Abby Aldrich Rockefeller
- For other people named Abby Rockefeller, see Abby Rockefeller (disambiguation).
|Abby Aldrich Rockefeller|
|Born||Abigail Greene Aldrich
October 26, 1874
Providence, Rhode Island
|Died||April 5, 1948
New York City
|Spouse(s)||John Davison Rockefeller Jr.
(m. 1901—1948; her death)
|Parent(s)||Nelson Wilmarth Aldrich
Abigail Pearce Truman Chapman
Abigail Greene "Abby" Aldrich Rockefeller (October 26, 1874 – April 5, 1948) was an American socialite and philanthropist. Through her marriage to financier and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr., she was a prominent member of the Rockefeller family. Referred to as the "woman in the family", she was known for being the driving force behind the establishment of the Museum of Modern Art, on 53rd Street in New York, in November 1929.
Early life and marriage
Abby was born in Providence, Rhode Island to Senator Nelson Wilmarth Aldrich and Abigail Pearce Truman Chapman, a distant descendant of the fourth signer of the Mayflower Compact. She was a sister of Congressman Richard Steere Aldrich and banker/financier Winthrop Williams Aldrich.
Her early education came at the hands of Quaker governesses. In 1891, she enrolled at the Miss Abbott's School for Young Ladies in Providence, Rhode Island. While there she studied English composition and literature, French, German, art history and ancient history, gymnastics, and dancing. She graduated in 1893 and made her debut in November 1893. On June 30, 1894, she sailed for Liverpool, beginning a lifetime of extensive European and later Asian travel. The aesthetic education she gained from abroad, initially fostered by her father, helped to inform her future discernment as an art collector. This initial four-month sojourn included the countries of England, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, and France.
In the fall of 1894 she met her future husband, John Davison Rockefeller Jr. (1874—1960), the only son of Standard Oil co-founder John Davison Rockefeller Sr. (1839—1937) and schoolteacher Laura Celestia "Cettie" Spelman (1839—1915), at a friend's house in Providence. They went through a protracted engagement, during which they were invited for a trip to Cuba in 1900, on President William McKinley Jr.'s yacht. They finally married on October 9, 1901, in the major society wedding of the Gilded Age, in front of around a thousand of the elite personages of the time, at her father's summer home in Warwick Neck, Kent County, Rhode Island.
They settled in 13 West 54th Street from 1901 until 1913, when the construction of the nine-story mansion at 10 West 54th Street, the largest in New York city at the time, was completed by her husband. They resided at Number 10 until 1938, when they moved to a 40-room triplex apartment at 740 Park Avenue. They became the parents of six children, including the famed five "Rockefeller Brothers" - and established the renowned six-generation-strong business/philanthropic/banking/real estate dynasty:
- Abigail Aldrich "Abby" Rockefeller (November 9, 1903 — May 27, 1976)
- John Davison Rockefeller III (March 21, 1906 — July 10, 1978)
- Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller (July 8, 1908 — January 26, 1979)
- Laurance Spelman Rockefeller (May 26, 1910 — July 11, 2004)
- Winthrop Aldrich Rockefeller (May 1, 1912 — February 22, 1973)
- David Rockefeller (born June 12, 1915)
Abby Rockefeller began collecting paintings, watercolors, and drawings by a number of contemporary American artists in 1925, as well as a number of European modernists: Vincent van Gogh, Edgar Degas, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Paul Cézanne, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
In 1928, she employed a designer to create a suite of art deco rooms and furnishings for herself on the 7th floor of their nine-story house at 10 West Fifty-fourth Street. Called the Topside Gallery, it allowed her to display and organize changing exhibitions of her growing collection, integrating modern and folk art. Visitors took the elevator directly to the 7th floor, bypassing the private domain of the rest of her family. The news of her interests and activities spread quickly from this period, and many subsequent collectors began to follow her lead.
She became a prominent patron of modern art and artists in America, using the example of their European predecessors, such as Picasso and Matisse. Most notable was her avid interest in becoming the driving force in the establishment and ongoing operations of the Museum of Modern Art, in New York, on November 7, 1929, nine days after the Wall Street Crash. In this project she could not rely on financing from her husband, who was repelled by much of modern abstract painting, nor did she have great wealth of her own to draw on as she received only an allowance from him. Financing for the museum and acquisition of paintings came from her solicitation of corporations and prominent New York individuals.
She was elected to the museum's Board of Trustees in October 1929 and also served as inaugural treasurer from 1929 until 1934. Other roles included terms as First Vice-President (1934–1936) and First Vice-Chairman (1941–1945). Her son Nelson subsequently became its president and involved himself in its financing and the establishment of its new permanent headquarters on 53rd Street, in 1939.
The Art Gallery named in her honor, The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Gallery, designed by architect Philip Johnson and opened in 1953, showcases Japanese woodblock prints from the permanent collection at The Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design (The RISD Museum). In 1949, the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Print Room opened at MoMA, housing Abby's gift of 1600 prints, which had been given nine years earlier.
In addition to her gifts to the MoMA, Mrs Rockefeller gave substantially to other museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Cloisters, which received much of her collection of sculpture and decorative arts, as well as to the Rhode Island School of Design, which received her collection of Japanese prints.
She also has a residential hall named after her at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. The College itself was named after her mother-in-law.
With a lifelong dedication to the advancement and welfare of women, Abby was one of the charter founders of the Cosmopolitan Club in New York. She was also a member of the Colony Club, the Women's City Club, the National Society of Colonial Dames, the Women's National Republican Club, the Faculty Club of Harvard University, the Society of Mayflower Descendants, and the Garden Club of America, among others. Along with her husband, she also served on the board of trustees of the International House of New York.
For decades she was involved with the YWCA's National Board, starting as chairman of its housing committee in 1918, building demonstration structures to accommodate working women contributing to the war effort, including, in 1919, the Bayway Cottage and Community House, in New Jersey, with financing from her husband.
She was later to chair the Grace Dodge Hotel committee for fifteen years, organizing the construction of a major hotel for business and professional women involved in government work, as well as accommodating city visitors to Washington.
In the mid-1920s, Abby and her husband were contacted by Reverend Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin, who was rector of Bruton Parish Church and an instructor at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. After seeing Dr. Goodwin's restored church, they explored further his concept of a massive restoration of the city to its glory days prior to the American Revolution, as the capital of the Virginia Colony. They became committed to funding the project, which commenced in 1927.
The result was Colonial Williamsburg, a living history museum which has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world. One of the museums within the complex, the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, is named in her honor.
- "Abby Aldrich Rockefeller". The Rockefeller Archive Center. Retrieved 18 September 2016.
- Details of the 1901 wedding - Harr & Johnson, op.cit., (pp.81-5)
- http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1026/is_5_166/ai_n9505400 Findarticles.com[dead link]
- The financing of MoMA - see Bernice Kert, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller: The Woman in the Family, New York: Random House, 1993. (pp.281;283-84)
- Google Search Archived October 9, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
- Involvement with the YWCA and women's issues - Ibid., (pp.160-62;180-81;201-2;238)
- Fosdick, Raymond B. John D. Rockefeller Jr., A Portrait. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1956.
- Harr, John Ensor, and Peter J. Johnson. The Rockefeller Century: Three Generations of America's Greatest Family. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1988.
- Kert, Bernice. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller: The Woman in the Family. New York: Random House, 1993.
- Rockefeller, David. "Memoirs". New York: Random House, 2002.
- Stasz, Clarice. The Rockefeller Women: Dynasty of Piety, Privacy, and Service. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995.