Wife of Champ Clark
1856 - 1937
Genevieve Davis Bennett was married to Champ Clark on December 14, 1881 in Auxvasse, Missouri. She bore four children: Champ Clark, Jr. and Anne Hamilton Clark, known as "Dimpie" (both of whom died in infancy); Joel Bennett Clark, who changed his name to Bennett Champ Clark; and Genevieve Champ Clark, who changed her name to Genevieve Clark, dropping "Champ" in apparent deference to her older brother Bennett. Mrs. Clark was known to her children as "Little Hon."
She stood 5’9” high – very tall for a woman of the time – and was "slim as a willow wand." Her large wonderful eyes added to her most notable attribute: an unmistakable presence.
Genevieve Bennett was born near New Bloomfield in Callaway County, Missouri. Her ancestors included the Scotch-Irish "warrior McAfees," who were present at the climactic battle of England’s "Glorious Revolution" in 1690, and the famous Battle of Culloden in 1746, fighting for Bonnie Prince Charles. Subsequent McAfee forebears made pioneering history in Kentucky, and were well-acquainted with Daniel Boone. McAfees later served in the American Revolutionary War under their cousin, General George Rogers Clark, and in the War of 1812, including at the Battle of Thames, which saw the death of the Indian chief Tecumseh.
Mrs. Clark’s mother was Mary McAfee McClung Bennett, who in her later years lived for a time at Honeyshuck, dying there at age 90. Her father was Joel Davis Bennett, born in Madison County, Kentucky, and later a substantial landowner in Callaway County. He was known locally as "the handsomest man of his generation," and loved music, dancing and high-stepping horses. The ancestral Bennett's were strictly British, and evidently one or more of Little Hon’s ancestors were important officials in London.
The youngest of seven children, Mrs. Clark was, by her own admission, "very much humored and spoiled," especially by her doting father. Following a rare occasion where Joel disciplined her with a few "skites" from a hickory twig, Genevieve wrote a poem with the following dedication:
Written and composed by Genevieve Davis Bennett
To her father Joel Davis Bennett
And presented to him
With the pole he whipped her with
With the request that it be buried with her remains.
Her family and their friends were the be-all and end-all of Mrs. Clark’s existence. She referred to herself as a genealogical "crank." She wrote many papers directed to family history, recording her notes (according to her grandson, who studied them) "by hand and by typewriter, on bonded paper, on stationery bearing the letterhead of the Speaker of the House, on the backs of envelopes and on every other bit and scrap within reach when the mood struck her. Her handwriting was often illegible, her punctuation was eccentric, and she had the frustrating but somehow charming habit of careening away from the subject at hand and discoursing at length upon any other matter that appealed to her restless and roving mind."
In describing her mother, the younger Genevieve wrote: "[She] had a brilliant mind, more brilliant than my father’s, but it lacked the disciplined scholarship and good order of his. She had…the most vivid sense of humor of anyone I have ever known…She went to the University of Missouri the first year it was opened to women and her interests were all intellectual." Mrs. Clark was extremely well-read, and proud of it; during the Clarks’ residence there, Honeyshuck housed a very substantial library, and many of the books were hers.
Still, being married to a politician could be arduous, if exciting. For much of Champ Clark’s political life, the couple lived away from home in Washington D.C. hotels. During her first pregnancy, when Champ spent months away campaigning for the Democratic ticket, Genevieve wrote:
It seems to me that a man’s wife, especially when she is in my situation, ought to be of as much importance and consideration as the Democratic Party, to him at least. I am perhaps not as patriotic as I ought to be.
First and last, though, Genevieve was ferociously loyal to her husband and children, and never forgave William Jennings Bryan for his betrayal of Champ Clark at the 1912 Baltimore Convention. As she put it, Bryan "was always jealous of Champ and never lost an opportunity to knife him in the back."
Her hilarious post-election poem, Isle of Wishes, contains a stanza devoted to each of the several states. Those that did not support her husband received rough treatment; for instance, of Texas, which opposed Champ Clark, Little Hon wrote:
O, Texas, Texas
Thy solar plexus
I’d like to give it a rap.
O, would my name were a magic spell.
I’d give you a slap
That would wipe you off the map…
Had the Lone Star State gone her husband’s way, however, no doubt it would have been afforded a gracious encomium.
Near the end of her life, Genevieve Davis Bennett Clark explained to her son why, in an earlier letter, she had launched into an unsolicited discussion of family history: "I am telling you this for your own information for I may croak any day and the lesson will be lost."
Despite her sometimes acerbic wit, Mrs. Clark was a loving person. Her belief system was stated in a letter to her daughter: "Remember that if there be a God (and who can doubt it when we look at the stars) He is a god of love, so that the more we love the better we please Him."
The accomplishments of her husband, and their two remarkable children, stand as a tribute to the loving support, and active intellect, of Little Hon. Without her, much of the Clark, McAfee, and Davis family histories would not be preserved. She was, in short, at the center of the Champ Clark family, and in a real sense has remained so for the generations that have followed.