As a youngster, Gertrude showed the quality of individuality. Her temperament went against the conception of what a young woman was supposed to be like. Gertrude was alert to all sense-data of life, the tiny details of shape, texture, and movement around her. She was exquisitely attuned to her internal sensations and feelings.
Gertrude's parents did not promote creativity or risk. She was pious, industrious, and charitable, but she was also passionate, and there was no room for that in the Vanderbilt household.
Gertrude spent her summers in Newport, Rhode Island, at a mansion called "The Breakers." There she gathered wild blackberries and picked strawberries in the fields. She climbed the rocks along the ocean, played tennis, and swam in the surf at Bailey's Beach.
Gertrude was married to Harry Payne Whitney on August 25, 1896. He was the son of William C. Whitney, a prominent attorney, and his mother was the daughter of a Standard Oil Company magnate. Gertrude and Harry had three children, Flora, Cornelius, and Barbara.
Gertrude had a passion for art, which she rediscovered on a trip to Europe in 1901. She longed to study sculpture from her mature perspective. This trip became a transformation for her, which made her a very different woman. Gertrude gained different feelings from the artwork she saw. She looked at the different aspects of her life and tried to figure out how to approach them. The trip made her become open-minded. She committed herself to sculpture. She became an advocate for art and opened up the way for the advancement of women in art.
Gertrude was a major patron of American artists. She organized an exhibition for the exclusive Colony Club. She founded the Whitney Museum.
Gertrude is also known for the custody battle for her niece, Gloria Laura Vanderbilt. Gloria was the daughter of Gertrude's youngest brother, Reginald. After Reginald's death, Gloria, at age 2 was heir to a trust fund totalling four million dollars. The court battle took place in 1934. Gertrude fought to obtain custody of Gloria on the grounds that Gloria's mother was an unfit guardian. After the trial, an agreement was reached for a year, but litigation continued after that. The court gave custody to Gertrude, but also rights to Gloria's mother. Gertrude won the appeals, but Gloria was growing and becoming independent.
Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney died on April 18, 1942 from bacterial endocarditis.
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Fall Semester 1998. Last modified: 3 July 2001