Gertrude Sanford Legendre
|Gertrude Sanford Legendre|
Gertrude Sanford (William Orpen, 1922)
|Born||Gertrude Ellen Sanford
29 March 1902
Aiken, South Carolina
|Died||8 March 2000
Berkeley County, South Carolina
|Known for||Hunter, spy, socialite|
|Spouse(s)||Sidney J. Legendre
Gertrude Sanford Legendre (1902–2000) was an American socialite who served as a spy during World War II. She was also a noted explorer, big-game hunter, environmentalist, and owner of Medway plantation in South Carolina.
Born in Aiken, South Carolina, she was the daughter of New York rug magnate and member of the United States House of Representatives from New York's 20th congressional district, John Sanford (1851), and the granddaughter of Sarah Jane Cochrane (1830–1901) and Stephen Sanford (1826–1913), an American businessman and president and CEO of the Bigelow-Sanford Carpet Company, who also served as a member of the United States House of Representatives from New York's 18th congressional district.
She was also the daughter of Ethel Sanford, the daughter of Gertrude Ellen Dupuy and the Hon. Henry Shelton Sanford, an accomplished diplomat and successful businessman and the founder of Sanford, Florida.
The youngest of three children, she, her brother Stephen Sanford, an internationally recognized polo player known as “Laddie” and her sister Sara Jane Sanford were said to have been the inspiration for Philip Barry’s 1929 play ”Holiday,” that was made into a movie starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant.
Mrs. Legendre was reared in Amsterdam, N.Y. and in a Manhattan town house on East 72nd Street. She was educated at Foxcroft School in Middleburg, Virginia, and made her society debut after graduating in 1920.
Big Game Hunting
While still in her teens, Gertrude embarked on her first hunting trip to the Grand Tetons of Wyoming where she shot her first elk. For years, she pursued big game in Africa, India, Iran and Indochina, and contributed rare specimens to museums, covering the period of 1923 to 1929 including excursions to South Africa, Canada, and Alaska.
During her exploration of Abyssinia for the American Museum of Natural History as part of the Sanford-Legendre Abyssinia Expedition in 1929, she encountered the expedition's co-leader Sidney J. Legendre, whom she would later wed.
Marriage and Family
Gertrude Sanford married the expedition's co-leader Sidney J. Legendre on 17 September 1929. Following their marriage, the young couple purchased one of South Carolina’s oldest surviving plantations, Medway, to make their home.
The couple had two daughters, Bokara ("Bo") Legendre  and Landine Legendre Wood Manigault; Landrine's second husband was Peter Manigault (1927-2004), chairman of The Evening Post Publishing Company in Charleston, South Carolina., while her first husband was Peter Hodgson Wood of Cross River, N.Y.
World War II/OSS Spy
When World War II began, both Sidney and Gertrude Legendre served their country, with Gertrude heading to Europe to work first for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Message Center in London, England, under David K. E. Bruce. In 1944, the agency transferred her to Paris giving her a WAC uniform and paperwork identifying her as a second lieutenant.
She became the first American woman captured in France when, on a visit to the front northeast of Paris, she found herself pinned down by German sniper fire. Held as a prisoner of war for six months, when she narrowly escaped on a train to Switzerland. As the train stopped just short of the border she dashed from the train while a German guard shouted orders for her to halt or be shot. She continued and secured her freedom.
After the war, Mrs. Legendre helped a German prison guard who had been kind to her emigrate to the United States. She also established the Medway Plan to provide medical help to countries devastated by the war.
Later Life and Legacy
Sidney Legendre, Gertrude's husband, died in 1948. In her later years, Gertrude established the Medway Environmental Trust for educational purposes and to ensure that her beloved home, Medway, would forever be managed as a nature preserve. In the 1980s and 1990s, she granted conservation easements on her landmark house to the Historic Charleston Society and on most of the property to the Wetlands America Trust.
In the years after her husband's death and until nearly end of her life, Mrs. Legendre gave a New Year’s Eve costume party at Medway that was a tradition. At one of the last of those parties, she offered a toast: ”I look ahead. I always have. I don’t contemplate life, I live it. And I’m having the time of my life.”
She also wrote two autobiographies, ”The Sands Ceased to Run” (1947) and ”The Time of My Life” (1987), and died at the age of 97, at Medway.
- Siemiatkoski, Donna H (1990). The Descendents of Governor Thomas Welles of Connecticut, 1590-1658, and His Wife, Alice Tomes. Gateway Press.
- Sanford Historical Society, "General Henry S. Sanford." http://sanfordhistory.tripod.com/id18.html
- A Life Less Ordinary: The Legendary Adventures of Lowcountry Socialite Gertrude Legendre, Charleston Magazine, October 2005, pp. 70-74.