Mary Allen Hulbert

Mary Allen Hulbert, aka “The Mysterious Mrs. Peck.” (Image: Duluth Public Library)

Mary Allen was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on May 26, 1862. Her parents were Charles Allen and Anjenett (Holcolm) Allen. Charles was a doctor of dental surgery. Both the Allen and Holcolm families could be traced back to early Colonial days in America. Dr. Allen moved his family to Duluth in the early 1880s, when Mary was in her late teens. Mary gives a vivid description of the burgeoning community of Duluth in her autobiography, The Story of Mrs. Peck. In a chapter titled “Early Days in Grand Rapids and Duluth,” she discusses the town, the harbor, camping on Minnesota Point, playing the organ in church, social events, tennis games, and her music lessons from Mrs. Emily Moore.

Mary met Thomas Harbach Hulbert in Duluth in 1882. Thomas was a mining engineer. His father, Edwin J. Hulbert, had discovered the Calumet copper mine in Houghton County, Michigan, in 1864. Thomas was in Duluth to explore for copper ore on the north shore of Lake Superior. He and his father believed the Calumet lode dipped under Lake Superior and outcropped in Canada. Mary and Thomas were married in Duluth on October 31, 1883, in the First Presbyterian Church on Second Street and Third Avenue East, the same church but in an earlier building than the current one at that location. After a honeymoon trip, they returned to Duluth and lived with Mary’s parents during the winter months; during the summer, Thomas prospected for copper around what was then Port Arthur, Canada. Allan Schoolcraft Hulbert, Mary and Thomas’ son, was born on September 26, 1888. In 1889, Thomas died in Port Arthur, probably from injuries he received from an earlier accident while prospecting in the wilderness. Since her husband Thomas had not been wealthy, Mary needed to support herself. She was offered and accepted a position on the Ladies’ Commission of the World’s Fair from Minnesota, planning for the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Later in 1889 in Duluth, she met Thomas Peck, a New Englander who was visiting relatives. His wife had died on March 5, 1889. Not long after, he proposed to Mary, and they were married in Duluth on December 29, 1890. Mary and Allan left Duluth to live with her husband in his home in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

Thomas Peck came from a fairly wealthy family. It was his responsibility to manage the family’s very successful woolen mills in Massachusetts. After a few years, Mary began spending winters in Bermuda, at first with her mother and son. It was there that she met several famous, influential people, including Mark Twain, British Admiral Lord John Fisher, and the then-president of Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson. She and Wilson became friends and, after returning to the United States, they began a correspondence which lasted for the rest of his life. She grew to be a trusted personal confidante to him during his campaign for the governorship of New Jersey and, later, for President of the United States. Journalists and politicians tried to make more of this relationship than Mary or Wilson would admit to, and she became known as “The Mysterious Mrs. Peck” in the press. Mary separated from Thomas Peck around 1907, and when she sued him for divorce in 1911, she was such big news that the story appeared on the front page of the New York Times.

After the separation, Mary moved to New York City and lived with her son in an apartment in Manhattan. She visited President Wilson in the White House on at least one occasion, and he visited her in New York. Wilson also lent her money when Allan needed funds to start a business in 1915. Mary died on December 17, 1939, in Norwalk, Connecticut. Her son Allan died on June 2, 1972, while residing in Haddam, Connecticut.

Story by Tony Dierckins. Originally published on Zenith City Online (2012–2017). Click here for more stories by Tony Dierckins.