The Egghead Debutante

observer nagel 29 The Egghead DebutanteThe other day, Hadley Nagel walked down the long corridor at the New York Historical Society wearing a Rebecca Taylor dress, a Badgley Mischka bag, small pearl earrings and a confident expression. There was a cocktail party celebrating new construction at the society, and Hadley, a recent graduate of the Nightingale-Bamford school and star of the debate and Model U.N. teams there, walked over to the bar. “That lemonade looks delicious,” she said. “One glass, please!”

Ms. Nagel, 18, is about as far as you can get from the lurching teens on NYC Prep. A native of Carnegie Hill, she is the youngest lobbyist in Washington, D.C. When she was a junior, she visited Montpelier, Va., to see the home of James Madison. “The docent told me that there was no monument for James Madison—I was very surprised,” Ms. Nagel said. “I didn’t quite believe her, so it researched it myself and found that yes, there is no monument on the Mall, Federal Hall, nothing, Independence Square, nothing!” She began meeting with Joseph Ellis, the Pulitzer Prize–winning historian, and started an organization called Americans for Madison. “And he came on board,” Ms. Nagel said. “And I’m working with congressmen.”

Louise Mirrer, the society’s president, came by for a hug. “She’s really quite remarkable,” Ms. Mirrer said of Hadley.

Ms. Nagel’s mother, Susan Nagel—a writer whose book Marie-Therese, about Marie Antoinette’s daughter, was just published in paperback—is her biggest fan. “I say that I wish to grow up and be Hadley one day!”

Hadley’s résumé is indeed impressive. Last spring, she interned at Cason Nightingale Advertising. “Hadley is pulling together all the knowledge she will ever need in the future,” said the company’s CEO and president (and a family friend), Cason Nightingale, on the phone. “I don’t know what her future holds. Maybe the presidency?” Hadley is also the founder of http://www.Playintraffic.com, a travel Web site for teenagers around the country. “I love to travel,” she said. She is attending Johns Hopkins University in the fall, as a Hodson Trust scholar, one of 20 in the freshman class. It covers four years’ tuition, along with numerous other perks. “We are going to join the expensive-shoe-of-the-month club!” Mama Nagel said, joking.

“When I received the scholarship, my dad”—Jon Nagel, corporate secretary at a global financial services corporation—“thought it was one of his friends playing a joke on us,” Hadley said with a laugh. “I mean, I didn’t apply for it, so it was totally out of the blue!”

‘I don’t know what her future holds. Maybe the presidency?’ —Family friend

Susan Nagel said she and her daughter “are creative collaborators. We inspire each other. During our travels, even as a very young girl, she has often been more knowledgeable than docents. She was once offered a job at the Tower of London because she asked the Lady Jane Grey’s role in something. At Winterthur, when she was only six years old, she pointed out a chandelier and said, ‘That doesn’t look American.’ It was something the ambassador had brought back from Russia—the only thing in the house that was not American. She was six.” How will she deal with the imminent separation anxiety? “Believe me, we are happy she is only going to Baltimore! It’s only a train ride away.” This is convenient, as Hadley has three debutante balls upcoming: The New York Junior League Thanksgiving Eve Ball; St. Nicholas Society; and the Junior Assemblies.

“We are very close,” Hadley said of her mother. “I think it’s bad when teenagers hide stuff from their parents because then they don’t trust them, and we definitely have an open relationship. We both give each other advice. I trust her! She was a teenager, too. When parents become the best friends of their kids but aren’t parenting, that’s not good, either. I definitely know what that line is.”

On a recent sunny morning, Ms. Nagel, wearing pink Lacoste and Ray-Bans, rang the doorbell to shoe designer Vanessa Noel’s boutique. “Hi, Hadley—let me get Vanessa!” said a young, bubbly saleswoman.