Essie Wick Rowland (née Osborn; September 2, 1871 – August 20, 1957) was an American socialite. She was deeply engaged in New York Society as a member and president of numerous society organizations. She supported women’s suffrage, poverty alleviation, social causes, and civic engagement. Known socially as “Mrs. William Foster Rowland,” her name demanded respect and was prominently featured in New York papers. Her legacy was survived through her daughter and socialite, Lillian Wick Neale (died 1992), and her son-in-law, John Henry Neale II.
Ester Louise Osborn was born in Brooklyn, New York City to Henry Osborn, a prominent hotelier and political organizer, and Mary Jane Whiteford Osborn in 1870. Her father owned and operated the famous Osborn Hotel, which entertained many athletes and renowned jockeys. The hotel was located in Sheepshead Bay on the water next to a horse racetrack. Henry was an accomplished rower in his youth and the hotel therefore hosted rowers for local regattas as well.
Essie was the oldest of 8 children (3 survived to adulthood). She was raised under privileged circumstances by always being in the company of prominent Brooklyn families, hotel guests, jockeys, and yachtsmen. She grew up during the last few decades that Brooklyn was still an independent city.
Essie attended private school in Brooklyn where she continually received praise for her skills in entertainment. She was known for her elocution, that is performance and speech-giving. In fact, she was noted for her outstanding performance of elocution with the Prima Donna of the Stockholm Grand Opera, Ms. Bertha Wichman.
Essie’s first husband was John Wick, a prominent New York businessman who ran one of the largest and most successful stove manufacturing businesses in the country—a technology that was at the time cutting edge. They were married in 1897. Essie and John had their one and only child, Lillian Osborn Wick, on September 9, 1898. John suffered from pulmonary troubles and the couple decided to move South to Greenville, SC for a better climate 1901.
Essie and John quickly became entrenched in the upper class of Greenville, South Carolina where they lived in a suite of rooms in Mansion House. They acquired property to begin building an estate and had John’s award-winning horse shipped down from New York. Despite hopes of better health in the amiable climate, John’s health deteriorated and he died from tuberculosis in 1903.
The widowed Essie was escorted to Washington, DC with her young daughter Lill. From DC, Essie’s brother Thomas DeWitt Osborn brought her and Lill back to New York. At the time, Thomas was a rising politician in Brooklyn. Not shorter than a year later, tragedy struck Essie’s life again when Thomas was killed in a trolley collision with his horse-drawn carriage. Thomas was returning from a political meeting when he was struck and killed by the trolley. He was the youngest Democratic politician in Brooklyn, a rising powerhouse, and a NYU Law Class of 1901 graduate.