Born in New Hampshire in 1902, writer and philanthropist Brooke Astor married her first husband, J. Dryden Kuser, when she was a teenager. They divorced in 1930, and two years later, Astor married Charles H. Marshall. During the course of their union, she worked as an editor at House and Garden magazine. Marshall died in 1952. Astor wed her third husband, Vincent Astor, in 1953. After Vincent's death in 1959, she ran the Vincent Astor Foundation, which gave away roughly $195 million before it was closed. For her philanthropy, Astor received many awards and honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She died in New York in 2007.
Brooke Astor was born Roberta Brooke Russell on March 30, 1902, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. She was the daughter General John H. Russell, who became commandant of the United States Marine Corps in the mid-1930s. She married for the first time when she was only a teenager. She and her husband, J. Dryden Kuser, had a son named Anthony. The couple divorced in 1930.
Astor fared better in her second marriage. In 1932, she married Charles H. Marshall, a stock broker. Astor later described her marriage to Marshall as "a love match," and they were deeply devoted to each other. During the course of this union, her son Anthony took the name of his stepfather, becoming Anthony Dryden Marshall. Unlike other wives of successful businessmen of the time, Astor worked outside of the home, working as an editor at House and Garden magazine. Charles Marshall died in 1952.
Marriage to Vincent Astor and Philanthropy
Brooke Astor had known the man who would become third husband, Vincent Astor, for years before they became romantically involved in 1953; at the time, Vincent was still married to his second wife, Mary Cushing Astor, who was also known as "Minnie." After his divorce from Mary and following a whirlwind courtship, Vincent and Brooke wed in October 1953. Sadly, the couple only had a few years together; Vincent died of a heart attack on February 2, 1959.
After Vincent's death, Astor became president of the Vincent Astor Foundation, which gave away roughly $195 million before it was closed in 1997. During its time, the foundation awarded grants to numerous organizations, including the Bronx Zoo, as well as to efforts supporting social programs and other special projects in the New York City area. In addition to the Vincent Astor Foundation, Astor served on the boards of many cultural institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York Public Library. For her philanthropy, Astor received many awards and honors, including the Presidential Citzens Medal in 1988 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998.
In addition to her charitable work, Brooke had a career as an author, writing her memoirs and fiction. She explored her childhood living around the world in Patchwork Child (1962), and in Footprints: An Autobiography (1980), she offered readers a glimpse into her life as a socialite and philanthropist. She also wrote two historical novels, The Bluebird Is at Home (1965) and The Last Blossom on the Plum: A Period Piece (1986).
Brooke Astor died in Briarcliff Manor, New York, on August 13, 2007.
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