Virginia Fair Vanderbilt

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Virginia Fair Vanderbilt
Virginia Graham Fair Vanderbilt.jpg
Portrait by Giovanni Boldini, c. 1900
Virginia Graham Fair

(1875-01-02)January 2, 1875
DiedJuly 7, 1935(1935-07-07) (aged 60)
Resting placeWoodlawn Cemetery Bronx, New York
OccupationHotel builder/owner
Racehorse owner
William Kissam Vanderbilt II
(m. 1899; div. 1927)
ChildrenWilliam Kissam Vanderbilt III
Muriel Vanderbilt
Consuelo Vanderbilt Earl
Parent(s)James Graham Fair
Theresa Rooney
RelativesTheresa Fair Oelrichs (sister)

Virginia Fair Vanderbilt (January 2, 1875 – July 7, 1935) was an American socialite, hotel builder/owner, philanthropist, owner of Fair Stable, a Thoroughbred racehorse operation, and a member of the prominent Vanderbilt family by marriage.

Early life[edit]

Virginia was born on January 2, 1875 in San Francisco, California. She was the daughter of James Graham Fair (1831–1894) and his wife, Theresa Rooney (1838–1891). Her parents divorced when she was six. She was known throughout her life as "Birdie". She had three siblings, Theresa Fair, James Fair Jr. (1861–1892), and Charles Lewis Fair (1867–1902).[1]

Her father, James Graham Fair, was an Irish immigrant who made a fortune from mining the Comstock Lode and the Big Bonanza mine in Virginia City and Carson City, Nevada respectively. A United States Senator from Nevada from 1881 to 1887, James Graham Fair died in 1894, leaving his daughter a fortune.[1]

Society life[edit]

In 1899, she and her sister "Tessie" built the Rosecliff mansion in Newport, Rhode Island.[2]

In 1902, she and her sister, Theresa Fair Oelrichs, began construction of the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco but sold their interests in 1906, days before the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. However, following the death of her husband, Tessie Fair Oelrichs repurchased the property in 1908, retaining ownership until 1924. In 1910, Birdie Vanderbilt set up the Virginia Fair Legacy Fund that rebuilt and endowed the Holy Family Day Home, a Roman Catholic school residence for children in San Francisco that had been damaged by the 1906 earthquake.[2]

Birdie Vanderbilt also spent considerable time in Paris, France, where tragedy struck in 1902 when her brother Charles and his wife were killed in an automobile accident. In 1920, her estranged husband, who also maintained a home in the Parisian suburb of Passy, inherited the Haras du Quesnay Thoroughbred breeding farm and racing stable near Deauville in France's famous horse region of Lower Normandy. Interested in horse racing herself, Birdie Vanderbilt established her own racing stable in the United States. Named Fair Stable, she met with great success with the Thoroughbred Sarazen, who earned back-to-back U.S. Horse of the Year honors in 1924 and 1925 and would be inducted into the United States' National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

In 1933, tragedy struck her family again when her 26-year-old son, William Kissam Vanderbilt III, was killed in an automobile accident in South Carolina while driving home to New York City from his father's Florida estate.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Virginia wading in the water at Bailey's Beach

On March 26, 1899, Virginia Graham Fair married William Kissam Vanderbilt II, a sportsman and president of the New York Central Railroad.[4][5] They spent their honeymoon at the Idle Hour estate but disaster struck when fire broke out and the mansion burned to the ground. They settled in a mansion at 666 Fifth Avenue in New York City and before their separation and divorce:

The couple separated around 1909, but because she was a devout Roman Catholic and they had been married by the Church, they did not formally divorce until 1927, when her husband wanted to remarry.[19] After their separation, she continued to use the Vanderbilt name but also did much under her maiden name.[20] She began dividing her time between homes in Manhattan, Jericho, Long Island, and in her native California. Her mansion at 60 East 93rd Street later became the Permanent Mission of Romania to the United Nations, then part of the Lycée Français de New York until 2000, when it was sold to be converted back to a private residence.

She died in Manhattan from pneumonia on July 7, 1935.[21][22] She is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.[23]


  1. ^ a b "EX-SENATOR FAIR IS DEAD; His Fatal Illness of But Very Brief Duration. AN ESTATE OF FORTY MILLIONS One of the Earliest Victims of the Gold Fever, He Turned His Attention to Silver and Made a Fortune.", The New York Times, New York, New York, 1894-12-30
  2. ^ a b "The Adventures of Tessie". New York Social Diary. 30 August 2007. Retrieved 18 September 2017.
  3. ^ a b "W.K. VANDERBILT JR. IS KILLED IN SOUTH; HIS CAR HITS TRUCK; Speeding Here From Florida, He Crashes Into Parked Machine in Ridgeland, S.C. ERSKINE GWYNNE INJURED Chauffeur With Them Seriously Hurt -- Senior Mr. Vanderbilt Goes to Bring Body North. W.K. VANDERBILT JR. IS KILLED IN SOUTH". The New York Times. 16 November 1933. Retrieved 18 September 2017.
  4. ^ "A VANDERBILT-FAIR UNION; Rumored Engagement Is Confirmed by Hermann Oelrichs. WEDDING TWO YEARS HENCE Coming Marriage of W.K. Vanderbilt, Jr., and Miss Virginia Fair to Unite Two Great Fortunes". The New York Times. 29 December 1898. Retrieved 18 September 2017.
  5. ^ "VANDERBILT-FAIR WEDDING". The New York Times. 2 April 1899. Retrieved 18 September 2017.
  6. ^ "VANDERBILT PERMIT ISSUED.; Wedding License Obtained by Miss Muriel and F.C. Church Jr". The New York Times. 19 July 1925. Retrieved 18 September 2017.
  7. ^ "Former Muriel Vanderbilt Seeks Divorce From Frederic C. Church Jr. for Non-Support". The New York Times. 3 February 1929. Retrieved 18 September 2017.
  8. ^ "MRS. MURIEL CHURCH TO WED H. D. PHELPS; Her Betrothal is Announced by Her Mother, Mrs. Graham Fair Vanderbilt, in Paris. FIANCE A BOND SALESMAN Wedding of Former Wife of F.C. Church Jr. to Gentleman Farmer's Son to Take Place In August. Former Wife of F.C. Church Jr. Mr. Phelps an Episcopalian". The New York Times. 4 July 1931. Retrieved 18 September 2017.
  9. ^ "WIFE TO SUE H.D. PHELPS; Former Muriel Vanderbilt Takes Up Nevada Residence". The New York Times. 6 May 1936. Retrieved 18 September 2017.
  10. ^ "MRS. MURIEL PHELPS GETS DIVORCE IN RENO; Daughter of W.K. Vanderbilt Charged Cruelty in Suing Second Husband". The New York Times. 18 June 1936. Retrieved 18 September 2017.
  11. ^ "MURIEL V. PHELPS WED TO NAYY MAN; Daughter of Late William K. Vanderbilt Married to Lieut. Comdr. John P. Adams". The New York Times. 30 August 1944. Retrieved 18 September 2017.
  12. ^ Times, Special To the New York (4 February 1972). "Mrs. Muriel Vanderbilt Adams, Society Leader, Dies in Florida". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 September 2017.
  13. ^ "Paid Notice: Deaths EARL, CONSUELO VANDERBILT". The New York Times. 25 February 2011. Retrieved 18 September 2017.
  14. ^ "Members of Leading Families Attend Service for Mrs. Balsan". The New York Times. 10 December 1964. Retrieved 18 September 2017.
  15. ^ "TROTH ANNOUNCED OF MRS. G.V. SMITH; Daughter of Win. K. Vanderbilt Affianced to H. G. Davis 3d, Ex-Husband of Cousin. GRANDSON OF A SENATOR Ceremony to Take Place Friday at Florida Estate of Father of Prospective Bride". The New York Times. November 26, 1936. Retrieved 18 September 2017.
  16. ^ Shapiro, T. Rees (25 February 2011). "Consuelo Vanderbilt Earl, heiress, dog breeder and link to golden age, dies at 107". Washington Post. Retrieved 18 September 2017.
  17. ^ "BODY OF VANDERBILT AT HOME OF MOTHER; Father Arrives Here by Train With Coffin -- Funeral at St. Thomas's Tomorrow". The New York Times. 17 November 1933. Retrieved 18 September 2017.
  18. ^ "FUNERAL IS HELD FOR VANDERBILT JR.; Choir of 70 Men and Boys Takes Part in Service at St. Thomas Church. DR. BROOKS OFFICIATES Burial Takes Place in Family Mausoleum in the Moravian Cemetery at New Dorp". The New York Times. 19 November 1933. Retrieved 18 September 2017.
  19. ^ "DIVORCE IS GRANTED TO MRS. VANDERBILT; Paris Decree Awards Custody of Son to Her -- Alimony Not Requested. COUPLE APART FOR 18 YEARS Former Virginia Fair Was Averse to Court Action -- They Will Live on Opposite Sides of Street Here". The New York Times. 3 June 1927. Retrieved 18 September 2017.
  20. ^ "LAWYER IS BAFFLED BY MRS. VANDERBILT; She Shows Business Acumen and Skill as Witness in Suit Over Leasing of House. FINDS QUESTIONS 'SO DULL' Attorney Fails to Wring Admissions on Proposed Deal for Her Fifth Avenue Residence". The New York Times. 8 October 1927. Retrieved 18 September 2017.
  21. ^ "Vanderbilt's Divorced Wife Dies In N. Y." Baltimore Sun. July 8, 1935. Retrieved 2011-05-30. Mrs. Graham Fair Vanderbilt, daughter of a Nevada silver millionaire and first wife of the explorer-yachtsman William K. Vanderbilt, died of pneumonia and anemia today at her East Ninety-third street home. ...
  22. ^ "Mrs. Vanderbilt Dies In Home Here. Former Wife of W. K. 2d, Long Social Leader in New York, Had Been Ill Nine Weeks". New York Times. July 8, 1935. Retrieved 2011-05-30. Virginia Fair Vanderbilt was one of three children of Senator Fair, who died in San Francisco in 1894, leaving an estate estimated to be worth more than ...
  23. ^ "VANDERBILT RITES ARE HELD IN HOME; Small Company at Funeral of Society Leader, the Former Virginia Fair,". The New York Times. 10 July 1935. Retrieved 18 September 2017.

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