William Payne Whitney

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William Payne Whitney
William Payne Whitney (ca. 1899).jpg
William Payne Whitney, ca. 1899
William Payne Whitney

March 20, 1876
DiedMay 25, 1927 (1927-05-26) (aged 51)
EducationGroton School
Alma materYale University
Harvard Law School
OccupationInvestor, racehorse owner/breeder, philanthropist
(m. 1902)
ChildrenJoan Whitney
John Hay Whitney
Parent(s)William Collins Whitney
Flora Payne
RelativesSee Whitney family

William Payne Whitney (March 20, 1876 – May 25, 1927) was an American businessman and member of the influential Whitney family. He inherited a fortune and enlarged it through business dealings, then devoted much of his money and efforts to a wide variety of philanthropic purposes. His will included funds to expand the New York Hospital, now called NewYork–Presbyterian Hospital, where the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic was established.

Early life[edit]

William Payne Whitney was born on March 20, 1876 to William Collins Whitney (1841–1904) and Flora Payne (1842–1893). His siblings included: elder brother, Harry Payne Whitney (1872–1930), Pauline Payne Whitney (1874–1916), and younger sister, Dorothy Payne Whitney (1887–1968).[1]

After his mother's death and his father's remarriage (of which he apparently disapproved), Whitney essentially dropped the first name he shared with his father, and became commonly known simply as Payne Whitney. This choice is reflected in the form of his name associated with several of his philanthropic endeavors.[2]

Whitney was educated at the Groton School. He attended Yale University, where he was a member of Skull and Bones,[3]: 171  Delta Kappa Epsilon, and captained the Yale rowing team. After graduating in 1898, Whitney then studied law at the Harvard Law School, receiving his Bachelor of Laws in 1901.[4]


In addition to a substantial inheritance from his father, William inherited $63,000,000 from his uncle, Col. Oliver Hazard Payne. Amongst his many investments, he possessed major holdings in banking, tobacco, railroads, mining and oil. He was also a member of the board of directors and/or an executive officer of several large corporations, including the City Bank New York, and the Great Northern Paper Company, and the Northern Finance Corporation.[4]


A horse racing enthusiast in the tradition of his father and brother, William's Greentree Stable, named for their Long Island estate, was a very significant racing and breeding operation for thoroughbred horses.[5]


Throughout his life, William Payne Whitney was involved in philanthropic work for a variety of causes. A trustee of the New York Public Library, in 1923 he gave the library $12,000,000. Whitney made charitable contributions to the rowing team at his alma mater, Yale University, including donating funds to build a dormitory for the crew.[6]

His will bequeathed more than $20 million to establish the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic at Cornell University's medical school, now called Weill Cornell Medicine, and New York Hospital, now New York–Presbyterian Hospital in New York City.[7][8]

Smaller amounts to other educational and medical institutions.[7] Although he had contributed $1,000,000 to the Yale Endowment Fund shortly before his death, sufficient estate funds were given to enable Yale's construction of the 9½ story Payne Whitney Gymnasium that too was completed in 1932.[9][10] As a tribute to him, a road in Manhasset was named after him, Payne Whitney Lane.

Personal life[edit]

In 1902, Whitney married Helen Julia Hay (1875–1944),[11] the daughter of then-United States Secretary of State (and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom) John Hay.[12] Their Stanford White-designed mansion, Payne Whitney House at 972 Fifth Avenue, was a wedding gift from his maternal uncle, Oliver Hazard Payne. The couple also had an estate, Greentree, in Manhasset, New York. Together, they had two children:[11]

On September 20, 1911, Whitney was aboard the RMS Olympic when it was rammed by the warship HMS Hawke. Olympic was the sister ship of the RMS Titanic.[18]

Whitney died in 1927 at his Greentree estate.[4]


  1. ^ "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 ...
  2. ^ "'Greentree'".
  3. ^ "OBITUARY RECORD OF YALE GRADUATES 1926-1927" (PDF). Yale University. August 1, 1927. Retrieved April 22, 2011.
  4. ^ a b c "PAYNE WHITNEY DIES SUDDENLY AT HOME | Financier, 51, Stricken With Indigestion in Tennis Game at Manhasset, L.I. | WIFE SPEEDS TO HIM IN VAIN | He Succumbs in 25 Minutes - Wealth Put at $100,000,000 -- Noted as Sportsman". The New York Times. 26 May 1927. Retrieved 6 March 2017.
  5. ^ Field, Bryan (3 February 1933). "ANOTHER WHITNEY TO ENTER RACING; Mrs. Joan Whitney Payson Is New Member of Family to Register Colors. FOUR OTHERS OWN STRINGS Lasker, Leiter and Misses Davies and Daniels Also Signify Plans to Race Thoroughbreds". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 March 2017.
  6. ^ "PAYNE WHITNEY GAVE MILLION TO YALE FUND; G. P. Day Pays Tribute to His Generosity -- $15,251,270 Now Total of Gifts in Drive". The New York Times. 2 June 1927. Retrieved 6 March 2017.
  7. ^ a b "WHITNEY WILL GIVES MILLIONS TO CHARITY; Value of Legacies to Hospitals and to Education Put at $20,000,000 to $50,000,000. BULK OF ESTATE TO FAMILY F.P. Dunne and Two Other Friends Get $500,000 Each -- Two Horses Go to Brother. WHITNEY WILL GIVES MILLIONS TO CHARITY". The New York Times. 7 June 1927. Retrieved 6 March 2017.
  8. ^ "WHITNEY FUND IN ABEYANCE; Trustees Silent on Plans for a Philanthropic Foundation". The New York Times. 9 June 1927. Retrieved 6 March 2017.
  9. ^ "PAYNE WHITNEY'S WILL AWAITS SON'S ARRIVAL; It Will Probably Be Read Next Saturday After Heir Returns From England". The New York Times. 29 May 1927. Retrieved 6 March 2017.
  10. ^ "MR. WHITNEY'S WILL". The New York Times. 8 June 1927. Retrieved 6 March 2017.
  11. ^ a b "MRS. PAYNE WHITNEY DIES IN HOSPITAL, 68 | As Head of Greentree Stable Was Leading Woman Owner of the American Turf | WON DERBY IN 1931, 1942 | Former Helen Hay, Daughter Ex-Secretary of State - Husband Left $178,000,000". The New York Times. 25 September 1944. Retrieved 6 March 2017.
  12. ^ Times, Special To The New York (5 February 1902). "THE WHITNEY-HAY WEDDING". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 March 2017.
  13. ^ Durso, Joseph (5 October 1975). "Joan Whitney Payson, 72, Mets Owner, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 March 2017.
  14. ^ "JOHN HAY WHITNEY DIES AT 77; PUBLISHER LED IN MANY FIELDS". The New York Times. 9 February 1982. Retrieved 6 March 2017.
  15. ^ "Payne Whitney's Son Arrives". The New York Times. 4 June 1927. Retrieved 6 March 2017.
  16. ^ Photo, Special To The New York Times times Wide World (26 September 1930). "MARY ALTEMUS WED TO J. HAY WHITNEY; Philadelphia Girl Has Large Bridal Party at Marriage to New Yorker. SPECIAL TRAIN FOR COUPLE They Leave for Washington--Presents Received From Friends inMany Countries. Bride's Gown of Silver Cloth. Robert C. Benchley Best Man. Famous Manuscripts as Gifts. Bride a Horsewoman". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 March 2017.
  17. ^ "Mrs. Cushing Roosevelt Becomes Bride Here of John Hay Whitney; Former Wife of President's Eldest Son Wed to Wealthy Sportsman and Financier in a Simple Home Ceremony". The New York Times. 2 March 1942. Retrieved 6 March 2017.
  18. ^ "Olympic/Hawke Collision".

External links[edit]

  • Official webpage for NewYork Presbyterian Department of Psychiatry