Brooke Astor papers
Language of Materials
The collection includes personal papers and photographs of the socialite and philanthropist Brooke Astor, as well as some documents concerning her parents, other family members, and her husbands, especially Vincent Astor. Correspondence and photographs, mostly from the 1970s-2002, reflect Brooke Astor's social and philanthropic connections. The collection also holds some of Brooke's diaries and other writings, and family photographs, including an album dating from Brooke's father's tenure as a U.S. Marine in Hawaii and in China. Her father's time as American High Commissioner in Haiti in the 1920s is represented by a set of letters written by Brooke's mother from Port-au-Prince.
Biographical / Historical
Brooke Astor (then Roberta Brooke Russell) was born in 1902 in New Hampshire to John Henry Russell Jr. (1872-1947) and Mabel Cecile Hornby Howard Russell (1879–1967). John Russell joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1894 and certain of his career postings pertain to documents in the collection and to Brooke's life. In particular, John Russell was stationed (with his family) in Honolulu, Hawaii, during Brooke's early childhood; in China during Brooke's early teenage years; and in Haiti during the U.S. occupation of that country, where the adult Brooke apparently visited. Brooke would document her recollections of her early years in a 1962 book "Patchwork Child."
Brooke married at the age of 17, in 1919, to John Dryden Kuser (who went by the call name "Dryden"), the son of a wealthy New Jersey businessman. They had one son, Anthony, but the marriage was an unhappy one, ending in divorce in 1930. Brooke married a second time, in 1932, to Charles "Buddy" Marshall. It was a happy marriage and Brooke Marshall's son by Dryden Kuser, Anthony, eventually took Marshall as his surname. During this marriage, in the 1940s, Brooke worked as an editor for House & Garden magazine. Marshall died in 1952 and Brooke married a third time, in 1953, to William Vincent Astor, taking the name Brooke Astor. Brooke recounted these marriages and more of her life in her 1980 memoir "Footprints."
Vincent Astor (he seems generally not to have used William) was a member of the wealthy Astor family. His father, John Jacob Astor IV, died in 1912 on the Titanic, leaving a fortune to Vincent, who left Harvard to pursue business and philanthropic interests with his riches. Vincent served with the Navy in both World War I and World War II, and even his yachts were re-purposed by the Coast Guard for military duty. Brooke was Vincent's third wife, and perhaps anticipating that his life would be short, engaged her in his philanthropic endeavors through the Vincent Astor Foundation. Vincent died in 1959, leaving the substance of his estate to Brooke, who also controlled the Foundation. For the last decades of her life, Brooke Astor pursued her philanthropic interests, among them the New York Public Library, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Zoological Society, and others. Brooke Astor died in 2007 at the age of 105.
(The above note was based on various on-line sources, including Wikipedia.)
The collection is organized in 5 series:
Series I. Family Papers, 1884-2002
Series II. General Correspondence, 1953-2002, 2007
Series III. Writings by and about Brooke Astor, 1915-2005
Series IV. Photographs, circa 1885-2007
Series V. Memorabilia, 1956-2007, undated
Scope and Contents
The collection includes personal papers and photographs of the socialite and philanthropist Brooke Astor, as well as some documents concerning her parents, other family members, and her husbands. Papers related specifically to Brooke include correspondence, mostly from the 1970s-2002, reflecting her social connections with the extended Astor family, leaders of cultural and religious institutions in New York City, and other prominent people. Much of this correspondence is social in nature, with pleasantries, courtesies, invitations, acknowledgements of gifts, and other such matters. There are many photographs in the collection, also from the 1970s-early 2000s, that similarly reflect Astor's social and philanthropic circles.
Brooke Astor's literary and artistic aspirations reaching back to her youth are documented in the collection with short essays, poetry and fiction, as well as photograph transparencies of drawings. Diary entries from 1915-17, when Brooke Russell was a teenager, and transcripts of interviews from the 1990s with the elderly Brooke Astor, bookend the writings by and about her. A dinner party record from 1937-41 and photographs from the first half of the twentieth century give glimpses into Brooke's life during that time, including photos of her second husband, Charles Marshall, and third husband, Vincent Astor. Glimpses into Vincent's life and career are also represented in the collection with documents recognizing his contributions with the U.S. Navy in World War II, a detailed appraisal of his country estate Ferncliff, his probated will, and some photographs and other documents.
The collection also holds several documents relating to Brooke's parents and grandparents. Among these are a bound volume of letters written by Brooke's mother, Mabel Russell, from Haiti in 1923-27 where she lived during the tenure of her husband, John H. Russell Jr., as American High Commissioner. A photograph album dating from about 1912 includes photographs from Honolulu and China, where John Russell was stationed at the time, and several of these photographs depict Brooke and her family. Family history papers in the collection also include several letters from the 19th century authors Robert Traill Spence Lowell and Mary Lowell Putnam to Brooke's maternal grandparents.
Conditions Governing Access
Materials in this collection are stored offsite. For more information on making arrangements to consult them, please visit www.nyhistory.org/library/visit.
Conditions Governing Use
Taking images of documents from the library collections for reference purposes by using hand-held cameras and in accordance with the library's photography guidelines is encouraged. As an alternative, patrons may request up to 20 images per day from staff.
Application to use images from this collection for publication should be made in writing to: Department of Rights and Reproductions, The New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024-5194, firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone: (212) 873-3400 ext. 282.
Copyrights and other proprietary rights may subsist in individuals and entities other than the New-York Historical Society, in which case the patron is responsible for securing permission from those parties. For fuller information about rights and reproductions from N-YHS visit: https://www.nyhistory.org/about/rights-reproductions
This collection should be cited as the Brooke Astor papers, MS 3157, New-York Historical Society.
Location of Materials
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Gift of Charlene Marshall, 2019
About this Guide
Initial processing of the collection, especially the correspondence (Series II) and writings (Series III), was done in February-March 2020 by New York University archival intern Eri Matsuda. Framed photographs in the collection were unframed at that time by N-YHS conservators. Processing work was interrupted in mid-March 2020 by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. In June 2022, archivist Larry Weimer returned to the collection, refining the initial work done in 2020 and completing the processing and finding aid.