From the Darkness into the Light: Anne Morgan in the Modern Age

She was born on July 25, 1873, three years before Mark Twain published his satirical novel The Gilded Age, which became the name of that era in American history after the Civil War when America was in rapid industrial expansion and great fortunes were amassed. It was the very beginning of the modern age.

The youngest of the three daughters of J. Pierpont Morgan and his wife Frances, Anne grew up at her family’s country estate, “Cragston,” in Highland Falls, near West Point.

Her father was at the center of this emerging transformation of the country. As the American financier and banker of the new times, he dominated corporate finance in the world, playing a central role in American industrial consolidation from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Stellar when it came to choosing his deals and investments for clients and his own interests, Morgan had natural foresight. He was an original funder of Thomas Edison (as well as Nichola Tesla) and the development of the electric light.

Anne Morgan and Anne Murray Dike, 1915.

The Morgan mansion on Madison Avenue and 35th Street was the first house in America to be entirely electrified (although it wasn’t a resounding success when first installed). Some of his mergers and creations were General Electric, Westinghouse, U.S. Steel, Standard Oil, International Harvester, AT&T, and several major railroad companies, including the New York Central, the Pennsylvania, the Northern Pacific, and the New York, New Haven and Hartford.

Once described as a “shy girl who did not like society,” Anne made the debutante rounds but remained intensely private. She had come into the world as the marriage of her mother and father had begun to unravel into living separately under the same roof. This was an era when divorce was rare, and women’s rights were not supported or even considered.

Growing up, the shy girl was, in the company of her own family, more spirited and rebellious than her siblings. When she was old enough, however, she succeeded her sisters—who had married and started their own families—as her father’s “chaperone” on his voyages, stateside or to Europe, either on his yacht Corsair or by steamship.

Fanny Morgan rarely made these trips, as her husband wished. The wide gap between him and his wife was the ongoing household drama for the children. In the 19th century, choice for a woman was not apparent or even imaginable. It was not uncommon for a wealthy man to spend time away from home in the company of his mistresses. Pierpont Morgan, like many of his peers, like his father before him—like his friend, Queen Victoria’s son and heir, Albert (Bertie), the Prince of Wales—conducted semi-public affairs throughout his life. This was well known, if not openly spoken about, in the society of the day.

Privately, Morgan preferred the company of a mistress who was in the Social Register, and usually a woman with a “Mrs.” before her name and a husband in the background. Morgan was a man who especially liked the company of women. He was generous with his amours, taking care that they were financially comfortable and self-respecting. These relationships were not secretive in that he spent much of his in travels with one or another in the company of his and her friends, as well as a daughter who was the official “chaperone” or beard.

France honored Anne Morgan at Blérancourt in 1947 for her dedication to the revitalization of devastated France after World War I.

The last of these was a long-term relationship with Mrs. Adelaide Douglas, for whom Morgan hired Horace Trumbauer to design and build a house on Park Avenue between 37th and 38th Streets. Trumbauer—who designed the mansion on the corner of 78th Street and Fifth Avenue for James B. Duke—created for Mrs. Douglas a six-story, 25-foot-wide mansion of limestone and granite in the style of 18th century France.

The house was also a just a block away and around the corner from the Morgan mansion on Madison Avenue, making it easily accessible on foot for her paramour. It was completed with a back entrance for Morgan’s private use. The house today is now the Guatemalan Mission to the UN.

When daughter Anne was in her 20s and single, with her sisters now married, she became her father’s official chaperone in his travels in the company of his mistresses and friends. Daughter was well aware of what was going on. She kept his confidence to keep the peace in the family. As it happened, she also liked Mrs. Douglas and even sometimes lunched with her in the city.

Women in those days did not wear makeup, including lipstick. Anne was stocky (170 pounds at five-foot-eight) and unconcerned with beautifying herself for others. She was given an annual allowance of $20,000 (which would have the purchasing power of $550,000 today), and when she wasn’t on one of her father’s voyages, she was looking after her disappointed and unhappy mother.

During the winter of 1902, when Anne was 29 and her father was not traveling, she and friends Helen Barney, Helen Hastings, and Daisy Harriman decided to create a women’s club with the idea of providing women with the same kind of facilities and social resources that their fathers, husbands, and brothers had with the Metropolitan, Racquet and Tennis, and Union Clubs. They called it the Colony Club.

This was a “first” for women, and many of the men in their lives and the world objected to it: “A woman’s place is in the home.” Pierpont Morgan, however, whatever his objections, supported it and became a member of the men’s advisory. The women were determined to show the world what women could do on their own. They enrolled 500 members and raised the funds, and bought land on the corner of 30th Street and Madison Avenue, just five blocks south of the Morgan residence.

They hired Stanford White to design and build the clubhouse. White hired Elsie DeWolfe to decorate the interior. Elsie was considered a novice interior decorator at the time; this was her first real assignment. Her success led to many other assignments among members of Society, and she became the first female interior designer in that world.

A French postage stamp featuring Anne Morgan, released in 2017.

A New York City native and a daughter of a doctor who died leaving his family financially destitute, Elsie went to work in her 20s as an actress to support her family. While she was not “star” successful, in 1887, when she was 26, she met Bessie Marbury, a literary agent and theatrical producer. They struck up a personal relationship, and in 1892, they moved into a townhouse—still standing—on the corner of 122 East 17th Street and Irving Place.

While Elsie was petite and slender, Bessie Marbury was heavyset and plain. One man described her looks as, “the only thing missing was some chewing tobacco…” Elsie was by then a well- known actress, although she was also regarded as not very talented. Marbury, on the other hand, also a New York native, was brilliantly successful in her business as an international literary agent and theatrical producer. Among her clients were George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, J. M. Barrie, and the entire French society of Dramatic Authors, including Pinero, Molnar, and Sardou. She was an early promoter of African American writers of the Harlem Renaissance. She also produced Cole Porter’s first Broadway show, See America First, as well as shows for Jerome Kern, and was instrumental in the creation of the “book musical,” which remains to this day.

Presumably, the two women became lovers, and were referred to as “The Bachelors” by friends. But what they clearly shared, besides devotion to each other, was serious ambition. At the house on Irving Place, they began hosting a salon, or what today would be called cocktail receptions.

The guest list was unique for New York in the Gilded Age. It was outside the fashion of Society­—actors, writers, prominent businessmen and tycoons. The list crossed the strict social boundaries of the time, and the gatherings were enthusiastically attended by men—without their wives—such as Stanford White, Jack Astor, and Willie K. Vanderbilt. The author Henry Adams, reporting to a friend, said, “I went to the Marbury salon and found myself in a mad cyclone of people…struck blind by the brilliancy of their world.” Even the Mrs. Astor, impressed by their success, couldn’t compete with their style; they were the Now in a happening world.

It was Anne Morgan’s meeting Bessie and Elsie in creating the Colony Club that changed the life of the then-29-year-old forever. Bessie was particularly taken by the young woman who was 17 years her junior.

Did they have an affair? It hardly matters. Bessie opened up a world Anne had never known or would have met. It was the big world of creative people, social activists, and female independence.

Suddenly, Anne Morgan was moving out of her parents’ world and into her own. Bessie wrote to a friend, “There was something pathetic about this splendid girl, full of vitality and eagerness, yet who, as the youngest of a large family, had never been allowed to grow up.”

Bessie would change that. Within a year, Anne was in love. She was spending most of her time at Irving Place instead of Madison Avenue. In 1904, she sailed to Paris with her father, where she told him over dinner one night that she couldn’t be his chaperone anymore. However he took that, as a possessive parent, he was not pleased.

Afterwards, his daughter went off with Bessie and Elsie to visit Villa Trianon, a long-abandoned villa in Versailles that Bessie had bought for Elsie. By 1906, Anne had contributed to the restoration of the villa as well as adding another wing. They became known as the “Versailles Triumvirate.”

The Colony Club

She was now an independent woman, in her early 30s, meeting her new world through Bessie. Marcel Proust came to visit the villa. She visited Jane Addams at Hull House in Chicago. She flew with Elsie and Wilbur Wright in the Wright Brothers’ “flying machine.” In 1909, she joined a group of women known as “the mink brigade” to support the International Ladies Garment Workers Union strike.

J. Pierpont Morgan died in 1913, at age 75. He left an estate of approximately $100 million (or $2.5 billion in today’s currency). To each of his daughters, he left $3 million (approximately $72 million in today’s dollars), with many bequests beginning with his wife Fanny (who died 11 years later in 1924).

He had not been estranged from Anne or any of his children, although he loathed Bessie Marbury and made sure to prevent her from being the first woman to receive the Legion d’Honneur from the French government (which she deserved). She had taken his daughter away from him.

Like her father, Anne Morgan made a prominent place for herself in the world. From 1917 to 1921, she took up residence 75 miles north of Paris at Chateau de Blérancourt, entrusted to her by the French Army, along with 350 American women—all volunteers—to help the war-ravaged civilian population in Picardy, in northeastern France.

After the war, she purchased the chateau, and restored a section to open a museum of French-American cooperation. Along with Ann Murray Dike, Morgan founded the American Committee for Devastated France. The group restored homes, shops, churches, and monuments devastated by the war. They built barracks for the homeless; provided seed and livestock; established dispensaries, clinics, rest houses, and traveling canteens for soldiers; and provided training for the disabled, along with schools, libraries, and camps.

Around 1920, at the suggestion of Bessie Marbury and Elsie DeWolfe, Anne Morgan and Anne Harriman Vanderbilt built townhouses all attached to each other, designed by Mott B. Schmidt, and all still standing a century later. Mrs. Vanderbilt’s house is on the northeast corner of Sutton Place between 57th and 58th Street, facing 57th Street at the river. Next to hers is Anne Morgan’s house, now the official residence of the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Next to her is the Marbury-DeWolfe house. All of the houses on that block overlook a lawn and the East River. It was often rumored that there was an underground tunnel that connected all three houses.

Anne Morgan also had an estate in Mount Kisco. Tobie Roosevelt (Mrs. Franklin D., Jr.) lived nearby as a child, and her mother was a friend of Miss Morgan. Tobie used to see her occasionally when Miss Morgan would take a walk on her property. What fascinated the very young Tobie was that Miss Morgan (who was very old to the child’s eyes) wore bloomers, long out of style, underneath her long skirt.

Anne Morgan died on January 29, 1952, six months before her 79th birthday. She had made the most of her life, and much in service to others. Her father was the kind of man who would have been proud of his daughter.