ALEXANDRIA, VA—Your fascinating story about the ninth Duke of Marlborough did not take the opportunity to discuss Consuelo Vanderbilt’s very unusual mother.
Alva Vanderbilt was married to a grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt and spent her husband’s wealth with great pleasure. She aspired to be accepted into the elite “400” in New York City, and to displace Caroline Astor as the reputed head of the group. Toward that end, she had her husband build a fabulous mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, called Marble House and held sumptuous parties there and in New York. She eventually divorced him and married Newport neighbor Oliver Belmont, son of August Belmont of the international banking empire. Needless to say, she was quite wealthy.
What was amazing about Alva’s career was her transformation into a militant advocate of women’s rights. A woman who forced her daughter Consuelo into a marriage she did not want became converted to fund raising and marching in the cause of securing for women the right to vote in both the US and the UK. She was a co-founder of the National Women’s Party, endowed it with substantial funds, and built its headquarters in Washington, D.C. While Alva lived in the Belmonts’ Newport mansion, she used Marble House to host fundraisers for the suffragette cause.
How ironic that Winston Churchill’s cousin’s wife should have a mother who became part of a movement he initially opposed and which almost resulted in his being thrown beneath a train by one of its members!—Michael S. McGill
Errata in Finest Hour 187 The portrait of Gladys Deacon on page 34 is misidentified as Consuelo Vanderbilt.
The caricature of the Duke of Marlborough on page 16 is by “Ape” (Carlo Pellegrini) and not “Spy” (Leslie Ward).
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