In a year celebrating women, Becoming Vanderbiltwill shine a bright light on four of our own. The Vanderbilt men are well known for their dominance of 19th-century American industry and the staggering fortunes they amassed during the Gilded Age; meanwhile, their wives and daughters turned their talents and formidable influence to causes outside the expected domestic realm. From Alice Gwynne Vanderbilt’s philanthropy to her daughter Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s work as patron, artist and museum founder, to Alva Vanderbilt Belmont’s advocacy on behalf of women’s suffrage to her daughter Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan’s benevolence, we honor the legacy of these extraordinary women.
The exhibition will draw upon holdings in the Preservation Society’s collections as well as key loans from other institutions and private collections. Through the sharing of personal effects, clothing and memorabilia, we aim to introduce deeper narratives about each woman. Subtleties about their personalities have disappeared over time, replaced by more convenient one-word descriptors. By conveying the significance of their contributions, the exhibition seeks to communicate the spirit of the times in which each woman navigated her own path.
“Becoming” has often been used to describe a woman’s appearance; however, as a process, it also describes each of our heroines’ evolution as people.