Isabelle Gebhard Neilson

Isabelle Gebhard Neilson
Mary Isabelle Gebhard

(1858-05-29)May 29, 1858
Died May 14, 1928(1928-05-14) (aged 69)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Frederick Neilson
(m. 1873; div. 1887) ​
Parent(s) Frederick Charles Gebhard
Catherine Davis Gebhard
Relatives Thomas E. Davis (grandfather)
Frederick Gebhard (brother)

Mary Isabelle Gebhard Neilson (May 29, 1857 – May 14, 1928)[1] was an American society leader during the Gilded Age in New York City.

Early life

Isabelle "Belle" was born on May 29, 1857 at the family mansion at 100 Fifth Avenue in New York City. She was one of three children born to Frederick Charles Gebhard (1825–1865) and Catherine "Kate" (nΓ©e Davis) Gebhard (1829–1870), who had married in 1850. Her father joined the family firm in 1845, by which time they had expanded their mercantile business and developed interests in banking and rail-road stocks. By 1865, her father had died, and by 1870, her mother had died, leaving the children orphaned and to be raised by their uncle.[2] Her brother, Frederick Gebhard was known for his relationship with Lillie Langtry, a society beauty previously known for her affair with Edward, Prince of Wales. Another brother, Henry Gebhard Jr. died in 1871, aged 10, of scarlet fever.[3]

Gebhard's paternal grandfather had came from Holland to New York in 1800. He worked as an agent for a Dutch company, eventually starting a business importing gin.[4] Between 1830 and 1832, he adopted three children (all siblings),[a] whose surnames were changed by legal enactment from Bruce to Gebhard.[5]


Her maternal grandfather, Thomas E. Davis, was a wealthy New York property developer who made provisions in his will for Isabelle and her brother to receive incomes from his estate until they were 30, at which time the title of the investment would be transferred to them. In 1893, her brother took legal action on behalf of himself and her to enforce this clause. Their grandfather's estate included properties in New York City. They were each entitled to 1/24th part of this estate plus a part of their aunt Nora's share due to her death in 1874.[6]

Her brother Frederick found himself in reduced circumstances, eventually starting an unsuccessful venture selling fine wines, and needed to borrow money from Isabel. She eventually took court action against him to recover the money (over $65,000).[7]

Society life

Isabelle and her brother inherited wealth, and the family mansion, from the estates of their parents and their grandfather.[8] They were well connected in New York society, being related to many of the old and wealthy American families including Vanderbilt, Stuyvesant, Livingston, Remsen, Neilson, Hunter, Delafleld, Lawrence, Wells and Leverich.[9] Her granduncle was Father John Power, Vicar General of New York; another uncle was John F. A. Sanford, the frontiersman, who via his first marriage had family links to the Pierre Chouteau family of St Louis.

In 1892, the widowed Neilson was included in Ward McAllister's "Four Hundred", purported to be an index of New York's best families, published in The New York Times.[10][11] Conveniently, 400 was the number of people that could fit into Mrs. Astor's ballroom.[12] According to her obituary in The New York Times, "Mrs. Neilson was noted for her originality. Many years ago, she was the first woman to wear unmatched earrings. She appeared in Newport with a diamond in one ear, and a pearl in the other, and established a vogue for this type of ornamentation."[1] In Newport, Neilson rented Arleigh, the imposing 1893 Queen Anne mansion on Bellevue Avenue at Parker Avenue,[13] that was later occupied by Harry Lehr and his wife, Elizabeth Wharton Drexel.[14]

Personal life

In 1873, Isabelle was married to the "strikingly handsome" Frederick William Hude Neilson (1849–1887).[15] Frederick was the son of William Hude Neilson and Caroline Kane (nΓ©e Mills) Neilson.[16] His first cousin, Edith (nΓ©e May) Randolph,[b] was the second wife of Secretary of the Navy William Collins Whitney.[16] Together, they were the parents of:

Around 1884, the Neilson's separated and in March 1887, she sued him for divorce in Newport. She claimed he deserted her and their three children, and the divorce was "speedily granted."[31] He died several months later in July 1887 of Bright's disease while staying at the home of his father in Far Rockaway on Long Island.[15][32]

Isabelle, who did not remarry, died of cerebral hemorrhage at her apartment in the Plaza Hotel on May 14, 1928, and her funeral was held at St. Patrick's Cathedral and she was buried in the family vault in St Mark's Church in Manhattan.[1]


Through her daughter Mary, she was the grandmother of Mary Isabelle Chiffon Kemp (1900–1965) and Hollis Hunnewell (1905–1982).[33]

Through her son Jules, she was the grandmother of Frederic William Gebhard Neilson (1904–1937), a Princeton University graduate who was an executive in the press department of the Bank of New York;[34] Alexander Meldrum Neilson (1906–1938);[34] and Isabelle Neilson (1909–1982).

Through her youngest daughter Cathleen, she was the grandmother of Mary Cathleen Vanderbilt (1904–1944),[35][c] who married Henry Cooke Cushing III in 1923. After their divorce in 1932, she married Lawrence Wise Lowman in 1932.[38] They divorced that same year and in 1940, she married for the third and final time to Martin Arostegui.[39][35]


  1. ^ The three children were Frederick Charles Bruce (1825–1865), William Henry Bruce (1827–1905) and Mary Elizabeth Bruce (1830–1883).[5]
  2. ^ Frederick William Hude Neilson (1849–1887) and Edith (nΓ©e May) Randolph Whitney (1854–1899) were first cousins as their mother's (Caroline Kane (nΓ©e Mills) Neilson and Sarah Maria (nΓ©e Mills) May) were sisters and daughters of Philo L. Mills.[16]
  3. ^ Mary Cathleen Vanderbilt (1904–1944) was the older half-sister of Gloria Vanderbilt (b. 1924),[36] the fashion designer who married Pasquale DiCicco (1909–1978) in 1941. They divorced in 1945 and that same year she married Leopold Anthony Stokowski (1882–1977). They divorced in 1955 and a year later, in 1956, she married Sidney Arthur Lumet (1924–2011). In 1963, they also divorced and, that same year, she married Wyatt Emory Cooper (1927–1978).[37]
  1. ^ a b c "MRS. MARY NEILSON, SOCIAL LEADER, DIES; Widow of Frederic Neilson and Mother of R.C. Vanderbilt's First Wife Succumbs. SUFFERED STROKE YEAR AGO Was Prominent in Newport and New York--Daughter of Frederick Gebhard, Banker" (PDF). The New York Times. May 15, 1928. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  2. ^ "Disposing of Two Million" (PDF). The New York Times. 28 June 1878. Retrieved 9 February 2014. The uncle was William Henry Gebhard.
  3. ^ "Death. William Henry Gebhard Jr. of scarlet fever, youngest son of late Frederick C. Gebhard, aged 10 years". The New York Times. 17 March 1871.
  4. ^ Barrett, William (1868). The Old Merchants of New York City. Broadway: Carleton. p. 133.
  5. ^ a b Austin, John (July 1996). "Early Changes of Names in new York". The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record. 127 (3): 140..
  6. ^ "Frederick Gebhard Plaintiff" (Page 2). New York Press. 11 February 1893.
  7. ^ "Frederick Gebhard Loses" (PDF). The New York Times. 11 January 1907. Retrieved 5 July 2014.
  8. ^ "Gebhard Collection Sold" (PDF). The New York Times. 17 February 1906. Retrieved 29 June 2014.
  9. ^ "Society at Home and Abroad – Mary A Schuchardt" (PDF). New York Times. 26 October 1902. Retrieved 28 June 2014.
  11. ^ Patterson, Jerry E. (2000). The First Four Hundred: Mrs. Astor's New York in the Gilded Age. Random House. p. 223. ISBN 9780847822089. Retrieved 2 March 2018.
  12. ^ Keister, Lisa A. (2005). Getting Rich: America's New Rich and How They Got That Way. Cambridge University Press. p. 36. ISBN 9780521536677. Retrieved 20 October 2017.
  13. ^ "1886-1895 | Newport Mansions". The Preservation Society of Newport County. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  14. ^ Miller, Paul F. (2008). Lost Newport. Applewood Books. p. 53. ISBN 9781557090911. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  15. ^ a b "FREDERICK NEILSON'S DEATH. THE FATAL ILLNESS OF THE POPULAR SOCIETY MAN" (PDF). The New York Times. July 29, 1887. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  16. ^ a b c Aitken, William Benford (1912). Distinguished Families in America, Descended from Wilhelmus Beekman and Jan Thomasse Van Dyke. Knickerbocker Press. p. 131. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  17. ^ Wood, John Walter (1916). William Wood (born 1656) of Earlsferry, Scotland and Some of His Descendants and Their Connections. Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor. p. 18. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  18. ^ "Grosvenor Ball of Moline Bequeathed $5,000 by Cousin". The Dispatch. 30 Aug 1947. p. 5. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  19. ^ "Kemp -- Nelison" (PDF). The New York Times. April 30, 1897. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  20. ^ "HOLLIS HUNNEWELL DIES IN NEW YORK". The Boston Globe. January 25, 1922. p. 8. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  21. ^ "H.H. Hunnewell, Amateur Sport Enthusiast, Dies | Funeral Will Be Held at Cambridge, Mass. Tomorrow". New-York Tribune. 25 January 1922. p. 11. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  22. ^ "AWAIT DIVORCE TO MARRY. Mrs. Kemp and Hollis H. Hunnewell May Wed in Newport Saturday" (PDF). The New York Times. November 24, 1903. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  23. ^ "FRANK T. WALL MARRIED. Jules Blanc Neilson's Father-in-Law Weds Miss Unckles" (PDF). The New York Times. January 28, 1904. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  24. ^ "JULES BLANC NEILSON GETS HIS BRIDE Secret Marriage with Marguerite Wall Displeases Both Families. SHE WAS KEPT FROM HIM " Reconciliation" with Her Father Effected by Beverley Robinson After Holding Interviews β€” Off on Honeymoon Trip" (PDF). The New York Times. January 24, 1904. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  25. ^ "MRS. S. J. COLFORD DIES SUDDENLY; Former Wife of Late Reginald C. Vanderbilt Stricken at Hotel in Paris. HUSBAND HURRIEDLY SAILS New York and Newport Society Woman Had Been Called Abroad by Mother's Illness" (PDF). The New York Times. June 4, 1927. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  26. ^ "Mrs. Vanderbilt Sr. Dies In Home At 89. Widow Of Financier, Long Ill. Was A Leader In Brilliant Era Of New York Society". New York Times. April 23, 1934. Retrieved September 21, 2017.
  27. ^ "A Fashionable Wedding, Exclusive and Grand". Wilkes-Barre Times. April 14, 1903.
  28. ^ "Vanderbilt Dies Aged 44". Ogden Standard-Examiner. September 4, 1925. Retrieved 15 October 2016.
  29. ^ "MRS. R.C. VANDERBILT, DIVORCEE, IS WED TO S.J. COLFORD JR. She and War Hero Marry in Her Home a Few Hours After Obtaining License. BIG SURPRISE TO SOCIETY Bridegroom, Son of S.J. Colford of Newport, Was Divorced By His Wife Last Month. SERVED IN FRENCH ARMY Bride Is the Daughter of Mrs. Frederic Neilsonβ€”Got Her Divorce in Newport Last April" (PDF). The New York Times. January 27, 1921. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  30. ^ "SIDNEY J. COLFORD" (PDF). The New York Times. May 26, 1951. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  31. ^ "MRS. FRED NEILSON DIVORCED. HER HUSBAND MAKES NO OPPOSITION TO THE DECREE" (PDF). The New York Times. March 29, 1887. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  32. ^ "FREDERICK NEILSON'S FUNERAL" (PDF). The New York Times. July 31, 1887. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  33. ^ "A SON TO MRS. HUNNEWELL. She Was Mrs. Kemp and Divorced Mr. Kemp in 1903" (PDF). The New York Times. February 3, 1905. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  34. ^ a b "Obituary | Frederic William Neilson '27". Princeton Alumni Weekly: 50. 1937. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  35. ^ a b "MRS. M. AROSTEGUI, A VANDERBILT, DIES; Inherited With Mrs. di Cicco Bulk of $7,000,000 Estate of Father, Reginald Vanderbilt". The New York Times. 1944. Retrieved 21 September 2017.
  36. ^ "CUSHING CHILD BAPTIZED.; One of the Sponsors Is Mrs. Vanderbilt -- Vanderbilt Christening Today". The New York Times. 15 May 1924. Retrieved 21 September 2017.
  37. ^ Kleiman, Dena (6 January 1978). "Wyatt Cooper Dies; Screenplay Writer". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 January 2019.
  38. ^ "DIVORCE FOR MRS. LOWMAN; Former Cathleen Vanderbilt Gets Decree in Cuban Court". The New York Times. 9 June 1940. Retrieved 21 September 2017.
  39. ^ "MRS. C.V. LOWMAN MARRIED IN HAVANA; Daughter of the Late Reginald Vanderbilt and First Wife Wed to Martin Arostegui". The New York Times. 10 October 1940. Retrieved 21 September 2017.

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