- Betsey Cushing Roosevelt Whitney
Betsey Roosevelt Whitney (
May 18 1908, Baltimore, Maryland– March 25 1998, Manhasset, New York), was an American philanthropist, the ex-wife of James Roosevelt(the eldest son of President Franklin D. Roosevelt), and later wife of American millionaire and U.S. Ambassador to the Court of Saint James's, John Hay Whitney.
Betsey Maria Cushing was the middle daughter of the prominent neurosurgeon Dr.
Harvey Cushingand his wife Katharine Crowell Cushing, who hailed from a socially prominent Clevelandfamily. Dr. Cushing was descended from Matthew Cushing, an early settler of Hingham, Massachusetts. Dr. Cushing served as professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins, Harvardand YaleUniversities, and the family established itself in Boston.
Though Betsey had two brothers, she and her two sisters became well-known in the social world as the "Cushing Sisters", heralded for their charm and beauty from their
debutantedays onward. She and her sisters were schooled by their social-climbing mother to pursue husbands of wealth and prominence, and coached to become socially acceptable to important men.
The Cushing Sisters
As a result of their mother's coaching to marry well, all three Cushing sisters married into wealth and prominence:
*Mary "Minnie" Cushing, her older sister, married
Vincent Astor, the heir of a $200 million fortune, in 1940. She later divorced Astor and married artist James Whitney Fosburgh.
*Her younger sister Barbara (Babe) Cushing was first married to
Standard Oilheir, Stanley Mortimer, Jr., before divorcing him and marrying CBS founder William S. Paley. Babe Paleywas short-listed as one of the world's best-dressed women by distinguished designers like Mainbocher, and a doyenne of New York society.
Both of Betsey's sisters died of cancer within months of each other in 1978, twenty years before Betsey died.
Marriage to James Roosevelt
James Rooseveltin 1930, when his father was then governor of New York. They had two daughters, Kate and Sarah Whitney. After her father-in-law became President, Betsey was reportedly FDR's favorite daughter-in-law, though she and her mother-in-law Eleanor Rooseveltdid not care for one another.
Her husband served his father as an aide at the
White House, and Betsey often stood-in as hostess at the White House when Eleanor was absent. When FDR entertained King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at a picnic at the Roosevelt estate in Hyde Park, New York in 1939, Betsey was prominent at the affair, and accompanied FDR as he drove the King and Queen along the Hudson River.
In 1938, James Roosevelt left for Hollywood to work as an aide to
Samuel Goldwyn. His wife followed him, but they divorced in 1940. Betsey was granted custody of their daughters Kate and Sara, along with child support, though by biographers' accounts, James had little to no contact with his children, and eventually married three more times.
Marriage to John Hay Whitney
March 1 1942Betsey married millionaire John Hay Whitney, who was formerly married to socialite Elizabeth Altemus. In 1949, Whitney formally adopted his wife's daughters Kate and Sarah. The Whitneys moved to Londonin 1957, when President Dwight D. Eisenhowernamed Whitney Ambassador to the Court of St. James. The Whitneys became close to Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, who, in a radical departure from the usual procedure, addressed the Whitneys by their first names.
During the 1970s, Jock Whitney was listed as one of the ten wealthiest men in the world. The residences at their disposal over the years included the
Greentreeestate on Long Island; a plantation in Georgia; a town house and an elegant apartment in Manhattan; a large summer house on Fishers Island, near New London, Connecticut; a 12-room house in Saratoga Springs, which the Whitneys used when they attended horse races; a golfing cottage in Augusta, Ga.; and a spacious house in Surrey, England, near the Ascot racecourse. In addition, the Whitneys shared a renowned Kentucky horse farm with Whitney's sister.
Philanthropy and Legacy
Betsey established the Greentree Foundation in 1983 to assist local community groups. She was a benefactor of
North Shore University Hospitalin Manhasset, built in the early 1950s on 15 acres donated by Whitney. Betsey was also involved with the Museum of Modern Art(MOMA), Yale Universityand New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center. Among her many public activities over the years were memberships on the boards of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the John Hay Whitney Foundation and the Association for Homemakers Service.
After her husband's death in 1982, Betsey donated $8 million to the
Yale Medical School, then the largest gift in the school's history. The National Gallery of Artin Washington, D.C.acquired nine important American and French paintings, as well as $2 million for future acquisitions. She herself left $15 million to New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Centerin her own will.
Betsey also made art auction history in 1990 by putting up for sale, by Sotheby's, one of Renoir's most famous paintings, the sun-dappled cafe scene "
Bal au moulin de la Galette, Montmartre". It brought $78.1 million, then a record auction price for Impressionist art and the second-highest price for any artwork sold at auction.
Betsey died on
March 25 1998, aged 89, with an estimated personal fortune of $700 million in 1990, according to Forbes magazine. Her estate bequeathed eight major paintings to the National Gallery of Art, including:
*"Self-Portrait" (1889) by
Vincent van Gogh
Marcelle LenderDancing the Bolero in Chilpéric" (1895/1896) by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
*"Open Window, Collioure" (1905) by
*"The Harbor of La Ciotat" (1907) by
*"The Beach at Sainte-Adresse" (1906) by
*"The Sisters: Babe Mortimer Paley, Betsey Roosevelt Whitney, Minnie Astor Fosburgh: The Lives and Times of the Fabulous Cushing Sisters" by David Grafton (Villard 1992).
*"Last Cushing sister dies: Betsey Whitney outlived husbands", by
Enid Nemy, The New York Times, March 26, 1998
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