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Abby Aldrich Rockefeller: The Woman in the Family

Abby Aldrich Rockefeller: The Woman in the Family

by Bernice Kert

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The first complete biography of Abby Rockefeller, founder of the Museum of Modern Art and the woman who shaped the character and destiny of one of America's most powerful families.


The first complete biography of Abby Rockefeller, founder of the Museum of Modern Art and the woman who shaped the character and destiny of one of America's most powerful families.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The author of Hemingway's Women , which offered new insights into the sources of that famously macho writer's creativity, once again illuminates the impact of a powerful female on American culture and society. Daughter of influential U.S. Senator Nelson Aldrich and wife of industrialist John D. Rockefeller Jr., Abby Aldrich Rockefeller (1874-1948) tactfully managed to fulfill her own interests and abilities while also satisfying the demands of a difficult husband who adored her and resented anything (including their children) that diverted her attention from him. A pioneering art collector, she was the driving force behind the founding of Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art and encouraged a new appreciation of American folk art through her gifts to Colonial Williamsburg, the 18th-century Virginia town restored with her husband's money. She also nudged the notoriously conservative Rockefeller family towards broader-based philanthropy and raised her six children--Babs, John 3rd, Nelson, Laurance, Winthrop and David--with a commitment to public service that the siblings still honor. In this elegantly written, carefully researched and psychologically astute biography, Abby Rockefeller emerges as a loveable and intelligent woman who wielded her great privilege to a variety of socially beneficial ends. Photos. (Oct.)
Library Journal
On October 9, 1901, the daughter of a conservative U.S. senator married the son of the richest man in America. Their union produced five children, a powerful foundation, and the first major museum devoted to modern art in the country. In this exhaustively researched biography, Kert ( The Hemingway Women , LJ 5/15/83) recounts the life of intelligent, extroverted Abby Aldrich and her marriage to John D. Rockefeller Jr. The author argues convincingly that it was Abby who humanized shy, religious John Jr., persuading him to renounce business in favor of philanthropy. Abby also founded the Museum of Modern Art (with friends Lillie Bliss and Mary Sullivan) and guided it from behind the scenes for many years. Highly recommended. --Caroline Mitchell, Washington, D.C.
Donna Seaman
Abby Aldrich Rockefeller was a "woman of significance." The daughter of the controversial senator Nelson Aldrich, Abby was also a woman of means even before she married John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Theirs was a curious union. Abby was imaginative, charming, and adventurous, but John, the product of a Puritan upbringing, was reserved and cautious. Kert's ongoing analysis of the complexity and conflicts of their long and fruitful marriage is her book's most interesting theme. John was possessive and anxious when he wasn't the center of his wife's attention, a state he found himself in often as Abby bore six children in 12 years and resolutely pursued her passions for art, travel, and philanthropy. A pioneer in the recognition of folk art and a champion of living artists, Abby was the leading force behind the creation and success of the Museum of Modern Art. Unfortunately, she recorded few of her innermost thoughts, and Kert seems to flounder in a morass of circumstantial detail despite working hard to breathe life into her subject. What we do learn is that Abby was a gracious, intelligent, and compassionate woman who loved hats, was especially close to her son Nelson, felt that women should live fuller lives, and believed that art "enriches the spiritual life and makes us more sane and sympathetic." An insightful portrait that, in spite of its shortcomings, illuminates the life of an influential and admirable American aristocrat who had her priorities straight.
From the Publisher
“[An] engrossing, psychologically perceptive portrait...absorbing reading.”
—USA Today

“Kert’s penetrating close-up captures not only a remarkable personality but the suffocating nuances of post-Victorian matrimony....[Readers] will relish Abby’s refusal to be pigeonholed....Kert has had the good judgment to explore the family correspondence—and the good fortune to strike gold there.”
—Los Angeles Times

“Well-wrought...Kert, despite all her exhaustive research, happily lets her subject retain all of her formidable vitality and independence....A splendidly intelligent, very readable portrait of a woman who was as wise in the rearing of her family as in the spending of her great wealth.”
—Kirkus Reviews

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.66(w) x 9.56(h) x 1.84(d)

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