Person

Louise Vanderbilt

A woman wearing a gown, reclining on a sofa.

NPS

Quick Facts

Louise was born Louisa Holmes on September 4, 1854, probably in Brooklyn, New York. She was the youngest daughter of Catherine Holmes Anthony (1824–1882) and Charles Lee Anthony (d. 1874), both of whom were born in Rhode Island. Louise had two sisters, Rosalie DeWolf (1844–1929), who married William Post, and Catherine "Kate" Lee (1845–1907), who married Henry Anthony Heiser.

Her father was a socially prominent and wealthy dry-goods merchant in New York City under the firm name of Anthony & Hall. Among her extended family members were nieces Rose Post Howard, who married Thomas H. Howard (a descendant of Peter Stuyvesant), and Margaret Van Alen Bruguiére, who married James Laurens Van Alen (a grandson of William Backhouse Astor Jr. and Caroline Schermerhorn Astor).

In 1868, Louise married Alfred Torrance (1852–1887), the son of Daniel Torrance and Sophia Johnson Vanderbilt Torrance. His sisters were Adelaide Torrance, who married Meredith Howland, and Marie Torrance, who married John A. Hadden Jr. Alfred was a grandson of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, He was an equestrian of some reputation in London, Paris, and New York. Louise divorced Torrance in 1877.

The following year on December 17, 1878, Louise married Torrance's cousin Frederick William Vanderbilt (1856–1938), son of William Henry Vanderbilt and Maria Louisa Kissam Vanderbilt. Apparently wed in secret, the marriage was the subject of some gossip. The New-York Daily Tribune reported her father-in-law's displeasure upon hearing of the secret marriage, noting they were "debarred of the parental mansion and deprived of the parental blessing." This reaction may have been overstated. Frederick's father later bequeathed the couple his home located at 459 Fifth Avenue.

Louise died at the Hotel Ritz in Paris on August 21, 1926. Frederick returned to the United States with Louise's body aboard the White Star Liner Homeric. A section of the baggage room on the lower deck was made into a chapel with wreaths, floral arrangements, and the spiral staircase leading to it draped in black cloth. She was interred in the Vanderbilt family mausoleum at Moravian Cemetery on Staten Island.

During their marriage, which lasted nearly fifty years, Louise and Frederick made their New York City home at several locations. They also built Rough Point in Newport, Rhode Island, Pine Tree Point on Upper St. Regis Lake in the Adirondacks, and Hyde Park in Hyde Park, New York. In 1919, Louise purchased Sonogee at Bar Harbor, Maine.

Those who knew her consistently note Louise’s generosity. Friends and employees remembered her as generous and kind. Oral interviews recorded by the National Park Service document her local philanthropy in the village of Hyde Park. Louise provided educational opportunities and entertainments for the young men and women of the village. She established a reading room, attached to St. James' Chapel, sponsored lectures at the Town Hall, established a young man's clubroom in the village, and brought the Red Cross to Hyde Park in 1911. In 1917, she was largely responsible for establishing the District Health Nurse in Hyde Park. During World War I, she joined wealthy neighbors to equip, clothe, and arm a Hyde Park Home Defense Company of sixty-five men. Employees reported that Louise knew almost every family in Hyde Park and through her agents often helped families in need who were struggling with health or financial difficulties. She provided entertainments for village residents and their children, including ice cream festivals and, on at least one occasion, a steamer cruise on the Hudson River for all 700 residents of the village. She was known to distribute Christmas gifts to the children of Hyde Park.

At Newport, she sponsored an annual Thanksgiving dinner for the newsboys and messenger boys from 1891 to 1925. Usually 350 to 400 boys attended the dinner, entering the hall to orchestra music. On occasion, Louise attended the dinner. At her Newport home Rough Point, she hosted a Lawn Fete for the benefit of the Newport Society for the Prevention and Control of Tuberculosis.

Charities that benefited from her will at the time of her death included legacies in the sum of $10,000 each bequeathed to the New York Orthopedic Dispensary and Hospital, the Woman's Hospital, the Children's Aid Society, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Stanton Street Helping Hand Association, and the New York Women's League for Animals, Inc. The largest single bequest was $300,000, to establish a trust fund for her Anthony Home, Inc., a model residential building for working women.

Frederick inherited some of Louise's jewelry and Sonogee, her house at Bar Harbor, Maine. The bulk of her estate was bequeathed to her two nieces and her sister. Other friends and employees inherited bequests of various amounts. Her estate was estimated at more than $1,000,000.

Last updated: August 13, 2020