At twenty, Isabella married a man named Jack Gardner. The brother of one of her classmates, he was hailed as “Boston’s most eligible bachelor,” writes Douglass Shand-Tucci in The Art of Scandal: The Life and Times of Isabella Stewart Gardner. However, tragedy soon struck the couple. The Gardners buried their only son before his third birthday; following a subsequent miscarriage, Isabella was warned against any future pregnancies.
It was then, freed from the obligations of motherhood, that Isabella’s life began to diverge from the traditional. Already well-travelled and unhindered by financial concerns, she took her place as a vivacious, fashionable, and risqué member of Boston society. As Shand-Tucci recounts, she was known for smoking cigarettes and driving fast—and for popular stunts that rattled the conventions of Victorian-era Boston.
There was the time she sported a white headband, emblazoned with the words “Oh you Red Sox!” amidst the formalwear on display at a performance of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Isabella’s zeal for sporting events made her a common sight at boxing matches and horse races. Once, according to the Boston newspapers, she was even spotted taking the zoo’s lions on a stroll through the park.