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An unexpected surprise was the discovery of an announcement published in 1894 prior to W. E. D. Stokes' first marriage. The groom-to-be seems so different from the man who haunted courtrooms for the next 30 years. This W. E. D. Stokes description could have been lifted a dating service website.

What's interesting is the statement Stokes and his first wife met at a wedding. The usual story is he tracked her down after spotting her photograph in a store window. Well, maybe he crashed a wedding when he knew she'd be a guest ... though I'm not sure people did that in 1894.

Amsterdam Daily Democrat, September 20, 1894
NEW YORK, Sept. 20 – William Earl Dodge Stokes is going to marry Miss Rita Hernandez de Alba de Acosta.

W. E. D. Stokes is a young man who looks very much younger than he is, and whose life since he graduated from Yale college has been a material success in every sense of the word. His very success has made him known to the public, but never before has there been a whisper concerning him which related to other topics than his real estate transactions, his litigations with his cousin, Ed Stokes of Hoffman House fame, his participation in public movements in this city or his victories in the line of aristocratic sport.

Young Stokes is and is not a self-made man. He is the fourth son of James Stokes, and as such he inherited a fortune, mainly invested in west side real estate. Coming into the responsibilities of that fortune at an early age, he took the position that the fortune was not his keeper, but that he was the keeper of the fortune. Taking this serious view of affairs, he devoted himself to the task of appreciating the value of west side property.

Fiancee of Grandee Blood
Even while so devoted to his business interests he found opportunity to win distinction as a lover of horses and a supporter of outdoor recreation. To his acquaintance, though, he has always been a good deal of a mystery.

He has never used tobacco or liquor, has never been known to gamble or keep fast company, yet has always been “hail fellow, well met,” and exceedingly popular among those who understood him. In society he has figured occasionally in some notable event now and then, but generally has not been a society man.

W. E. D. Stokes is very rich. How rich he is nobody except himself knows, and he will not tell.

The lady he is to marry is not known except in the social circle of her immediate family, and her family is not among those which makes social functions the meat and drink of their existence. She is only 19 years old. She comes of a line of Spaniards whose blood has mingled now and again with that of the nobility of the land whose queen sent Columbus forth to discover this new world.

Miss Rita Hernandez de Alba de Acosta is a little woman of rare beauty. She was born at 48 West 47th Street in this city where he father, Senor Ricardo de Acosta, has lived since he came to this city from Cuba 25 years ago. The house is next to that of Joseph H. Choate. Senor Ricardo de Acosta was, with his family, driven from Cuba as a political refugee after one of the innumerable political turnovers that have occurred on that revolutionary isle.

His Cuban home was near Havana, where the palace of the Hernandez family, into which he was married, was confiscated by the government at the time of his exile. It was an establishment so grand that tourists were taken to see it. Through the house of Hernandez, her mother’s family, Miss Rita Hernandez de Alba de Acosta can trace kinship to the Duc d’Alba of Spain, who, with Sir John and Lady Lister Kaye of England, is now visiting Mr. J. J. Van Alen at his Newport home.

Senor Ricardo de Acosta has not been active in business in this city, but has devoted considerable attention to the care of the investments of his Spanish and Cuban friends here. His wife is living, and they have seven other children besides the one who is now going to marry Mr. Stokes. She is the oldest.

They Met at a Wedding
Mr. Stokes is said to have met his fiancee quite recently at a wedding reception. He has spent much time this season at Bayshore.

A date has not yet been fixed for the wedding, but the friends of Mr. Stokes and Miss de Acosta know of their engagement and have been sending in their congratulations.

Mr. Stokes is 38 years old, but appears to be much younger. He is very athletic in build and in his dress has always been a little different from the young men of his wealth and position in that fashion has not been able to make him abandon tweeds for fancy fabrics or a soft hat or a derby for a tale hat except when the occasion made it essential. His characteristic independence in everything extended even to his dress.

Mr. Stokes’ marriage will directly interest a great many families of note. His mother’s father was Anson G. Phelps, who founded the mercantile house of Phelps, Dodge & Company, in which James Stokes, his father, became a partner.

W. E. D. Stokes was named after his uncle, William E. Dodge. The present William E. Dodge is his cousin.

His father left the firm of Phelps, Dodge & Copany before his death to start the banking house of Phelps, Stokes & Company.

Stokes shaved four years off his age. He was approaching his 43rd birthday at the time of his wedding. The statement that his bride-to-be is 19 was probably correct, though several on-line sources claim she was only 16 when she married Stokes, and a few say she was a year younger than that.

The couple wasted no time getting into the social swim at all the fashionable places and doing their best to make their mark.

New York Tribune, August 27, 1898
BAR HARBOR, Me., Aug 26 – There is always one occasion in every season’s round of entertainments which stands out beyond all others and is remembered afterward as the event of the season. The dinner-dance at Kebo last night by Mr. and Mrs. W. E. D. Stokes was beyond question the most noteworthy event to which Bar Harbor society has been treated this summer.

No expense was spared to make it lavish, while every device imaginable was used to make it unique and distinctly original. While the guests were at dinner, a Hungarian band from New York played on the piazza. At the head of the table Mrs. Stokes did the honors as hostess, dressed simply in plain black.

The Bar Harbor party is mentioned in the excerpt from "The Saga of American Society: A Record of Social Aspiration 1607-1937," by Dixon Wecter:

Mrs. John King Van Rensselaer tells of seeing one ambitious Newport dowager driving down Bellevue Avenue in her victoria with a monkey on each shoulder and a well-washed pig staring from the seat beside her; in Boston Mrs. Jack Gardner terrified crowds in the main hall of the Boston Zoo by romping with a young lion named Rex, and sometimes appeared in the evening with two large diamonds called "The Rajah" and "The Light of India" mounted on waving antennae in her hair; Mr. and Mrs. W. E. D. Stokes gave a dinner at which the gentlemen received as favors bullfrogs in grass baskets, which, escaping, hopped into plates and wine glasses; Mr. Paul Rainey from Indiana carried a jazz band with him wherever he went; and, on authority no less than that of Miss Juliana Cutting, a convivial guest once made his entry into a ballroom riding in a small cart drawn by a trained seal. F. T. Martin tells of a stag dinner served on horseback "on the upper floor of a fashionable New York resort," the guests dressed in riding clothes and the horses shod with rubber while they "pranced and clattered about the magnificent dining-room, each bearing, besides its rider, a miniature table."

Sounds like fun, sort of. But for Mr. and Mrs. Stokes it wouldn't be long before there were signs of a troubled marriage.

New York Times, August 19, 1899
What’s Doing in Society

Among the recent arrivals at Quogue is that of Mrs. W. E. D. Stokes, who is accompanied by her mother, Mrs. Acosta. Mrs. Stokes is living very quietly, and is seldom seen in public. Her departure, from Bar Harbor was very sudden, and took place shortly after the rumors that she and her husband. W. E. D. Stokes, had disagreed and that there was a probability of a separation. Mr. De Lancey Nicoll, who is said to be legally interested in the matter, lives at Southampton, and Mrs. Stokes's choice of Quogue, which is a short distance away, has given some color to reports that she has come there to consult blm.

W. E. D. Stokes himself refused to either confirm or deny the rumors several weeks ago. Mr. and Mrs. Stokes have been married about five years. She was a Miss Rita Acosta, the daughter of a wealthy Cuban, and is the perfect type of the Southern beauty. She has been named as one of the handsomest young matrons in New York.

Mr. and Mrs. Stokes have always seemed so devoted that this rumor has rather surprised many people. They have but recently returned from abroad. Mrs. Stokes and her mother went immediately to Bar Harbor, but Mr. Stokes did not accompany them.

Socially during their recent married life Mr. and Mrs. Stokes hardly made the headway they desired. A season at Newport was not a success, but later that at Bar Harbor was more of a success.

W. E. D. Stokes himself is well known. He is a brother of Anson Phelps Stokes and a cousin of Edward Stokes. His mother was the daughter of Anson G. Phelps, and his father was the late James Stokes. W. E. D. Stokes has had much litigation with his family, and several of the suits have been causes celebres.

And so the marriage came to an end. I could not help but pause while reading the paragraph that begins "Socially during their recent married life ... " There's something similar in the stories about Mr. William Leeds and how she was given a cool reception in Newport while married to her first husband (who probably was dismissed as nouveau riche), but was warmly received when she returned as the wife of a Greek prince, even though she and the prince (and his royal family) were living on her inheritance from you-know-who.

The Newport social scene would be more interesting to me if there were a scorecard reflecting the "success" of various couples who'd receive, say, one point for every invitation received from an ordinary millionaire, two points for invitations from old-money families (with names that begin with V, for example), and three points for invitations to events that involve royalty. Likewise, points would be deducted in similar fashion for invitations not received.

New York Times , April 5, 1900
W. E. D. Stokes has been sued for divorce by his wife, Rita H. de Alba Stokes. It has been known for some time that there was a rupture of the friendly relations existing between the couple, but the utmost secrecy is being observed as to the details of the case.

Mrs. Stokes has retained the law firm of Sherriil & Lockwood to prosecute the action for her, and Mr. Stokes is represented by Henry B. B. Stapler. Ex-Justice Willlam N. Cohen has been appointed as referee in the action. Justice Fitzgerald made the appointment in Part II of the Supreme Court on Tuesday afternoon, on the application and affidavit of William S. Woodhull, a clerk in the office of Sherrill & Lockwood.

Mr. Woodhull swears that the action is for absolute divorce on statutory grounds, and that the summons and complaint were served on Mr. Stokes on March 13 last, and that on March 24 Mr. Stokes, through his attorney, served his answer. Annexed to the affidavit is this stipulation, signed by the counsel on both sides:

"It Is hereby stipulated and agreed by and between the attorneys for the parties herein that this cause and the issues of fact herein be referred to a referee to be designated by the Court to hear and determine."

This stipulation is dated April 2. Neither the complaint nor the answer is on file in the County Clerk's office with the other papers. Even the appointment of a referee was not filed with the public papers Tuesday night, and the fact that one had been appointed was only disclosed by accident yesterday.

A reporter of The New York Times called at the office of Sherrill & Lockwood yesterday afternoon, and found Mr. Stapler there in consultation with the opposing attorneys in the case. They refused to say anything.

Mrs. W. E. D. Stokes was, before her marriage, Miss Rita Hernandez de Alba de Acosta, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Ricardo de Acosta of 48 West Forty-seventh Street. The de Acostas came from Cuba, where they owned considerable property, some thirty years ago and made their home in this city. All of their children, of whom Mrs. Stokes is the oldest, were bom here.

Miss de Acosta was married to Mr. Stokes on Jan. 3, 1895. The wedding was at the home of her parents, and Archbishop Corrlgan read the marriage service.

Mrs. Stokes is a well-known whip and horsewoman. In October, 1895, on her twentieth birthday, her husband gave to her as a present the bay mare Benzetta, with a record of 2:06-1/4 for which he paid $16,500. Benzetta as a three-year-old won the Kentucky Futurity, worth $23,400.

Mrs. Stokes now owns many fine race horses, among them Miss Rita, who paced a mile in 2:12-1/4 in 1897.

Mrs. Stokes attracted considerable attention both at Newport and Long Branch for several seasons on account of her driving and fine horses. She always has a box at the Horse Show, and is one of the exhibitors.

W. E. D. Stokes, the defendant in the action, is about twenty years older than his wife. He is the fourth son of James Stokes, from whom he inherited a large fortune. He is a brother of Anson Phelps Stokes and a cousin of Edward S. Stokes, at one time proprietor of the Hoffman House.

Mr. Stokes is a lawyer, but does not practice. He is a graduate of Yale. He has always been quite a club man, belonging to a score of clubs and associations, among them being the Union League, the Manhattan, the St. Nicholas, the Country Club, Yale Alumni Association, and the Meadow Brook Hunt Club. He has a business office at 146 Broadway, and his town house is at 262 West Seventy-second Street.

Mrs. Stokes left the house in Seventy-second Street just before the action for divorce was begun, and is now staying at an uptown family hotel.

Mr. Stokes referred all inquirers to his attorney. A son four years old is now with his father.

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