Betsey Cushing Roosevelt Whitney

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Betsey Cushing Roosevelt Whitney
Betsey Maria Cushing

(1908-05-18)May 18, 1908
DiedMarch 25, 1998(1998-03-25) (aged 89)
James Roosevelt II
(m. 1930; div. 1940)

John Hay Whitney
(m. 1942; died 1982)
ChildrenSara Delano Roosevelt
Kate Roosevelt
Parent(s)Harvey Williams Cushing
Katharine Stone Crowell
RelativesMary Benedict Cushing (sister)
Barbara Cushing (sister)

Betsey Maria Cushing Whitney (May 18, 1908 – March 25, 1998) was an American philanthropist, a former daughter-in-law of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and later wife of U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James's, John Hay Whitney.[1]

Early life[edit]

She was the middle daughter of prominent neurosurgeon Dr. Harvey Williams Cushing and his wife Katharine Stone Crowell, who hailed from a socially prominent Cleveland family.[2] Dr. Cushing, who was descended from Matthew Cushing, an early settler of Hingham, Massachusetts, served as professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins, Harvard and Yale Universities, and established the family in Boston.[1]

Though she had two brothers, she and her two sisters became known in the social world as the "Cushing Sisters", heralded for their charm and beauty and[3] schooled by their social-climbing mother to pursue husbands of wealth and prominence.[4] All three Cushing sisters married into wealth and prominence: Her older sister, Mary "Minnie", married Vincent Astor,[5] the heir of a $200 million fortune, in 1940, and her younger sister Barbara "Babe" was married to Standard Oil heir Stanley Mortimer, Jr., and later to CBS founder William S. Paley. Both of her sisters died of cancer within months of each other in 1978.[1]


She established the Greentree Foundation in 1983 to assist local community groups. She was a benefactor of North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, built in the early 1950s on 15 acres (61,000 m2) donated by Whitney. She was also involved with the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), Yale University and New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center. Among her many public activities over the years were memberships on the boards of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the John Hay Whitney Foundation and the Association for Homemakers Service.[6]

After her husband's death in 1982, she donated $8 million to the Yale Medical School, then the largest gift in the school's history. The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. acquired nine important American and French paintings, as well as $2 million for future acquisitions. She left $15 million to New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center in her own will.[4]

She also made art auction history in 1990 by putting up for sale, by Sotheby's, one of Renoir's most famous paintings, the sun-dappled cafe scene Bal au moulin de la Galette, Montmartre. It brought $78.1 million, then a record auction price for Impressionist art and the second-highest price for any artwork sold at auction. After her death, her art collection was sold at Sotheby's in 1999 for a then record $128.3 million, "the second-highest single-owner auction in history."[7]

Personal life[edit]

In June 1930,[8] she married James Roosevelt II (1907–1991), the eldest son of then Governor of New York, and eventual President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Anna Eleanor Roosevelt.[4][9] After her father-in-law became President, she was reportedly FDR's favorite daughter-in-law, though she and Eleanor did not care for one another. Her husband served his father as an aide at the White House, and she often stood-in as hostess at the White House when Eleanor was absent. When FDR entertained King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at a picnic at the Roosevelt estate in Hyde Park, New York in 1939, she was prominent at the affair, and accompanied FDR as he drove the King and Queen along the Hudson River.[citation needed]

She and James had two daughters:

In 1938, James left for Hollywood to work as an aide to Samuel Goldwyn. she followed him, but they divorced in 1940.[17] She was granted custody of their daughters, along with child support, though by biographers' accounts, James had little to no contact with his children, and eventually married three more times.[1]

On March 1, 1942, she married millionaire John Hay "Jock" Whitney (1904–1982),[18] who had been previously married to socialite Elizabeth Altemus.[19] Whitney adopted both of her daughters.[20] They moved to London in 1957, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower named Whitney Ambassador to the Court of St. James's.

During the 1970s, Whitney was listed as one of the ten wealthiest men in the world.[21] Their residences over the years included the Greentree estate on Long Island; Greenwood Plantation in Georgia; a town house and an elegant apartment in Manhattan; a large summer house on Fishers Island, near New London, Connecticut; a 12-room house in Saratoga Springs, which the Whitneys used when they attended horse races there; a golfing cottage in Augusta, Georgia; and a spacious house, Cherry Hill, in Virginia Water, Surrey, England, near the Ascot racecourse. In addition, the Whitneys shared a Kentucky horse farm with Whitney's sister.[18]


She died on March 25, 1998 at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, New York.[1] Her personal fortune was estimated at $700 million in 1990 according to Forbes magazine. Her estate bequeathed eight major paintings to the National Gallery of Art.

Art owned[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Nemy, Enid (March 26, 1998). "Betsey Cushing Whitney Is Dead at 89". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-03-21. Betsey Cushing Roosevelt Whitney, the widow of John Hay (Jock) Whitney, the first wife of James Roosevelt and the last of the three glamorous Cushing sisters of Boston, died yesterday at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y. She was 89.
  2. ^ Times, Special To The New York (10 October 1939). "NOTABLES MOURN DR. HARVEY CUSHING; President Roosevelt's Wife and Mother and Son James at Funeral of Scientist THRONG OUTSIDE CHURCH Ex-Governor Cross, President Seymour of Yale and Former President Angell Attend". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  3. ^ Bumiller, Elisabeth (3 January 1999). "THE LIVES THEY LIVED: Betsey Cushing Whitney; The Last Princess". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  4. ^ a b c Cornwell, Rupert (1 April 1998). "Obituary: Betsey Whitney". The Independent. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  5. ^ Times, Special To The New York (28 September 1940). "MARY CUSHING WED TO VINCENT ASTOR; Daughter of Surgeon Becomes His Second Wife in Ceremony at Long Island Estate SECRECY MARKS EVENT No Advance Announcement Is Made and Few Are Present --Couple Sail on Yacht". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  6. ^ Times, Special To The New York (23 June 1947). "WHITNEY GIFT DOOMS 'GRUESOME GATEWAY'". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
  7. ^ a b Vogel, Carol (11 May 1999). "A Cezanne Leads a $128 Million Auction of the Whitney Art Collection". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  8. ^ Photo, Special To The New York Times times Wide World (5 June 1930). "JAMES ROOSEVELT WEDS MISS CUSHING; Son of New York Governor and Daughter of Surgeon Have Brilliant Wedding. BRIDE IN A GRECIAN GOWN 500 Members of Society and Political Notables at Ceremony inBrookline Church. JOKE BY ROOSEVELT USHERS. Youths Leave Church by Horse and Barouche After Wedding". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  9. ^ "BETSEY CUSHING NAMES ATTENDANTS; Large Bridal Party Chosen by Fiancee of James Roosevelt, Governor's Son. CEREMONY TO BE IN CHURCH It Will Take Place at Brookline, Mass., on the Afternoon of June 4". The New York Times. 4 May 1930. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  10. ^ "Fred di Bonaventura, 73, Dead; Barber Was Father of Pianist". The New York Times. 23 May 1964. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  11. ^ "ANTHONY DI BONAVENTURA". The New York Times. November 15, 2012. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  12. ^ Times, Special To The New York (13 June 1953). "BARBER'S SON WED TO SARA ROOSEVELT; Granddaughter of President Is Married to A. di Bonaventura in Lower East Side Church". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  13. ^ Cooper, Michael (13 June 2015). "Ronald A. Wilford, Manager to a Host of Legendary Maestros, Dies at 87". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  14. ^ "President Sees Granddaughter Christened In Candlelight Service at Hyde Park House". The New York Times. 5 November 1936. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  15. ^ "ORCHID DEDICATED TO ROOSEVELT CHILD; Baby Kate, Granddaughter of President, Is Honored at Flower Show Here. THE BLOOM IS A NEW TYPE The Queen Mary, a New Rose, Receives Highest Award of Horticultural Society". The New York Times. 7 November 1936. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  16. ^ Berger, Joseph (16 March 2005). "Roosevelts and the Quirks of Destiny". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  17. ^ Times, Special To The New York (16 February 1940). "J. ROOSEVELT FILES ACTION FOR DIVORCE; Los Angeles Complaint Charges Desertion 'Willfully and Without Cause' WIFE PLANS SIMILAR SUIT In a Statement Here, Former Miss Betsey Cushing Also Says She Is to Have Their Children". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  18. ^ a b "JOHN HAY WHITNEY DIES AT 77; PUBLISHER LED IN MANY FIELDS". The New York Times. 9 February 1982. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
  19. ^ "Mrs. Cushing Roosevelt Becomes Bride Here of John Hay Whitney; Former Wife of President's Eldest Son Wed to Wealthy Sportsman and Financier in a Simple Home Ceremony". The New York Times. 2 March 1942. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
  20. ^ Smith, J. Y. (9 February 1982). "Publisher, Former Ambassador John Hay Whitney Dies". The Washington Post. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  21. ^ Daniels III, Frank (August 17, 2013). "Whitney's Riches Enabled Innovative Ventures". The Pilot Newspaper. Retrieved 22 August 2017.

Further reading[edit]

  • The Sisters: Babe Mortimer Paley, Betsey Roosevelt Whitney, Minnie Astor Fosburgh: The Lives and Times of the Fabulous Cushing Sisters by David Grafton (Villard 1992).
  • Last Cushing sister dies: Betsey Whitney outlived husbands, by Enid Nemy, The New York Times, March 26, 1998

External links[edit]