Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt

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Cornelia Mary Goodsir
Edith Vanderbilt with daughter.jpg
Cornelia, as a toddler, with her mother Edith, c. 1902
Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt

(1900-08-22)August 22, 1900
DiedFebruary 7, 1976(1976-02-07) (aged 75)
Oxfordshire, United Kingdom
Education University of North Carolina
(m. 1924;div. 1934)

(m. 1949;died 1968)

William Robert Goodsir
(m. 1972)
Children George Henry Vanderbilt Cecil
William Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil
Parent(s) George Washington Vanderbilt II
Edith Stuyvesant Dresser
FamilySee Vanderbilt family

Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt Cecil Bulkely-Johnson Goodsir (August 22, 1900 – February 7, 1976) [1] was an American born heiress and member of the Vanderbilt family who inherited the Biltmore Estate. [2] She was known for her eccentric behavior. [3]


Early life

The Biltmore Estate in 2006 Biltmore Estate.jpg
The Biltmore Estate in 2006

Cornelia was born at the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina on August 22, 1900. [4] She was the daughter, and only child, [5] of George Washington Vanderbilt II (1862–1914) and Edith Stuyvesant Dresser (1873–1958). [6] Her father, the youngest child of William Henry Vanderbilt and Maria Louisa (née Kissam) Vanderbilt, built a 250-room mansion, the largest privately owned home in the United States, which he named Biltmore Estate. The estate, designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt, was modeled on the Chateau de Blois among other chateaux of the Loire Valley. [7] She was the great-granddaughter of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, [8] and, on her mother’s side, she was a descendant of Peter Stuyvesant. [9]

After her father's death in 1914, [10] Cornelia inherited the Biltmore estate. Her mother sold approximately 86,000 acres (350 km2) of the Biltmore property to the United States Forest Service to create the core of Pisgah National Forest. Her mother later married Peter Goelet Gerry (1879–1957), a United States Senator from Rhode Island. [3] [11]

Cornelia attended the Madeira School for high school. She was privately tutored and attended the University of North Carolina for approximately a year. When she reached 21 years old, she received an annuity of $2,000,000 and at the age of 25, she received her full inheritance of $50,000,000 from her father. [2]

Personal life

On April 29, 1924, [3] Cornelia was married to a British aristocrat who was then the first secretary of the British Embassy in Washington, [8] Hon. John Francis Amherst Cecil (1890–1954), the son of Lord William Cecil and Mary Cecil, Baroness Amherst of Hackney. [12] The Cecils were descendants of William Cecil. [13] The nationally-renowned organist from St. Louis Charles Henry Galloway played organ at the wedding. They divorced in 1934, [14]

Cornelia Vanderbilt and Cecil were the parents of two sons: [15]

Around 1932, reportedly finding life at Biltmore too dull, she moved to New York City to briefly study art, leaving her husband to manage Biltmore. [3] A few months later, she moved to Paris where she divorced her husband in 1934, dyed her hair bright pink, and changed her name to Nilcha. [2] [20] After her 1934 move abroad, she never returned to Biltmore or the United States again. [21] After Paris, she moved to London, where she met and married Captain Vivian Francis Bulkeley-Johnson (1891–1968) in October 1949. [8] Bulkeley-Johnson, the aide-de-camp to the 9th Duke of Devonshire when he was the Governor General of Canada from 1916 to 1918, served in the offices of the Imperial War Cabinet in World War I and in the Air Ministry. [22] They remained married until his death in 1968. [3]

One evening as she was having dinner with Edward Adamson in London, Cornelia met William Robert "Bill" Goodsir, their waiter with whom she fell in love. [21] In 1972, Cornelia married for the third and final time to Goodsir (1926–1984), who was 26 years younger than she was. [3]

Cornelia died on February 7, 1976, aged 75, in Oxford, England. [21] Her ashes were buried at a church near her home, The Mount, a farm in the village of Churchill in Oxfordshire, near Kingham. [3]


Her sons eventually inherited the Biltmore estate, with George Cecil, the older of the two sons, choosing to inherit the majority of the estate's land and the Biltmore Farms Company, which was more profitable than the house at the time. The younger son, William Cecil was thus left with Biltmore House, and is credited with preserving the chateau which (though still privately owned) is open to the public. Through her elder son, she was the grandmother of six, and through her second son, she was the grandmother of two more. [17]

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  1. "CHILD BORN AT BILTMORE.; Mrs. George W. Vanderbilt Gives Birth to a Daughter". The New York Times . August 23, 1900. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  2. 1 2 3 Milling, Marla Hardee (June 26, 2017). "The Strange Post-Biltmore Life of Cornelia Vanderbilt". Blue Ridge Country. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Milling, Marla Hardee (2017). Legends, Secrets and Mysteries of Asheville. Arcadia Publishing. pp. 132–141. ISBN   9781439661093 . Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  4. Klingner, Leslie (November 1, 2011). "Cornelia Vanderbilt | Biltmore". Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  5. Rickman, Ellen Erwin (2005). Biltmore Estate. Arcadia Publishing. p. 8. ISBN   9780738517490 . Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  6. Klingner, Leslie (May 1, 2011). "George Vanderbilt". Retrieved April 7, 2017.
  7. Bryson, Bill (2010). At Home . p.  239. ISBN   978-0-385-60827-5.
  8. 1 2 3 "Cornelia Vanderbilt Weds London Banker". Portland Press Herald . October 14, 1949. p. 25. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  9. "Mrs. Peter G. Gerry". The New York Times. December 22, 1958.
  10. "G. W. Vanderbilt Dies Suddenly. Seemed to be Recovering from Operation for Appendicitis When Heart Failed". The New York Times. March 7, 1914. Retrieved April 21, 2011. George Washington Vanderbilt of New York died suddenly this afternoon at his Washington residence, 1,612 K Street. With him at the time were Mrs. Vanderbilt and their thirteen-year-old daughter, Miss Cornelia S. Vanderbilt.
  11. "Edith Vanderbilt Wed to P.G. Gerry. Marriage by London Registrar Is Followed by Service at the Savoy Chapel". The New York Times. October 23, 1925.
  12. "MISS VANDERBILT TO WED APRIL 29; Date of Wedding to the Hon. John F. A. Cecil Is Formally Announced. CEREMONY AT BILTMORE They Will Then Make Their Permanent Home on Her North Carolina Estate". The New York Times. March 16, 1924. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  13. "MISS VANDERBILT WEDS HON. J.F. CECIL; Prominent Persons in Social and Diplomatic Circles at Ceremony in Biltmore, N.C. SIR ESME HOWARD ATTENDS Heiress to George W. Vanderbilt Fortune Bride of Former British Embassy Attache". The New York Times. April 30, 1924. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  14. "CECILS WILL SEEK DIVORCE IN PARIS; Former Cornelia Vanderbilt in Arrangement With Husband to Share Children's Custody. WED AT BILTMORE IN 1924 Son of Lord William Cecil Gave Up Diplomatic Career to Run Vast Estate". The New York Times. March 31, 1934. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  15. Newton-Matza, Mitchell (2016). Historic Sites and Landmarks that Shaped America: From Acoma Pueblo to Ground Zero [2 volumes]: From Acoma Pueblo to Ground Zero. ABC-CLIO. p. 56. ISBN   9781610697507 . Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  16. Patrick, Emily (July 11, 2016). "Hospital benefactor Nancy Cecil dies at 85". Citizen Times . Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  17. 1 2 Boyle, John (October 31, 2017). "William A.V. Cecil, Vanderbilt's grandson and Biltmore owner, dead at 89". Citizen-Times . Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  18. Wadington, Katie; DeGrave, Sam (November 18, 2017). "Mimi Cecil, community leader and Biltmore owner, dies at 85". Citizen Times . Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  20. Ward, Vicky (October 11, 2017). "Biltmore House, America's Original McMansion". The New York Times. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  21. 1 2 3 Kiernan, Denise (2017). The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation's Largest Home. Simon and Schuster. ISBN   9781476794044 . Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  22. "Vivian Bulkeley-Johnson". National Archives of Canada. Archived from the original on March 9, 2015. Retrieved March 9, 2015.

Further reading