Nursemaid, The Breakers, early 1920s
Waitressing, opening & closing Newport houses, after 1926
Born in Budapest, Hungary in 1905, Magda Csicay’s parents both died when she was in her early teens. Her mother had worked as a laundress for Count and Countess László Széchényi in Hungary (the Countess was the youngest daughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt II). Magda's younger siblings were taken in by family. Countess Széchényi offered Magda a place in her home helping to look after her young daughters, and helping to perfect their Hungarian. Count Széchényi was the royal Hungarian minister to the U.S. and the Széchényi family lived part of the year in Washington D.C.
Magda was 14 when she first traveled to the United States. She attended night school in Washington to learn English. For a month every summer Countess Széchényi took her children to The Breakers to visit her family. When in Newport, Magda assisted the head nursemaid/governess and accompanied the children on outings to Bailey's Beach. There, an "alley boy," as beach attendants were called, became captivated with the young Magda, so much so that he was undaunted by her snubs. Magda had been instructed not to talk to American men. Persistence paid off for Charles Goodheart, who in four years time took a job as a footman for Andrew Mellon in Washington DC, where he finally won Madga over.
"And so he said," remembered their daughter Mary Seliga, "it was the hardest thing in the world to go to this gentleman (Count Széchényi) and ask for her hand in marriage." Initially reluctant, Count Széchényi gave in to the affable and persuasive Goodheart. They were married at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington D.C. in 1926. Magda and Charles continued working domestic jobs in Washington D.C., New York, and Newport, eventually settling in Newport in an apartment at 41 Johns Street. Goodheart attended night school and became an engineer. He was employed by the new Newport Electric Corporation. Magda and Countess Széchényi maintained a life-long relationship; every summer setting aside a special time to have tea together and reminisce about earlier days in Hungary.
Although Magda had child care responsibilities with the Széchényi family the Countess actually took her in as an orphan and Magda became, in a sense, part of the family, remarked her daughter Mary Seliga.
"My mom loved her (Countess Széchényi) very much," Mary exclaimed. Also, "...she loved them (the children) very dearly. She saw them grow up, and she saw them have their children, and they were always respectful to her."
Mary was born in Washington, D.C. to Magda and Charles in December of 1926. The Goodhearts continued working as transient domestics, and they "boarded out" the baby with German immigrant friends in Newport, who took the child into their home while the Goodhearts took domestic service positions in Washington D.C. or New York for the winter. The Goodhearts returned to Newport to work each summer. When Mary began school the Goodhearts decided to settle down into a more traditional family life in Newport; however they continued to take on part-time domestic jobs.
Magda worked many weekend parties as a waitress, going off impeccably dressed in a black dress with a white lace collar, a white lace apron, and shoes polished to a gleaming shine. She always returned home with pastry treats for her daughter and stories of what all the ladies wore. She was also capable of filling in as parlor maid or kitchen maid, and was competent at almost any position, according to her daughter. Magda also teamed with another local woman to open the great Newport houses for the summer season, which could take up to a month to get everything in readiness. They started in the servants' quarters and worked their way down, airing the house out and waxing and polishing every surface until it was immaculate.
Goodheart worked for the Newport Electric Corporation; however, because of his deep, rich voice and elegant stature he was sought after as an announcer who called out the names of arriving guests at various society functions. He also sometimes worked as wait staff. After retiring from Newport Electric Corporation, Goodheart shared his extensive knowledge about Newport's grand houses as a guide for Viking Tours.
In an interview, Mary Seliga said of her parents: "I was very proud of my mom and dad for the things that they did, the manner with which they conducted themselves, the polish they had. I tried very hard to emulate them."
"She was a very hard working lady," Mary said of her mother. "Nothing was too demeaning or too-too great for her. She could do just about everything-such a beautiful woman. And my dad was equally handsome." Mary recalled how very proud her mother was to become an American citizen: When she came home from New York, "...she had a little American flag in her hand. And you have no idea what it means to someone who hasn't been born here."
One of Mary's fondest childhood memories was when her mother sneaked her into the pantry of The Breakers during Sylvia Széchényi coming out party:
"And they opened up the swinging door so I could watch the young people dance. Oh. And I thought I was in a fairyland. They had the most beautiful ball gowns, and these handsome young men whirling all those gorgeous girls all over the place. And I was allowed to watch for five minutes, and then the butler brought me back in. And...I can remember going back home. And I think I must have dreamt all night long that I was a fairy princess, and I was in one of those beautiful gowns'..."
The Goodhearts enjoyed a diverse group of friends in Newport including both the tight circle of fellow domestic employees and friends who worked for Newport Electric Corporation. Mary remembered her parents attending parties held in the kitchens of the mansions for the staff where someone would bring an accordion and all would sing and dance. These people worked "extremely hard," Mary commented, "but when they did let go they had a grand time....They were always very polite and spoke very favorably of the people that they worked for."
Mary also remembered the war years and her parents' and other domestics' reaction to the closing of the grand houses.
Her parents frequently walked the cliffs and her mother would stand and stare at The Breakers, remembering.
The "golden years" were over.
The Goodhearts, and many of Newport?s domestics, were saddened by the passing of the glitter and the glamour and wistfully recalled the significant part they played in a unique era in American history.
Source: Oral history interview with Magda Goodheart's daughter Mary Seliga on August 20, 2000