Vanderbilt, Alice Gwynne (1845–1934)

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Vanderbilt, Alice Gwynne (1845–1934)

American socialite. Name variations: Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt II. Born Alice Claypoole Gwynne in 1845; died in 1934; married Cornelius Vanderbilt II (1843–1899, a banker, investor, and philanthropist); children: Alice Gwynne Vanderbilt (1869–1874); William Henry Vanderbilt II (1872–1892); Cornelius Vanderbilt III (1873–1942); Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (1875–1942); Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt (1877–1915, killed while on board the Lusitania when it was torpedoed and sunk); Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt (1880–1925, father of Gloria Vanderbilt ); and Gladys Moore Vanderbilt (1886–1965, who married Count Laszlo Szechenyi).

The formidable Alice Vanderbilt, along with her husband Cornelius Vanderbilt II, built The Breakers, a more-stately mansion overlooking Cliff Walk in Newport, Rhode Island, now on the tourist circuit. She thought of it as their summer cottage. The cottage, which had first appeared as a modest three-story affair of brick and wood on 11 acres, burned down in November 1892. Alice commissioned architect Richard Morris Hunt and, with her considerable input, the two replaced the burned-out shell with something more substantial: the new cottage had 70 rooms (33 held servants). Because of Newport's gusty ocean winds, Alice determined that rather than a center courtyard, she would have an interior courtyard, a center hall 45 feet high with a trompe l'oeil sky filled with billowing clouds on its ceiling. There was also a separate cottage for daughters Gladys Moore Vanderbilt and Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney which came with its own butler and French chef. Alice, who became known as Alice of the Breakers, had an arch-rival in opulence and fancydress-ball giving: her sister-in-law Alva Smith Belmont , who was married to William K. Vanderbilt before she divorced and became Mrs O.H.P. Belmont.