Edith Stuyvesant Gerry

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Edith Stuyvesant Dresser Gerry
Edith Vanderbilt with daughter.jpg
Edith and her daughter, Cornelia, ca. 1902
Edith Stuyvesant Dresser

(1873-01-17)January 17, 1873
DiedDecember 21, 1958(1958-12-21) (aged 85)
George Washington Vanderbilt II
(m. 1898; died 1914)

Peter Goelet Gerry
(m. 1925; died 1957)
ChildrenCornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt
RelativesDaniel LeRoy Dresser (brother)
George Vanderbilt Cecil (grandson)
William Vanderbilt Cecil (grandson)

Edith Stuyvesant Dresser Gerry (January 17, 1873 – December 21, 1958) was an American philanthropist and wife of George Washington Vanderbilt II and Peter Goelet Gerry, a United States Senator from Rhode Island.[1]

Early life[edit]

Painting of Edith by Giovanni Boldini, 1900

Edith Stuyvesant Dresser was born on January 17, 1873, in Newport, Rhode Island, to George Warren Dresser (1837–1883) and Susan Fish Le Roy (1834–1883).[2] She was the great-niece of Hamilton Fish (1808–1893), a U.S. Secretary of State, U.S. Senator, and New York Governor. Through the Fish family, she was a descendant of Peter Stuyvesant, the last governor of Dutch colonial New York through Hamilton Fish's mother, Elizabeth Stuyvesant, Peter Stuyvesant's great-great-granddaughter,[3] she was orphaned at the age of 10 and was raised by her maternal grandmother.

Her elder brother was Daniel LeRoy Dresser (1862–1915), a shipbuilder,[4] her sisters and her, collectively known as the "Dresser girls," were: Suzanne Leroy Dresser (1864–1960), who married the French Vicomte, Romain D'Osmoy,[4] Natalie Bayard Dresser (1869–1950),[5] who married John Nicholas Brown,[6][7] and Pauline Georgina Dresser (b. 1876),[8] who married Rev. George D. Merrill.[9][10]


Edith was a compassionate person; many said that one would not have known she was the mistress of the Biltmore Estate, she was very involved with the families who worked on the Biltmore Estate, as well as the surrounding community. Edith and her husband, George Vanderbilt, were socially progressive thinkers who played pivotal roles in the improvement of the lives of many people in western North Carolina.[11]

Some of her initiatives included sponsoring literacy and educational programs, and promoting crafts through which women might support themselves. On the estate, she took maternity baskets to women who had just given birth to make sure they had everything they needed. Edith also took her daughter Cornelia's old clothing to families with girls who were about the same age.[12]

After her husband's death in March 1914, she continued her work for the community, she became the first woman president of the State Agricultural Society. With this title, Edith helped build a new hospital, among numerous other deeds. Later, she decided to honor George Vanderbilt, her husband, by selling 87,000 acres to create the Pisgah National Forest for the public to enjoy.[13]

Personal life[edit]

On June 1, 1898, she married George Washington Vanderbilt II (1862–1914), the owner of the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. Together, they had one daughter Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt (1900–1976), who married John Francis Amherst Cecil (1890–1954), son of Lord William Cecil and Mary Rothes Margaret Tyssen-Amherst, 2nd Baroness Amherst of Hackney.

After his death in 1914, she inherited his $50,000,000 estate and later sold the land around the Biltmore Estate to the United States Forest Service; this became part of the Pisgah National Forest.

On October 22, 1925 she married Peter Goelet Gerry (1879-1951), a United States Senator from Rhode Island, in London.[14] Gerry had previously been married to Mathilde Scott Townsend (1885–1949), until their divorce in 1925,[15] and was the son of Elbridge Thomas Gerry (1837–1927) and Louisa Matilda Livingston (1836–1920), and the great grandson of Elbridge Gerry (1744–1814), the fifth Vice President of the United States.[16]

She died on December 21, 1958 in Providence, Rhode Island.[1]


Her grandchildren were George Henry Vanderbilt Cecil (b. 1925), the owner and operator of Biltmore Farms, and William Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil (1928–2017), the operator of the Biltmore Estate through his company, The Biltmore Company.[17]

In popular culture[edit]

Paul McCartney, in the band Wings, paid homage to her as well as Martha Washington in his 1973 hit "Mrs. Vanderbilt" on the Band on the Run album.


  1. ^ a b "Mrs. Peter G. Gerry". The New York Times. December 22, 1958.
  2. ^ "Memorial of Susan E. Leroy. Tablet Unveiled in Trinity Church, Newport, Yesterday". The New York Times. 29 June 1899. Retrieved 21 December 2016.
  3. ^ Corning (1918), pp. 12-15.
  4. ^ a b "D. Leroy Dresser, Once Rich Banker, Commits Suicide. Brother of Mrs. G. W. Vanderbilt and Mrs. John Nicholas Brown Shoots Himself. Alone In Fraternity House. Married Seven Months Ago, After Being Divorced, and Was in Financial Straits. Prominent in Shipbuilding Trust, the Collapse of Which Ruined Him. D. Leroy Dresser Commits Suicide". The New York Times. July 11, 1915. Retrieved 2011-04-21. Mr. Dresser was a brother of Mrs. George W. Vanderbilt and of Mrs. John Nicholas Brown of Newport, whose son, John Nicholas Brown, II, was long known as ...
  5. ^ "Natalie Bayard Brown papers". riamco.org. RIAMCO | Rhode Island Archival and Manuscript Collections Online. Retrieved 21 December 2016.
  6. ^ "John Nicholas Brown II". Brown University. Archived from the original on 2007-12-18. Retrieved 2011-04-22. John Nicholas Brown II (1900-1979) was born February 21, 1900. Two months later, his father John Nicholas Brown I died of typhoid fever, followed shortly by the unexpected death of his uncle Harold Brown. Thus, as an infant JNB became heir of his family's fortune and was dubbed by the public the "richest baby in America." John Nicholas Brown traveled the world in his youth and would continue to do so throughout his life. ...
  7. ^ Romy Wyllie. Bertram Goodhue: his life and residential architecture. ISBN 0-393-73219-3. When John Nicholas Brown I and his brother both died in 1900, they left their fortune to John's three-month- old son, who became the richest baby in the world.
  8. ^ The United States Army and Navy Journal and Gazette of the Regular and Volunteer Forces. New York: Army and Navy Journal Incorporated. 1897. Retrieved 21 December 2016.
  9. ^ Green, William (1898). An Illustrated Weekly Pub. Every Sat. in the Interests of American Society at Home and Abroad Vol. III & IV. New York: Form Publishing Company. Retrieved 21 December 2016.
  10. ^ "George Merrill's Obituary". The Berkshire Eagle. The Berkshire Eagle. Retrieved 21 December 2016.
  11. ^ "Our Story - Biltmore Stories - Edith Vanderbilt." Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina, Americas Largest Home and More! Biltmore Association. Web. 08 Nov. 2011.<http://www.biltmore.com/our_story/stories/esv.asp>
  12. ^ McKendree, Sue C. "Edith Vanderbilt's Relationship with Estate Families." Learn NC. UNC School of Education. Web. 8 Nov. 2011.<http://www.learnnc.org/lp/pages/1834>
  13. ^ Carley, Rachel, and Rosemary G. Rennicke. A Pictorial Guide to Biltmore Estate. Asheville, NC: Biltmore, 2008. 18-19. Print.
  14. ^ "Edith Vanderbilt Wed to P.G. Gerry. Marriage by London Registrar Is Followed by Service at the Savoy Chapel". The New York Times. October 23, 1925.
  15. ^ Devine, Michael J. (February 2000). "Welles, Sumner (14 Oct. 1892-24 Sept. 1961)". www.anb.org. Oxford University Press: American National Biography Online. Archived from the original on 9 March 2017. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  16. ^ Hendrick, Burton J. (June 1912). "PERMANENT OWNERS OF NEW YORK". McClure's Magazine, Vol. 39, No. 2. S.S. McClure: 121–138. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  17. ^ National Historic Landmark Nomination: Biltmore Estate

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