And in the weeks leading up to their death on the Titanic, they were vacationing together in Europe.
“Butt and Millet’s enduring partnership was an early instance of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,'” historian Richard Davenport-Hines wrote in 2012, referring to the policy that once forced gay members of the army to keep their sexuality secret. National Park Service white house page The memorial fountain in their honor says they were ‘widely believed to have had a romantic relationship with each other’.
Millet was the eldest of the two, born into a wealthy Massachusetts family in 1848. As a teenager during the Civil War, he served as his father’s surgeon assistant. He studied art at Harvard, then worked as a journalist while traveling the world. He won acclaim for his murals at an art school in Belgium and for his writings as a war correspondent during the Russo-Turkish War. He and travel journalist Charles Warren Stoddard exchanged love letters after an affair in Italy.
He married in 1879 and had children with his wife, but as his career and profile grew he mostly lived away from them.
Archibald Butt was born in Augusta, Georgia in 1865. His father died when he was a teenager, and as the eldest he quickly supported his siblings and became very close to his mother. She moved with him to Tennessee when he left for college, then again when he moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked as a reporter for several newspapers and made a name for himself on the scene. social.
At 34, he joined the military and served as a supply officer in the Philippines and Cuba, where he rose through the ranks quickly after demonstrating an excellent aptitude for logistics. In 1908, he was called back to Washington to serve as an aide to President Theodore Roosevelt.
He was brilliant at his job, arranging the President’s program and state dinners and even going with Roosevelt on his frequent hunting, climbing, and horseback riding excursions. When Roosevelt’s successor, William Howard Taft, took office, Butt remained. The two men became extremely close – most photographs from Taft’s presidency show Butt nearby, dressed in an immaculate, eye-catching uniform. Behind the scenes, he was a key negotiator on budget issues. According to New York TimesButt had memorized the names of 1,280 guests at a state dinner and presented them all to Taft within an hour.
His social cachet extended beyond his work. He lived with Millet in a Foggy Bottom mansion (now housing a George Washington University legal clinic), where other bachelors occasionally rented rooms and where Butt and Millet threw legendary parties. There were constant rumors that Butt was about to announce his engagement to the last girl in society, although shortly before his death he told The Times that he had been single for so long that he “better stay that way until the end of the chapter.”
It’s unclear how Millet and Butt met, but the two shared the mansion and had a playful argument over its decor in 1910, according to Davenport Hines. Butt was a prolific writer – a fact of particular importance to biographers of Roosevelt and Taft – but he rarely wrote about his personal life and referred to Millet as “my artist friend who lives with me”.
The last months of Butt’s life were stressful. His former boss, Roosevelt, and his current boss, Taft, had a public argument, leading to Roosevelt running for president to overthrow his former vice president. Butt felt torn between the two men, whom he both respected, and he had grown thin and pale and looked run down, a friend later told The Washington Post. Millet urged Butt to take a vacation with him and rest, and when Butt refused, Millett convinced Taft to order his assistant to deliver a letter to the Pope in Rome. Butt and Millet left for Europe in March 1912, sharing a cabin on the ship Berlin.
They had separate bedrooms on the return trip aboard the Titanic. During a brief stopover in Ireland, Millet sent a letter to a friend praising the luxurious ship and complaining of “a number of obnoxious and ostentatious American women”.
It was the last time anyone would hear of them. The ship struck an iceberg and began to sink. A survivor saw Butt standing near John Jacob Astor. Rumors that Butt would escort women onto lifeboats were later proven to be false.
When Taft learned of the Titanic disaster, his first thought was to help; The first coverage in The Post focused on Butt and another prominent Washingtonian: “NO NEWS FROM THE SHIFT. BUTT OR CLARENCE MOORE”, an April 17 title read.
The Washington Times quoted a friend as saying “the two men had a most unusual sympathy of spirit”. The Post said they were “closest friends”, comparing them to ancient Greek characters Damon and Pythias, who were willing to die for each other. Historian James Gifford, writing for OutHistorysuggested that this comparison may have been an indirect way of signaling that they were homosexual.
Millet’s body was later found; Butt was not. At a memorial service for Butt, Taft was supposed to speak, but was so overwhelmed with emotion that he couldn’t continue.
Within weeks of their deaths, plans were underway to honor them with a White House fountain. The official reason was to honor the two Titanic dead who had served in the federal government – Millet had a largely symbolic role as Vice Chairman of the American Commission of Fine Arts.
Located on the southwest side of the White House near the E Street entrance, the fountain has a central pillar. On one side, facing south, is a bas-relief male figure, with helmet and shield, representing military valor (and presumably Butt). On the other side, facing north, is a beautiful woman with a brush and palette, representing the art (and presumably Millet).
A simple inscription reads: “In memory of Francis Davis Millet — 1846-1912 — and Archibald Willingham Butt — 1865-1912. This monument was erected by their friends with the sanction of Congress.