The Duchess of Windsor at 212 East Biddle Street

The Duchess of Windsor Museum is located in the basement of an 1885 rowhouse designed by architect John Appleton Wilson. The museum opened in 2005 after owners Phil Baty and Ron Peltzer renovated the house, where they also live. The museum houses a collection of ephemera from the time of Edward VIII's abdication in 1936 to the Duchess's death in 1972. It includes items the Duke and Duchess owned, as well as replica jewelry, and serves to emphasize the impact the pair had on the fashion industry.

The Duchess never lived at 206 East Biddle Street—a fact Baty and Peltzer are aware of, though they assert that she and her mother, Alice Warfield, took tea at the house. They lived down the street at 212 East Biddle Street.

The Duchess of Windsor, born Bessie Wallis Warfield, moved into the three story brownstone on 212 East Biddle Street with her mother in 1908. It was the first home they could call their own since Wallis’s father died shortly after her birth 12 years earlier. Little did she know that one of the three bedrooms would be for the man her mother planned to marry, John Freeman Rason. Wallis was crushed. She had envisioned a life of independence with her mother, free from relying on the financial help of others. Wallis threatened to run away, but reluctantly came to terms with her mother's decision.

The marriage was held in the parlor of their home on June 20, 1908. The climax of the wedding came when Wallis, perhaps out of spite, snuck off to the kitchen and dug her hands into the cake in search of the good-luck tokens hidden inside. When her mother and stepfather came into the kitchen and saw the ruined cake, they stood speechless. Suddenly, Mr. Rasin laughed, picked Wallis up, and twirled her in the air. This act of forgiveness touched the young Wallis, and she never gave her stepfather any more trouble.
Unfortunately, John Freeman Rasin died suddenly in 1913. Without the financial security of her stepfather, Wallis and Alice had to move out. They moved to a small apartment building called Earl's Court, at the corner of Preston and St. Paul streets.

Wallis went through two failed marriages before meeting Edward, Prince of Wales in 1931. In 1936, Edward became King Edward VIII of England, but abdicated the throne on December 10 of the same year to marry Wallis. Edward and Wallis were married on June 3, 1937, and remained so until Edward's death in 1972. Wallis died in Paris on April 24, 1986.

In 1937, Wallis' old home at 212 East Biddle Street was turned into a museum, but it was not a commercial success. The biggest hit of the museum was the bathtub. According to the museum's tour guide, Mrs. W.W. Matthews, nine out of ten visitors sat in the house's bathtub for good luck, including a bride and groom who sat in the tub while Mrs. Matthews took their picture.

Images

Wallis Simpson (c. 1915)

Wallis Simpson (c. 1915)

A photograph of Wallis Simpson while she was living in Baltimore. | Source: The Pittsburgh Press, 19 October 1936, p. 23 View File Details Page

Street Address:

206 E. Biddle Street, Baltimore, MD 21202 [map]

Cite this Page:

Nathan Dennies, “The Duchess of Windsor at 212 East Biddle Street,” Explore Baltimore Heritage, accessed April 24, 2017, http://explore.baltimoreheritage.org/items/show/195.

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