Rita de Acosta Lydig

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Rita de Acosta Lydig
Portrait of Rita de Acosta Lydig by Giovanni Boldini.jpg
Lydig by Giovanni Boldini, 1911.
Rita Hernandez de Alba de Acosta

(1875-10-01)October 1, 1875
DiedOctober 27, 1929(1929-10-27) (aged 54)
Gotham Hotel, New York City
(m. 1895; div. 1900)

Philip Mesier Lydig
(m. 1902; div. 1919)
Partner(s)Percy Stickney Grant
ChildrenWilliam Earl Dodge Stokes Jr.
Parent(s)Ricardo de Acosta
Micaela Hernández de Alba y de Alba
RelativesMercedes de Acosta (sister)
Aida de Acosta (sister)

Rita Hernandez de Alba de Acosta Stokes Lydig (October 1875 – October 27, 1929) was an American socialite regarded as "the most picturesque woman in America." She was photographed by Adolf de Meyer, Edward Steichen, and Gertrude Käsebier, sculpted in alabaster by Malvina Hoffman, and was painted by Giovanni Boldini and John Singer Sargent, among others.

Early life[edit]

Rita de Acosta was born in New York City in 1875 to Ricardo de Acosta (1837–1907), a steamship-line executive of Cuban descent, and a Spanish mother, Micaela Hernández de Alba y de Alba (1853–1921), reputedly a relation of the Dukes of Alba. She had seven siblings: Joaquín, Enrique, Ricardo, Mercedes, Aida, Maria, and Ángela.[1]

Her sister Mercedes de Acosta, a lover of movie star Greta Garbo, was an author, a scriptwriter, and social critic.[1] Another sister, Aida de Acosta, became the first female to fly a powered aircraft solo and was the second wife of United States Assistant Secretary of War Henry Skillman Breckinridge, and another sister, Maria, was the wife of composer Theodore Ward Chanler.[2]

Influence on art and fashion[edit]

Rita Lydig photographed by Baron Adolf de Meyer in 1913

Rita lived in New York, Paris and London, and counted Edgar Degas, Auguste Rodin, Leo Tolstoy, Sarah Bernhardt, Ethel Barrymore and Claude Debussy among her friends.[3] She also supported the suffragette cause.[4][5]

Famous for her extravagant lifestyle, "...Rita was equally welcomed in Paris, where she spent parts of each year. She would arrive at the Ritz with a hairdresser, masseuse, chauffeur, secretary, maid,... and forty Louis Vuitton trunks... In Paris, she joined ranks with musicians, artists, intellectuals, and philosophers such as Rodin, Eleonora Duse, Yvette Guilbert etc."[6] Impressed by Rita's innate creative spirit, Isabella Stewart Gardner, the great collector and creator of the Gardner museum in Boston, once asked their mutual friend, John Singer Sargent, why Lydig had never expressed herself artistically. "Why should she?" Sargent answered, "She herself is art."[7]

She also wrote one novel, Tragic Mansions (Boni & Liveright, 1927), under the name Mrs Philip Lydig,[8] a society melodrama described as "emotionally moving and appealing" by The New York Times.[9]

Personal life[edit]

Portrait photograph of Mrs. Rita Lydig, 1925

Rita de Acosta was married twice. Her first marriage was on January 3, 1895 when the 16 year old became the first wife of multimillionaire William Earl Dodge Stokes (1852–1926),[10] who built The Ansonia on Manhattan's Upper West Side.[11] The marriage was unhappy, reportedly due to Stokes's temper and physical cruelty, and when it was dissolved by divorce in 1900, she received a settlement of nearly two million dollars, a record for the time. In February 1922, she testified in court against Stokes, then going through an acrimonious divorce from his second wife, stating that he used to beat her during their marriage.[12] Before their divorce,[13] they lived at 262 West 72nd Street and became the parents of one son, William Earl Dodge Stokes Jr. (1896–1982).[14]

In 1902, she was married to Major Philip Mesier Lydig, a wealthy and socially prominent retired officer in the United States Army, in Grace Church chantry by the Rev. William R. Houghton.[15] She was given away by her brother Ricardo, her sister Aida was her maid of honor and William Astor Chanler was Lydig's best man.[15] In 1913, she sold her art collection, which included pieces by Sandro Botticelli.[16] They separated in 1914 and divorced in 1919.[17]

In 1921, Lydig announced her engagement to Reverend Percy Stickney Grant (1860–1927), rector of the Church of the Ascension. Their wedding plans were broken off in 1924 when Bishop William Manning refused to authorize the marriage, citing Lydig being a divorcée with two living former husbands. Rev. Grant died shortly afterwards, leaving his personal fortune to the woman he had hoped to marry, and Lydig spent large sums of money on fashion, art, furniture, and other objects to overcome her grief.[3] Heavily in debt, she was forced to sell her Washington Square home and its contents, and she was declared bankrupt.

Lydig died of pernicious anaemia at the Gotham Hotel on October 27, 1929 at the age of 54.[18] She was buried with her mother and sister Mercedes at Trinity Church Cemetery in lower Manhattan, New York City.[19]


Her personal wardrobe became the basis for the start of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.[1]


  1. ^ a b c Schanke, Robert A. (2003). "Mercedes de Acosta: One of the most rebellious & brazen of Lesbians". www.robertschanke.com. Southern Illinois University. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  2. ^ "DIED. CHANLER --Maria de Acosta". The New York Times. 8 June 1970. Retrieved 21 February 2018.
  3. ^ a b Lydig on the Shepherd Gallery website
  4. ^ "SOCIETY WOMEN IN POSES FOR SUFFRAGE; Mrs. Mackay to Appear as Florence Nightingale, and Mrs. Vanderbilt as Joan of Arc" (PDF). The New York Times. 8 November 1910. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  5. ^ "COLBY COMES OUT FOR SUFFRAGETTES; Jersey Leader Says Women's Vote Is Needed to Help Men Solve Political Problems. AS WELL INFORMED AS MEN Senator Declares He Has Found They Knew More Than Most Men About Our System of Government" (PDF). The New York Times. December 17, 1909. p. 6. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  6. ^ "Spirited Masterpiece: Rita de Acosta Lydig by Giovanni Boldini". ArtfixDaily. January 5, 2016. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  7. ^ 'The Power of Style: The Women Who Defined the Art of Living Well' by Annette Tapert Published by Crown (1994)
  8. ^ "MRS. LYDIG'S BOOK COPIES OUT TODAY; Profits of 'Tragic Mansions' Will Go to Her Creditors, Attorney Promises" (PDF). The New York Times. 30 April 1927. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  9. ^ "THE SOCIAL WHIRL: TRAGIC MANSIONS. By Mrs. Philip Lydig. Introduction by Harvey O'Higgins. Portrait frontispiece. 221 pp. New York: Bont & Liveright. $2.50" (PDF). The New York Times. 15 May 1927. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  10. ^ "WEDDING OF MISS ACOSTA; Married to W.E.D. Stokes by Archbishop Corrigan. THE BRIDE'S HOME A BOWER OF ROSES Becoming Gowns of the Maid of Honor and Bridesmaids -- Distinguished Guests at the Wedding" (PDF). The New York Times. 4 January 1895. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  11. ^ Gaines, Steven (May 6, 2005). "The Ups and Downs of The Ansonia, The Building that Made the Upper West Side". New York Magazine. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  12. ^ "MRS.LYDIG SWEARS STOKES STRUCK HER; Hurt Her by Beating Her With a Jacket With Buttons, She Testifies. SORRY FOR FORMER HUSBAND Stokes Threatened With Jail for Insulting Untermyer, and He Apologizes" (PDF). The New York Times. 4 February 1922. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  13. ^ "MRS. W.E.D. STOKES SUES; Secrecy Observed by Counsel in Her Action for Divorce. Ex-Justice Cohen Appointed Referee by Justice Fitzgerald -- Complaint and Answer Held Back" (PDF). The New York Times. 5 April 1900. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  14. ^ "STOKES DIVORCE DECREE; Presented in Supreme Court by Mrs. Stokes's Counsel. Justice Bischoff Refuses to Suppress Findings -- The Decree Absolute -- Mother to Have Her Child" (PDF). The New York Times. 28 April 1900. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  15. ^ a b "MRS. STOKES NOW A BRIDE; W. E. D. Stokes's Former Wife Married to Capt. Lydig. Few of the Friends of the Couple Knew of Their Engagement, Though It Had Existed for Some Time" (PDF). The New York Times. 6 February 1902. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  16. ^ "LYDIG COLLECTION SOLD FOR $362,555; Art Treasures Scattered at Two Sales to Dealers and Private Collectors" (PDF). The New York Times. 5 April 1913. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  17. ^ "TO END LYDIG DIVORCE CASE; Mrs. Philip M. Lydig Going to Paris to Sign Final Decree" (PDF). The New York Times. 18 June 1919. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  18. ^ "Milestones: Oct. 28, 1929". Time Magazine. 28 October 1929. Archived from the original on July 13, 2007. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  19. ^ "MRS. RITA LYDIG DIES UNEXPECTEDLY AT 50; Had Been Under Doctors' Care for Years, but Condition Was Not Thought Critical. PAINTED BY NOTED ARTISTS Married W.E.D. Stokes at 16 --Engaged to Dr. Grant, but Bishop Banned Wedding" (PDF). The New York Times. 20 October 1929. Retrieved 22 May 2019.

External links[edit]