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Anita Rhinelander Stewart

The Dollar Princesses

Report of the lecture given by
Anne Seeba MA (Hon)
on May 25th 2011

Our recent speaker Anne Seeba MA really opened my eyes to the trials and tribulations of The Dollar Princesses. Most if not all were trapped in loveless marriages, forced to turn a blind eye to their philandering husbands, the monies from their dowries being the raison d'etre for such unions.

From 1860, many new self-made American millionaires thought it advantageous to marry their daughters into British and European aristocracy, thus conferring a greater status on the whole family. But this union of old world and new world money was to have some dire effects on these young and vulnerable girls.

To improve their marriage prospects, extend their education and give them "polish", these already accomplished daughters were sent to Paris and London. Amusingly we were told of the advice that when at sea one should, "Always wear one's best clothes so that, should you be so unfortunate as to be washed ashore, you would be presentable."

The first Dollar Princess mentioned was Anita Rhinelander Stewart, cousin of Edith Wharton. She became engaged to Prince Miguel de Braganza. Though he was a Catholic she refused to convert. Her mother was desperate for her to become a Princess in her own right, and paid off his considerable debts. A secret wedding in Scotland followed and they had three children.

Jennie Jerome The second Dollar Princess was Jennie Jerome. One of three sisters, she obviously enjoyed high fashion. Most debutantes possessed eleven gowns by Worth, but Jennie owned twenty-three! She met Randolph Churchill, second son of the Duke of Marlborough, and fell in love. Despite disapproval by the Marlborough family they married in April 1874. Though they were together for some twenty years it was not a happy relationship; he had many affairs, eventually dying from syphilis. We have to be grateful for her stoicism, as from this union came two children, John Strange Spencer and, surely our greatest statesman, Winston Leonard Churchill.

We heard also of Minnie Stevens, green-eyed, sexy daughter of an hotelier Consuela Yzanaga, who married the Duke of Manchester, Winnaretta Singer, daughter of the sewing-machine magnate, and Mary Leiter from Chicago who married Lord Curzon. Later they became Viceroy and Vicereine of India. Anne also told us about Anna Gould who divorced her husband, Comte de Boniface in 1906, after he had spent $10 million of her money.

Consuelo Vanderbilt My personal favourite of all these Princesses was Consuelo Vanderbilt, who was born in March 1877 and died in December 1964. Her marriage to Sunny, the 9th Duke of Marlborough, was socially advantageous, but loveless. Both of them were in love with other people. He was land rich, money poor, and needed the fortune she would bring. She, a beautiful eighteen year old with a ruthless determined mother, was forced to consent to the marriage. After the birth of 'an heir and a spare' they separated. The wonderful family portrait of them is hanging at Blenheim. She was taller than Sunny; Sargent's artistic eye, however, did not emphasise his shorter stature. In 1906 the marriage was annulled. She later married Jacques Balsan with whom she spent many happy years. Her own account of her childhood and subsequent life is an enthralling read. I can highly recommend, 'The Glitter and the Gold' by Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan.

9th Duke of Marlborough & family For all their heartaches, sacrifice and sadness, we owe these young ladies our grateful thanks. Without them and the fortunes they forfeited in marriage, many of our national treasures, palaces and historic houses would have fallen into disrepair and ruin. Perhaps our nation would have had a very different heritage from the one we treasure today.

Pat Butler

Anne with some of her books