Marjorie Merriweather Post
She was the daughter of C. W. Post and Ella Letitia Merriweather. At age 27, when her father died, she became the owner of the rapidly growing Postum Cereal Company, founded in 1895. She was subsequently the wealthiest woman in the United States, with a fortune worth about US$250 million.
She attended the Mount Vernon College for Women (now the George Washington University ). Post maintained a close lifelong relationship with her alma mater and served as the first alumna trustee of Mount Vernon Seminary and College. Today, a collection of her papers, including correspondence, photographs, invitations, and memorabilia, is maintained by GWU's Special Collections Research Center.
Post married four times. In 1905, she married investment banker Edward Bennett Close of Greenwich, Connecticut, and they divorced in 1919. Their eldest daughter, Adelaide, married three times, to Thomas Wells Durant, Merrall MacNeille, and Augustus Riggs. Their second daughter, Eleanor Post Close, later known in the media as Eleanor Post Hutton, married six times, to film director Preston Sturges, Etienne Marie Robert Gautier, George Curtis Rand, Hans Habe, Owen D. Johnson (son of author Owen Johnson), and orchestral conductor Leon Barzin. (Via his second marriage, Edward Bennett Close would become the paternal grandfather of actress Glenn Close.)
Post was married for a second time, in 1920, to financier Edward Francis Hutton. In 1923, he became the chairman of the board of the Postum Cereal Company, and they developed a larger variety of food products, including Birdseye Frozen Foods. The company became the General Foods Corporation in 1929. Post and Hutton divorced in 1935. They had one child, Nedenia Marjorie Hutton, better known as actress Dina Merrill.
In 1935, Post married her third husband, Joseph E. Davies, a Washington, DC, lawyer. Before the couple divorced in 1955, they lived in the Soviet Union from 1937 to 1938, while he served as the second American ambassador to the Soviet Union, under Joseph Stalin. During this time, Davies and Post acquired many valuable Russian works of art from Soviet authorities. In 1951, their Long Island estate (the original Hillwood) in which they resided in Brookville, New York, was sold to Long Island University for $200,000. It became C.W. Post College in 1954, now known as LIU Post. In 1966, she became honorary housemother of Zeta Beta Tau's Gamma Delta chapter, often hosting the fraternity brothers for brunches. Post served as the honorary house mother of the college's first local fraternity, Sigma Beta Epsilon, which, in 1969, became the New York Beta chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. Since Post had borne only girls, she referred to the fraternity of sons-in-law as her "boys", while they called her "Mother Marjorie". Post was honored by Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity as a "Golden Daughter of Minerva".
Her final marriage, in 1958, was to Herbert A. May, a wealthy Pittsburgh businessman and the former master of fox hounds of the Rolling Rock Hunt Club in Ligonier, Pennsylvania. That marriage ended in divorce in May 1964 and she subsequently reclaimed the name Marjorie Merriweather Post.
Russian art collection
During the 1930s, the Soviet government under Joseph Stalin began selling art treasures and other valuables seized from the Romanov family and former Russian aristocrats after the Russian revolution to earn hard currency for its industrialization and military armament programs. Critics have claimed that these items were expropriated; however, Post and Davies's transactions were from the recognized governmental authority. Neither she nor Davies was involved with the original seizing of the items. Allegations later surfaced that many works of art from the Tretyakov Gallery and other collections were either donated or offered at nominal prices to Post and Davies, who were both art collectors. Davies is also alleged to have purchased art expropriated from Soviet citizens well after the Russian Revolution, including victims of Stalin's Terror at discount prices from Soviet authorities.
Many of the items, which remain under the control of the Post estate or the agents, can be viewed at Hillwood, the former Washington, DC, estate of Post. It has operated as a private museum since Post's death and displays her French and Russian art collection, featuring the work of Fabergé, Sèvres porcelain, French furniture, tapestries, and paintings.
In addition to Hillwood and other estates, Marjorie Merriweather Post's other lavish home was Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida. Designed by Joseph Urban, Mar-A-Lago was willed in 1973 to the U.S. Government as a retreat for Presidents and visiting foreign dignitaries. The mansion was not, however, used for this purpose, prior to being declared a National Historic Landmark in 1980. It was purchased by Donald Trump in 1985.
Post and her second husband, E. F. Hutton, owned Sea Cloud (Hussar V), the largest privately owned sea-going yacht in the world at the time. Post also owned Camp Topridge on Upper St. Regis Lake in the Adirondacks, which she considered a "rustic retreat". It included a fully staffed main lodge and private guest cabins, each staffed with its own butler. The expansive Great Camp, built in 1923 by Ben Muncil, eventually contained nearly 70 buildings, as well as a Russian dacha, on 300 acres. It was one of only two Adirondack camps to be featured in LIFE magazine. Another home, which she shared with Joseph Davies in Washington, DC, was called Tregaron.
Some of Post's jewelry bequeathed to the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, is displayed in the Harry Winston exhibit. Pieces in the collection include the Napoleon Necklace and the (a 275 ct. [55g] diamond-and-turquoise necklace and tiara set that Napoleon I gave to his second wife, Empress Marie Louise); a pair of diamond earrings set with pear shapes, weighing 14 ct.(2.8g) and 20 ct. (4g), once belonging to Marie Antoinette; the , a 30.82 ct. (6.164g) blue-heart diamond ring; and an emerald-and-diamond necklace and ring, once belonging to Mexican emperor Maximilian.
She funded a U.S. Army hospital in France during World War I, and, decades later, the French government awarded her the Legion of Honor. In 1971, she was among the first three recipients of the Silver Fawn Award, presented by the Boy Scouts of America. The Merriweather Post Pavilion, an outdoor concert venue in Columbia, Maryland, is named for her.
A film based on The New York Times feature "Mystery on Fifth Avenue", which describes an riddle-laden architectural renovation by Eric Clough and architectural firm 212box of a Fifth Ave. 1920s triplex built for Merriweather Post, is in development by J. J. Abrams and expected out in 2013.
- Hillwood, Marjorie Merriweather Post Estate in Washington, D.C.
- Marjorie Merriweather Post: a biography by Kenneth Lisenbee
- Palm Beach Historical Society
- Short Movies of the former yacht Sea Cloud
- Adelaide's granddaughter murdered 12/22/13
- Mission to Moscow at the Internet Movie Database
- Guide to the Marjorie Merriweather Post Papers, 1901-1999, Special Collections Research Center, Estelle and Melvin Gelman Library, The George Washington University