Early life and scandal
She was born April 27 near Louisville, Kentucky to William Croghan, Jr. and Mary O'Hara, who was the daughter of frontier Pittsburgh businessman James O'Hara. As her mother's only heir, she eventually inherited large tracts of land amassed by her maternal grandfather, James O'Hara.
As young girl she was a quite the romantic. While in boarding school in Staten Island, New York at the age of 15, she met, fell in love, and promptly eloped to England with 43-year-old Captain Edward Wyndham Harrington Schenley of the British Army. It was the Captain's third elopement. The ensuing scandal sparked coverage in many American newspapers.
When her father, a widower, heard of the elopement of his only child, he fainted, according to one Pittsburgh paper. He demanded that the federal government in Washington, DC intercept the ship and that the Pennsylvania General Assembly in Harrisburg take action. He prompted church ministers and newspaper editors to make denunciations. Even in England, Queen Victoria for many years would refuse presentation of the couple at court because of the scandal.
Though the couple's boat was not intercepted, Mr. Croghan was successful in March 1842 in getting the state legislature to "confirm the title of the whole of the property to the father of Miss Crogan, now the wife of the youthful captain, and places the same after his death, in the hands of trustees who are to pay at their discretion for her support." At least the large estate was in trust.
Newspapers also revealed that at the time of his elopement Capt. Schenley was AWOL from his post as Her Majesty's Commissioner of Arbitration in a mixed court for the suppression of the slave trade in British Guiana. Therefore, when Schenley and his bride arrived in England, his superior, Lord Palmerston, ordered him back to his post in South America. Schenley's work there to free the slaves was exceedingly unpopular with the European minority; eventually they forced his reassignment to England.
There the Schenleys were without means. Mary's father now had a change of heart and visited them in England. He bought them a house in London, arranged for a living allowance, and urged the couple to come to Pittsburgh to live with him. The Schenleys did come to Pittsburgh, but did not stay on, and returned to England. Her home, Neill Log House, which she inherited from James O'Hara, is now preserved in Schenley Park.
Croghan later died in 1850 in Pittsburgh. Mary Schenley then received her full inheritance.
Mary and Capt. Schenley had seven children together.
Throughout the late 19th century, Mary Schenley made many gifts of money to churches and public schools in Pittsburgh.
More significantly, perhaps, she donated land to the city of Pittsburgh in 1889 for Schenley Park; to Western Pennsylvania Institute for the Blind for a school in 1890; and in 1895, she gave the oldest relic in Pittsburgh, the Fort Pitt Blockhouse and adjoining property, to the Daughters of the American Revolution.
She also donated the 19 acres (77,000 m2) of land on which the Carnegie Institute, a gift of Andrew Carnegie, was built. Carnegie paid visits to Mary Schenley at her villa, Mont Fleury, at Cannes, in the south of France.
Mary Schenley died in London in 1903. Her Pittsburgh real estate holdings at the time were worth more than $50 million. Much in the city of Pittsburgh still bears her name, including Schenley High School, Schenley Hotel, Schenley Bridge, Schenley Plaza, Schenley Quadrangle, Schenley Tunnel, and the Mary Schenley Memorial Fountain.
- Killikelly, Sarah H. (1906). The History of Pittsburgh: Its Rise and Progress. Lenox: B.C. and Gordon Montgomery and Company. ISBN none.
- Shine, Bernice (1941). Schenley Park Donated by Girl Whose Romance Shocked a Queen. Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph.