Dorothy Payne Whitney

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Dorothy Payne Whitney
Dorothy Payne Whitney in 1915.jpg
Dorothy Payne Whitney in 1915
Born (1887-01-23)January 23, 1887
Washington, D.C., United States
Died December 14, 1968(1968-12-14) (aged 81)
Dartington Hall, Devon, United Kingdom
Occupation Social activist and philanthropist
Known for

Dorothy Payne Whitney (January 23, 1887 – December 14, 1968) was an American-born social activist and philanthropist and a member of the prominent Whitney family.

Life and work[edit]

Whitney was born in Washington, D.C., the daughter of Flora (née Payne) and businessman and statesman William Collins Whitney. At age 17, she came into a major inheritance following the death of her extremely wealthy father.

Her first marriage in 1911 was to Willard Dickerman Straight (1880–1918) an orphan from Oswego, New York, who went to Cornell University and by the age of 30 was a powerful man amongst the international community trading in Peking, China. He died at the age of 38 of influenza during the 1918 pandemic while serving with the United States Army in France during World War I. Straight's will requested his wife to continue his philanthropic work in support of Cornell and in 1925 she built Willard Straight Hall, a student union building dedicated to her late husband's memory.

One of the wealthiest women in America in the early 20th century, Dorothy Whitney Straight was a philanthropist, social activist, supporting women's trade unions, educational and charitable organisations such as the Junior League of New York, becoming the first president of the Association of Junior Leagues International in 1921. She was also a founder, with her husband, of the weekly magazine The New Republic and the New School for Social Research, in New York City.

Records of Dorothy Payne Whitney in New York City reveal the extent of her philanthropic work. She was a benefactor of the arts, feminist, and pacifist causes as well as social and labour reform. She lent financial support to progressive alternative education plus scholarly research. In 1937, she created the William C. Whitney Foundation, in her father's name.

It was through the Cornell connection that in 1920 she met Leonard Knight Elmhirst, from a Yorkshire landowning family, who was then studying agriculture at Cornell University, and was seeking support for Cornell's Cosmopolitan Club which provided amenities for foreign students. They married in April 1925, and embarked on ambitious plans to recreate rural community life at Dartington Hall in Devon. At Dartington she led the artistic developments, founding Dartington College of Arts and Dartington International Summer School — although she and Leonard also continued their world-wide interests. On April 26, 1935 she renounced her United States citizenship.[1] She died on December 14, 1968.[2]


With Willard Dickerman Straight:

With Leonard K. Elmhirst:

  • Ruth Elmhirst
  • William Elmhirst


  1. ^ "Whitney Heiress, Wife of a British Subject, Renounces Status as American". The New York Times. April 26, 1935. Retrieved December 12, 2008. Mrs. Dorothy Payne Whitney Elmhirst, the former Mrs. Willard Straight, renounced her United States citizenship yesterday in an affidavit filed with Federal Judge William Bondy. 
  2. ^ "Dorothy Elmhirst, a Founder of New Republic, Dies". The New York Times. December 16, 1968. Retrieved December 12, 2008. London, Dec. 15—Mrs. Dorothy Payne Whitney Straight Elmhirst, philanthropist, pioneer in progressive education and suffragist, died last night at Dartington Hall near ... 
  3. ^ "Michael Straight". The Daily Telegraph. January 7, 2004. Retrieved March 22, 2010. Michael Straight, who has died aged 87, was the former Soviet spy responsible for telling MI5 that Anthony Blunt — whose lover he had briefly been at Cambridge in the 1930s — was a mole. 

Further reading[edit]