A Whirlwind Romance: Dr. Hopkins And Miss Nielsen

Dr. Robert Black Hopkins, undated photo ca. 1905
Dr. Robert Black Hopkins, undated photo ca. 1903, when he was president of the Medical Society (1902- 1903)

 

No social history of Milton in the early 1900’s could overlook one of the town’s premier intellectuals, Dr. Robert Black Hopkins (1865 – 1942). The son of Dr. James A. Hopkins, who served as Milton’s physician for 52 years, Dr. Robert Hopkins graduated from Jefferson Medical College in 1887, returned to Milton and joined his father’s practice. He would practice medicine for 55 years in the town in which he was born. Aside from his celebrated medical career, he was a renaissance man in every sense of the word. He was a volunteer fireman, a musician with two local brass bands, a self-taught painter, member of numerous corporate boards including the Sussex Trust Company, a trustee of the First National Bank, and a civic leader (including three terms as mayor of Milton). He also reportedly was the first person in Milton to own an automobile.

Milton Cornet Band
Milton Cornet Band, ca. 1898. Dr. Robert B. Hopkins is standing in the back row, far left. William Starkey, the druggist, is seated directly in front of Hopkins. Cornet music was very popular in the years before and after 1900; for a sampling of what it sounded like, view the Fredonia Wilson video, which has a sound track with a cornet music performance.

 

Firemen Band
Firemen Band, July 4, 1908. Dr. Hopkins is standing in the back row, far left.

This is quite an impressive list of accomplishments, but Dr. Hopkins was noted as well for something entirely different – his whirlwind courtship of Marie Katrina Nielsen, a twenty year old from Arhus, Denmark, hired by New York City lawyer William Tomlinson as a companion for his sister. Within two weeks of meeting her for the first time—in April of 1908—Dr. Hopkins, 43 years old, married Miss Nielsen, age 20.

The surprise of the Milton townspeople was palpable; Dr. Hopkins, highly respected, was to all appearances a confirmed bachelor, never connected to any woman in a romantic way in the local press. David A. Conner’s account of Marie’s arrival in Milton on Thanksgiving Day, 1907, is as follows:

Last week a young woman from Denmark landed at Castle Garden, N. J. and was employed by William Tomlinson, Esq., attorney-at-law, who shipped her to ex-state treasurer C. H. Atkins, of this town. The girl was tagged from New York to Milton, and arrived on Thanksgiving evening, she is quite good-looking, and apparently about eighteen years of age: “There is a garden in her face, Where roses and white lilies grow.” When she went to the festival on the evening of her arrival to get her supper with her chaperone, she could not speak a word of English, and ate cake with a spoon.

A few months later, Conner registered his surprise at the news of their wedding in the following paragraph:

The startling event of the week is the marriage of Miss Marie Christine Neilson, of Copenhagen, Denmark, to Dr. Robert B. Hopkins, a practicing physician of this town. The ceremony was performed at her home, in the family of ex-State Treasurer Charles H. and Mrs. Atkins on Federal Street, on Wednesday morning at 6 o’clock. Rev. Martin Damer, Rector of the Church of St. John Baptist, tied the nuptial knot. The wedding was witnessed only by the parents of the groom, and a few friends of Mr. and Mrs. Atkins; the former of whom gave the bride away. After the wedding breakfast the married pair were driven to the D. M. & V. R. R. Station and boarded the morning train on their wedding tour. The bride is a pretty Danish blond of 20 summers, and landed at Castle Garden, N. J. from her native country last November. She was engaged by W. Tomlinson, Esq., attorney-at-law, of New York City, and sent to his sister, Mrs. C. H. Atkins. She arrived in Milton on Thanksgiving Day, without knowing a word of the English language, and made her debut in Milton society on the evening of that day, at a festival given in the Masonic Temple, chaperoned by Mrs. Atkins. Since then the Danish Lady has been Mrs. Atkins’ companion, at church and places of amusement. This groom is well known in Delaware as, not only, a skillful physician, but a man of education, refinement and superior mental caliber throughout, and in prospective, one of the wealthiest men in Milton. Strange things will happen! But the marriage of “Dr. Bob” is the strangest that has occurred in this community of late. We know not how it came about! But suppose by proximity of living a reciprocal feeling was engendered, which has culminated in this, the grandest event of their lives. We hope the twain will become the beneficiaries of all the blessings that the earth can afford, and that God may give to them.

As with quite a few wedding announcements in this period, the ceremony took place in the very early hours of the morning, followed by a wedding breakfast, and the departure of the newlyweds by train for a “wedding trip.” The Hopkins family could certainly have afforded a much more lavish affair, but the speed at which they got from first meeting to marriage precluded any such arrangements. In any event, the wedding plans were kept very quiet.

Until a descendant of Dr. Hopkins comes forward, we have only one photo of Mrs. Hopkins, riding with he husband in an open two-seat automobile, the first owned by a Milton resident. I don’t believe it does her justice, but here it is:

Dr. and Mrs. Robert B. Hopkins out for a ride in one of the first automobiles owned by a Milton resident. The photo appeared in "It Began With A River," by Jane Donovan, and is used by permission of the Milton Historical Society.
Dr. and Mrs. Robert B. Hopkins out for a ride in one of the first automobiles owned by a Milton resident, ca. 1908. The photo first appeared in “It Began With A River,” by Jane Donovan, and is used by permission of the Milton Historical Society.

An article in the May 4, 1908 Wilmington Evening Journal conveyed an even stronger sense of surprise and amazement at this turn of events, and was quite effusive compared to David A. Conner’s report. That in itself is noteworthy, because Conner was given to quite prolix descriptions on many occasions.

The article reads thus:

MILTON DOCTOR WEDS DANISH GIRL

Dr. Robert B. Hopkins Weds Beautiful Danish Immigrant After Short Courtship

“HER FACE HER FORTUNE”

MILTON, Del., May 4—Landed in this country a poor and friendless immigrant; voted the most beautiful woman in Sussex county within a few days after her arrival; introduced into society and married into a station of wealth and influence within a period of a few months—such is, in short, the remarkable and unprecedented course of events in the life of Christine Neilson, a Danish immigrant of 20 summers, who on Wednesday morning at 6.30 o’clock, became the bride of Dr. Robert Hopkins, of Milton.

The story of the brief courtship of only two weeks and the chapters leading up to the betrothal smacks of romance, and Sussex county has not yet begun to recover from the sensation. Added to the features of the story is the fact that until a short time before the wedding the bride had been in the home of former State Treasurer Charles H. Atkins.

“Her Face Was Her Fortune”

Speaking proverbially, “her face was her fortune.” When Miss Neilson, only a few months ago, bade a sad farewell to Danish soil, an honest and beautiful face was her only asset. It was with fear and uncertainty that she set foot on American shores, for in all this country there was none to who she could turn.

Her simple honesty soon won her a good position in the Atkins home. Not until two weeks ago, however, did Dr. Hopkins first look into her comely young face, and from that time on Miss Neilson was destined to figure in one of the most striking romances ever known in this section.

Few knew of the impending marriage until Wednesday, when the ceremony was performed by the Rev. Martin Damer, of the Episcopal Church. Mr. Atkins gave the bride away and the wedding was an auspicious one. The entire Atkins family was present, and the ceremony was held in the Atkins home.

Most Beautiful Girl in County

Since her entry into this little town the beauty of Mrs. Hopkins had caused her to be the cynosure of all eyes. She was freely talked about and it soon became common talk that she was without doubt the most beautiful girl in Sussex County.

After a wedding trip to Washington and other points of interest, Mr. and Mrs. Hopkins will make their home in Milton. Dr. Hopkins is 30 years the senior of his bride, who is 20.

There is one factual error in the last article; Dr. Hopkins, born in 1865, was 43 years old in 1908—a mere 23 years older than his bride, not the 30 years stated in the article. And no journalist seems to have gotten Marie’s name right: Marie Katrina Nielsen.

3 thoughts on “A Whirlwind Romance: Dr. Hopkins And Miss Nielsen

  • robert mark hopkins

    Dr “Bob” was my grandfather. My grandmother was Marie Katrina Nielseen from Aarhus Denmark.

    • robert mark hopkins

      Marie katrina nielsen

    • Phil Martin

      Robert,
      I am delighted to hear from you, as I am always excited to hear from the descendants of the Milton people I write about! What I would love to be able to post is a picture of your grandmother, as I have not been able to find any such photograph in the Milton Historical Society archives or anywhere else for that matter; Dr. “Bob,” on the other hand, was quite a prominent professional and had several avocations, including cornetist and bandleader; there are quite a few photographs of him in the Historical Society archives as well as in Delaware newspapers of the time.
      Do you have any scanned image of your grandmother you would be willing to share with me? She was thought to be a great beauty in her youth, and it kills me not to know what she actually looked like, other than in the photo of her and Dr. Bob in that ancient automobile (you know he was the first owner of an automobile in Milton).

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