Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss
At Dumbarton Oaks you have created something very beautiful, very special both in the garden and inside the house. It will remain a monument to your taste, knowledge and understanding—a delight to all who visit it and a great resource to those who are fortunate enough to work there.Robert Bliss to Mildred Bliss, 1940
Robert Woods Bliss was born in 1875 in St. Louis, Missouri, where his father, William Henry Bliss, was US District Attorney. He graduated from Harvard University in 1900 and began a distinguished career as a Foreign Service officer and diplomat. He eventually served as Ambassador to Argentina (1927–33).
Mildred Barnes Bliss was born in New York City in 1879 to Anna Dorinda Blaksley and Demas Barnes, who had invested in the patent medicine Fletcher's Castoria, the phenomenal success of which made him a wealthy man. When Barnes died in 1888, his wealth passed to his wife and their only child, the nine-year-old Mildred. The second marriage of Anna Barnes to William Bliss in 1894 brought Mildred and Robert together, and they themselves married in 1908.
Robert Bliss's career brought the Blisses to Paris in 1912. There they became friends with a circle of Americans, including the artist Walter Gay, the author Edith Wharton, and Mildred Bliss's childhood friend, the historian, diplomat, and banker Royall Tyler. Tyler introduced the Blisses to Parisian art dealers and sparked their passion for collecting, especially Byzantine and Pre-Columbian art. In Paris, Mildred Bliss began to support musicians and host musical evenings.
In 1920, the Blisses purchased the Georgetown property that they named Dumbarton Oaks. Their redesign of the house and the creation of gardens—directed by landscape designer Beatrix Farrand—made Dumbarton Oaks one of the outstanding residences of Washington. In 1940, the Blisses offered Harvard University the gift of Dumbarton Oaks, with its grounds, buildings, library, and art collections. Robert Bliss died in 1962, and Mildred Bliss in 1969.