The Charleston Ottolengui

The Charleston Ottolengui Part Four

Florence and Nina were daughters of Israel Ottolengui (1832–1895 grandson of Mordecai Ottolengui), and Rosalie Cecile Moise (1835–1914). They had 11 siblings four of whom died in infancy.

Florence and Nina Ottolengui took over the cafeteria of the Women’s Exchange for Women’s Work in Charleston which was founded in 1885 to help the city’s “educated poor’ become self-sufficient. Items on sale there included foods, flowers, and artisanal hand crafts. It continued the trend of charity work of Southern ladies before and during the Civil War. The exchange began with a simple stated purpose, which was to assist needy women become financially secure “systematically and delicately”. It was run on what they called “purely business principles” accepting work solely on merit and not because of any undue sympathy for the producer.

The Women’s Exchange, Charleston

Florence and Nina opened the “Lady Baltimore Tea Room” which they ran for around 25 years.  They developed the eponymous Lady Baltimore Cake from a version of the common “Queen Cake” of that period. 

Typical Lady Baltimore Cakes

The cake however had nothing to do with the infamous Lady Baltimore. Lady Charlotte Lee who was born in 1678 at St. James’s Park in London. She was the eldest of at least fourteen children of Edward Henry Lee, the first Earl of Litchfield (1663 –1716) and Lady Charlotte Fitzroy (1664 –1718) illegitimate daughter of King Charles II by his mistress Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine, Duchess of Cleveland. Lady Charlotte’s mother was fourteen at the time of her birth, having married the Earl of Lichfield at thirteen. He was only fifteen at that time. At the age of twenty in 1699, the younger Charlotte married her first husband Benedict Leonard Calvert, 4th Baron Baltimore  and assumed the title of Lady Baltimore in 1715, when her husband became Baron Baltimore upon the death of his father, the third Baron Baltimore.

Florence and Nina’s Lady Baltimore Tea Cake found national fame when it was immortalized in a book by Owen Wister (1860-1938), a popular novelist of the time who authored “The Virginian” (1902) and “Lady Baltimore”(1906).

Florence and Nina reportedly sent a cake to Owen Wister every year in appreciation of his contribution to their success. At Christmas time, they shipped hundreds of white boxes carrying tall, round fragile gift cakes to all parts of the country.

Florence died on 6th April 1928 aged 68 at 84, Rutledge Avenue, Charleston, S. Carolina, and was buried on 8th April 1928 in the Huguenin Avenue Cemetery – this is her memorial.

Nina died at the age of 80 on 8th May 1960 at Asheville, North Carolina and is buried at the city’s Lewis Memorial Park.

By bryanell2020

Occasional genealogist and full-time Ottolangui family historian. 8th generation descendant of the 17th century Ottolenghi family of Livorno, born in London, graduated in Birmingham, lived around the United Kingdom, Israel, and in Rome, Italy. For a short while in Buenos Aires, and currently residing in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic where I have been since 2005.

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