Madeleine Force Astor Biography

(1893–1940)
Madeleine Force Astor married 47-year-old John Jacob Astor in her late teens. The marriage was cut short when he died in the sinking of the Titanic.

Synopsis

Madeleine Force Astor was born on June 19, 1893, in New York, New York. She married 47 year-old Colonel John Jacob Astor when she was 19. Their marriage made a public stir and they traveled abroad for their honeymoon. On their voyage home, John Jacob Asto

Early Life

Second wife of Colonel John Jacob Astor IV, socialite. Born Madeleine Talmadge Force on June 19, 1893, in New York, New York. Only in her late teens at the time, Madeleine Astor made quite a stir as the second wife of Colonel John Jacob Astor. The union was short-lived as the couple was torn apart by the Titanic disaster of 1912.

Madeleine’s mother had hoped that she would marry well. To that end, she attended elite private schools for girls and learned to play tennis. During a visit to Bar Harbor, Maine, in 1910, she met John Jacob Astor IV, part of the legendary New York family. In his forties and recently divorced, John Jacob Astor took a liking to the young schoolgirl. That same year, Madeleine was formally introduced to society at her debut event in December. In addition to attending social events, she also involved with amateur theatrical productions.

The following year, Madeleine’s father announced the engagement of his daughter to John Jacob Astor, which was not warmly received by some. There were concerns about their age difference—John Jacob was 47 and Madeleine was 19 at the time of their engagement. Class status also proved to be an issue. The Astor family was part of the well-established “old money” set while William H. Force was the head of a Brooklyn-based shipping and forwarding firm.

The couple faced many obstacles while trying to wed. According to the terms of his divorce, they could not marry in New York. Then the couple had difficulty locating a minister who would officiate. Finally, after offering $1,000 as a fee, John Jacob Astor got a pastor to perform the ceremony. The wedding took place at Beechwood, an Astor summer home, in Newport, Rhode Island, on September 9, 1911. After the ceremony, the newlywed Astors left on the steam yacht Noma.

The Titanic Disaster

To escape all of publicity surrounding their nuptials, the Astors went abroad for their honeymoon. They spent time in Egypt and Europe. With Madeleine pregnant with their first child, the couple decided to return to New York on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. They boarded the ship in Cherbourg, France, on April 10, with some of their servants and their dog, Kitty.

On the night of April 14, around 11:40 p.m., the Astors were in their suite of rooms when the Titanic struck an iceberg. After investigating the incident, John Jacob Astor had his wife get dressed and join other passengers waiting to get off the sinking vessel. Then he saw to it that Madeleine got on one of the lifeboats and then he helped other women and children get aboard. One of the world’s richest men stayed behind and met his end when the Titanic sank in the early hours of April 15.

Madeleine Astor and the other survivors on Lifeboat 4 were rescued and taken aboard the Carpathia. In all, the crew of the Carpathia was able to save 705 people from the Titanic disaster, according to the ship’s captain, Arthur Henry Rostron. That June, Astor had a special luncheon in the captain’s honor at her New York home to thank him for his efforts. The other guests of the intimate event included two other women widowed in the disaster, Mrs. John B. Thayer and Mrs. John Bradley Cumings.

About four months after the disaster, Astor gave birth to a son, John Jacob Astor, named after the father he would never know. She had received use of an Astor family mansion on Fifth Avenue in New York City and the Beechwood estate as well as a trust fund as part of the terms of her martial agreement. But the agreement called for Astor to lose all rights to these items if she ever remarried.

Later Life

In 1918, Astor cut her connection to her late husband’s fortune by marrying William K. Dick, a childhood friend and a sugar-refining business heir. The couple had two children together, John and William. This union lasted fifteen years with Astor seeking a quick divorce from Dick in Reno, Nevada, in 1933.

That same year, Astor surprised many by marrying a younger man, a 26-year-old Italian boxer named Enzo Fiermonte. Again she gave her rights to another fortune—her second husband’s—to marry for love. But this relationship proved to be quite volatile. Astor divorced Fiermonte in 1938 on the grounds of extreme cruelty.

Astor died on March 27, 1940, at the age of 47 in Palm Beach, Florida.

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