroness of the arts. Her father was General William Hudson Irick, and her mother, Sally Stretch. They lived on Retreat Road on a 240 acre plot named “Locust Grove”. It is said that a wing was added to the home at the time of Mary’s wedding in order to accommodate the officiating Bishop at the ceremony.

Mary Irick Drexel home in Southampton NJ
The Irick home on Retreat Road, Vincentown, as it appears today.

Mary was well known for her equestrienne abilities. At age 23 she married on November 18, 1891, George W. Childs Drexel at Trinity Episcopal Church on Mill Street, Vincentown. They were married by the Right Rev. Bishop Scarborough of the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey at an 11:00 a.m. ceremony. She wore a double star of diamonds, the gift of Mrs. Anthony Drexel, her mother-in-law. Guests came by train from Philadelphia. Certain permanent alterations (primarily an extension) were made to the sanctuary of the church in advance of the wedding at the request of the family.

Trinity Episcopal Church, Mill Street, Vincentown
Trinity Episcopal Church, Mill Street, Vincentown.

The wedding gift to the couple from the groom’s father, millionaire Anthony J. Drexel, was a home at 39th and Locust Streets in Philadelphia. Today, this former Drexel home is the Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity House on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania.

Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity House On the University of Pennsylvania Campus 39th and Locust St., Philadelphia
Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity House On the University of Pennsylvania Campus 39th and Locust St., Philadelphia

 George was the youngest son of Anthony, and a cousin of St. Katharine Drexel, recently canonized (Oct. 1, 2000) by Pope John Paul II in Rome. The Philadelphia Record announced “At the northeast corner of Thirty Ninth Street and Locust Streets, a magnificent 3-story mansion will be built for George and Mary Drexel. The house will cover an area 52 by 52 ft. and will be furnished in the most elaborate manner. The architecture of the house is in keeping with all the buildings erected by the Drexels: plain, massive and roomy. The front resembles the stately Drexel homestead at the south east corner of Thirty-ninth and Walnut streets. The front will be of white marble. The cost will be $45,000.”

The Drexels were notable patrons of the Metropolitan Opera Co., and the Philadelphia Orchestra. They were among the original boxholders in the old Philadelphia Opera House. Mary was outstanding in her war efforts during World War I and later for work as Director of the Philadelphia Red Cross.

Later in life, the Drexel’s inherited from George W. Childs (George’s namesake, and business partner of his father, Anthony) a home in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, named Wootton, which is currently St. Aloysius Boys’ School.

Wootton in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania
Wootton in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania

Mary never forgot her roots. When she was 55 years old, in 1923 (June 18) she endowed a library named after her mother, Sally Stretch Keen, in her hometown of Vincentown, New Jersey. (Mrs. Strech’s second marriage was to Charles Keen of Philadelphia).

In presenting the deed, Mrs. Drexel spoke of the great pleasure it was to give the Library to her hometown that she always remembered with affection. Mr. and Mrs. Drexel gave a large number of books over the years to keep folks interested in reading.

Sally Stretch Keen Memorial Library, Vincentown
Sally Stretch Keen Memorial Library, Vincentown

Vincentown would be abuzz when Mary and George would come to town in their horse and carriage to visit Mrs. Keen. Often, when they came through town, they’d treat the kids with candy. Girls would dress like boys — since they always seemed to get the candy.

Mary Drexel died in 1948 at the age of 80. Her portrait, and that of her mother, Sally Stretch Keen, hang in the Vincentown Library (“The Sally Stretch Keen Memorial Library”) at the corner of Main Street and Race Street in Vincentown.