Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt : The Story of a Daughter and a Mother in the Gilded Age by Amanda Mackenzie Stuart
9780066214184 On a November day in 1895, crowds of curious sightseers gathered outside St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue in New York, intent on spotting a small dapper bridegroom whom they knew to be a great English aristocrat awaiting his bride-to-be. When she arrived, twenty minutes late, anyone who caught a glimpse beneath Consuelo Vanderbilt's veil would have seen that her face was swollen from crying. When Consuelo's grandfather died, he was the richest man in America. Her father soon started to spend the family fortune, enthusiastically supported by Consuelo's mother, Alva, who was determined to take the family to the top of New York society. She was adamant that her daughter should make a grand marriage, and the underfunded Duke of Marlborough was just the thing. It didn't matter that Consuelo loved someone else; as Alva once told her, "I don't ask you to think, I do the thinking, you do as you're told." However, the story of Consuelo and Alva is not simply one of the emptiness of wealth, of the glamour of the Gilded Age, and of enterprising social ambition. This is a fascinating account of how two women struggled to break free from the deeply materialistic world into which they were born, taking up the fight for female equality. Consuelo threw herself into good works; Winston Churchill encouraged her to make her first public speech, and her social and political campaigns proved an antidote to loneliness. Alva embraced the militant suffragette movement in America, helping to bring the fight for the vote to its triumphant conclusion and campaigning vehemently for women's rights until she died. In this brilliant and engrossing book, Amanda Mackenzie Stuart suggests that behind the most famous transatlantic marriage of all lies an extraordinary tale of the quest for female power.