Alva Belmont
Alva Belmont
Alva Belmont, née Alva Erskine Smith, and known as Alva Vanderbilt from 1875 to 1896, was a prominent multi-millionaire American socialite and a major figure in the women's suffrage movement. Known for having an aristocratic manner that antagonized many people, she was also noted for her energy, intelligence, strong opinions, and willingness to challenge convention.
Alva Belmont's personal information overview.
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Sewall-Belmont House & Museum reopens with new displays - Washington Post (blog)
Google News - almost 6 years
They bought a set of china emblazoned with “Votes for Women,” commissioned by philanthropist and activist Alva Belmont. They are selling reproductions in the gift shop. They also found a set of “Votes for Women” playing cards and a sterling silver
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Google News article
LETTER; The Power of the Purse
NYTimes - over 7 years
As a historian of women in the United States, I need to point out that this is not the first time in history that wealthy women have used their money to advance the cause of women's rights. One example was Alva Belmont, who was the key financial backer for both the suffrage movement and efforts to improve wages and conditions for working women in
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NYTimes article
For Historic Cemeteries, New Chapters
NYTimes - over 14 years
TWO of the largest communities in the Bronx and Brooklyn, with 849,000 residents between them, are coping with the challenges faced by any desirable old neighborhood: how to meet demands for a dwindling amount of space; how to design multifamily buildings that cater to modern tastes without disrupting their verdant and historical context; and how
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NYTimes article
Palm Beach Story
NYTimes - about 15 years
BOCA ROCOCO How Addison Mizner Invented Florida's Gold Coast. By Caroline Seebohm. Illustrated. 284 pp. New York: Clarkson Potter Publishers. $35. ARCHITECTS may be the supermodels of the construction world, but for the most part they leave the glittering high life to the people who commission their buildings. While most of today's architects would
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NYTimes article
Learn about memorable moments in the evolution of Alva Belmont
  • 1933
    Age 80
    After her death in 1933, the chateau was left to Consuelo, who sold it to a Swiss company in the winter of 1937.
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  • 1932
    Age 79
    She suffered a stroke in the spring of 1932 that left her partially paralyzed, and she died in Paris of bronchial and heart ailments on January 26, 1933.
    More Details Hide Details Her funeral at Saint Thomas Episcopal Church in New York City featured all female pallbearers and a large contingent of suffragists. She is interred with Oliver Belmont in the Belmont Mausoleum at Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York, for which artist Helen Maitland Armstrong designed a set of Renaissance-inspired painted glass windows.
  • 1921
    Age 68
    The marriage would be annulled much later, at the Duke's request and Consuelo's assent, in May 1921.
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  • 1920
    Age 67
    William Kissam II would become president of the New York Central Railroad Company on his father's death in 1920.
    More Details Hide Details Harold Stirling graduated from Harvard Law School in 1910, then joined his father at the New York Central Railroad Company. He remained the only active representative of the Vanderbilt family in the New York Central Railroad after his brother's death, serving as a director and member of the executive committee until 1954.
  • 1917
    Age 64
    The following year, she and Paul established the National Woman's Party from the membership of the CU and organized the first picketing ever to take place before the White House, in January 1917.
    More Details Hide Details She was elected president of the National Woman's Party, an office she held until her death. The National Woman's Party continued to lobby for new initiatives from the Washington, D.C. headquarters that Belmont had purchased in 1929 for the group, now the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum. On April 12, 2016, President Barack Obama designated Sewall-Belmont House as the Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument, named for Belmont and Alice Paul. From the early 1920s onward, she lived in France most of the time in order to be near her daughter Consuelo. She restored the 16th century Château d'Augerville and used it as a residence. With Paul, she formed the International Advisory Council of the National Woman's Party and the Auxiliary of American Women abroad.
  • 1914
    Age 61
    Now committed to securing the passage of the 19th Amendment, she convened a "Conference of Great Women" at Marble House in the summer of 1914.
    More Details Hide Details Belmont's daughter Consuelo, who promoted suffrage and prison reform in England, addressed the gathering, which was followed by the CU's first national meeting. Belmont served on the executive committee of the CU from 1914 to 1916. In 1915 Belmont chaired the women voters' convention at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.
  • 1912
    Age 59
    At the same time, she formed her own Political Equality League to seek broad support for suffrage in neighborhoods throughout the city, and, as its president, led its division of New York City's 1912 Women's Votes Parade.
    More Details Hide Details By this time, organized suffrage activity was centered on educated, middle-class white women, who were often reluctant to accept immigrants, African Americans, and the working class into their ranks. Belmont's Political Equality League only partially broke with this tradition. She established its first "suffrage settlement house" in Harlem, and she included African American women and immigrants in weekend retreats at Beacon Towers, her Gothic style castle in Sands Point. However, she also contributed to the Southern Woman Suffrage Conference, which refused to admit African Americans. The Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage (CU), organized by Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman, separated from the NAWSA in 1913. Belmont then merged the Political Equality League into the CU.
  • 1909
    Age 56
    In 1909 she joined this organization and was named an alternate delegate from New York to the International Women's Suffrage Association meeting in London.
    More Details Hide Details There Belmont observed the commitment of Emmeline Pankhurst and her followers, who would influence the depth and the form of her own personal commitment to the cause. On her return to the United States, she paid for office space on Fifth Avenue that allowed the relocation of NAWSA offices to New York, and she funded its National Press Bureau.
    She gave strong support to labor in the 1909-1910 New York shirtwaist makers strike.
    More Details Hide Details She paid the bail of picketers who had been arrested and funded a large rally in the city's Hippodrome, which she addressed along with Shaw, president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA).
    Drawn further into the suffrage movement by Anna Shaw, Belmont donated large sums to the movement, both in the United Kingdom and United States. In 1909, she founded the Political Equality League to get votes for suffrage-supporting New York State politicians, and wrote articles for newspapers.
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    She and her youngest son, Harold, moved into the house in 1909.
    More Details Hide Details The Armory would later be used as a lecture hall for women suffragists. She sold the townhouse in 1923. Prior to the construction of their new Manhattan mansion, the Belmonts had another neoclassical mansion, Brookholt, built in 1897 in East Meadow on Long Island. It was designed by Hunt & Hunt. Oliver Belmont died there in 1908. For a short period, she operated the estate as a training school for female farmers. She sold Brookholt in 1915. The house was later destroyed by fire in 1934. Following Oliver Belmont's death, Belmont commissioned a family mausoleum to be built in Woodlawn Cemetery. Again designed by Hunt & Hunt, it was an exacting replica of the original Chapel of Saint Hubert on the grounds of the Château d'Amboise. It took several years, but construction was completed in 1913.
  • 1899
    Age 46
    In 1899 she and Oliver bought the corner of 477 Madison Avenue and 51st Street in Manhattan.
    More Details Hide Details The mansion became known as the Mrs. O. H. P. Belmont House. The neoclassical three-story townhouse, designed by Hunt & Hunt, had a limestone facade and interior rooms in an eclectic mix of styles. Construction was still underway when Oliver Belmont died, when Alva announced that she would build an addition that was an exact reproduction of the Gothic Room in Belcourt, to house her late husband's collection of medieval and early Renaissance armor. The room, dubbed The Armory, measured and was the largest room in the house.
  • 1896
    Age 43
    Alva remarried Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont, one of her ex-husband's old friends, on January 11, 1896.
    More Details Hide Details Oliver had been a friend of the Vanderbilts since the late 1880s and like William was a great fan of yachting and horseraces. He had accompanied them on at least two long voyages aboard their yacht the Alva. Scholars have written that it seems to have been obvious to many that he and Alva were attracted to one another upon their return from one such voyage in 1889. He was the son of August Belmont, a successful Jewish investment banker for the Rothschild family, and Caroline Perry, the daughter of Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry. Oliver died suddenly in 1908, upon which Alva took on the new cause of the women's suffrage movement after hearing a lecture by Ida Husted Harper. During Alva Belmont's lifetime she built, helped design, and owned many mansions. At one point she owned nine. She was a friend and frequent patron of Richard Morris Hunt and was one of the first female members of the American Institute of Architects. Following the death of Hunt, she frequently utilized the services of the architectural firm of Hunt & Hunt, formed by the partnership of Richard Morris Hunt's sons Richard and Joseph.
  • 1895
    Age 42
    Alva Vanderbilt shocked society in March 1895 when she divorced her husband, at a time when divorce was rare among the elite, and received a large financial settlement said to be in excess of $10 million, in addition to several estates.
    More Details Hide Details She already owned Marble House outright. The grounds for divorce were allegations of William's adultery, although there were some who believed that William had hired a woman to pretend to be his mistress so that Alva would divorce him.
  • 1886
    Age 33
    In 1886, after her husband inherited $65 million from his father's estate, Alva set her sights on owning a yacht.
    More Details Hide Details William had the Alva commission by Harlan and Hollingsworth of Wilmington, Delaware at a cost of $500,000. While J.P. Morgan's yacht Corsair was 165 feet long, Mrs. Astor's Nourmahal was 233 feet and even Alva's departed father-in-law's North Star measured 270 feet, this generation would have a yacht, at 285 feet long, that was the largest private yacht in the world. The Vanderbilts then toured the Caribbean and Europe in the highest fashion. This being done, Alva then wanted a "summer cottage" in fashionable Newport, Rhode Island. William commissioned Richard Morris Hunt again, and the elaborate Marble House was built next door to Mrs. Astor's Beechwood.
    Following a divorce from Fernando Yznaga in 1886, Jennie remarried to William George Tiffany.
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  • 1883
    Age 30
    Unable to get an opera box at the Academy of Music, whose directors were loath to admit members of newly wealthy families into their circle, she was among those people instrumental in 1883 in founding the Metropolitan Opera, then based at the Metropolitan Opera House.
    More Details Hide Details The Metropolitan Opera long outlasted the Academy and continues to the present day.
    Determined to bring the Vanderbilt family the social status that she felt they deserved, Vanderbilt christened the Fifth Avenue chateau in March 1883 with a masquerade ball for 1000 guests, costing a reported $3 million.
    More Details Hide Details An oft-repeated story tells that Vanderbilt felt she had been snubbed by Caroline Astor, queen of "The 400" elite of New York society, so she purposely neglected to send an invitation to Astor's popular daughter, Carrie. Supposedly, this forced Astor to come calling, in order to secure an invitation to the ball for her daughter. This story may be apocryphal, but Astor did in fact pay a social call on Vanderbilt and she and her daughter were guests at the ball, effectively giving the Vanderbilt family society's official acceptance (Vanderbilt and Astor were observed at the ball in animated conversation). The chief effect of the ball was to raise the bar on society entertainments in New York to heights of extravagance and expense that had not been previously seen.
  • 1875
    Age 22
    At a party for one of William Henry Vanderbilt's daughters, Smith's best friend, Consuelo Yznaga introduced her to William Kissam Vanderbilt, grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt. On April 20, 1875, William and Alva were married at Calvary Church in New York City.
    More Details Hide Details The couple would have three children. Consuelo Vanderbilt was born on March 2, 1877, followed by William Kissam Vanderbilt II on March 2, 1878, and Harold Stirling Vanderbilt on July 6, 1884. Alva would maneuver Consuelo into marrying Charles Spencer-Churchill, 9th Duke of Marlborough on November 6, 1895.
  • 1869
    Age 16
    After the Civil War, the Smith family returned to New York, where her mother died in 1869.
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  • 1859
    Age 6
    As a child, Alva summered with her parents in Newport, Rhode Island and accompanied them on European vacations. In 1859 the Smiths left Mobile and relocated to New York City, where they briefly settled in Madison Square.
    More Details Hide Details When Murray went to Liverpool, England, to conduct his business, her mother, Phoebe Smith, moved to Paris where Alva attended a private boarding school in Neuilly-sur-Seine.
  • 1853
    Age 0
    Born on January 17, 1853.
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