Edith Vanderbilt

An Iconic Woman of Grace, Kindness & Power

Daily writing prompt
Who is your favorite historical figure?

At first I wasn’t going to answer today’s writing prompt, however, as I thought about it I got excited at the opportunity to lift up a woman I greatly admire and feel is unjustly overlooked in the shadows of her husband and the patriarchal eyes of history.

Historical figures have the power to inspire and captivate us, leaving behind a lasting legacy that continues to shape our world. Among these remarkable individuals, Edith Vanderbilt stands tall as a beacon of elegance, compassion, and philanthropy. However, I fear that the influence and change that came about because of Edith’s generous and kind heart is often grossly over looked and lacks proper recognition. In this blog post, I want to share why Edith Vanderbilt, the heartbeat of Biltmore Estate, is my favorite historical figure, exploring her life, accomplishments, and the lasting impact she has had on society, especially Western North Carolina and the Asheville area.

*Photos from Biltmore.com

Edith Vanderbilt was orphaned at the age of 10 and raised by her grandparents. As the wife of George Washington Vanderbilt II, the creator of the iconic Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, Edith became a central figure in one of America’s wealthiest families. Despite her luxurious life, she understood the weight of responsibility that accompanied her status and used it as a platform for positive change. I see her as America’s Princess Diana of the era.

If you watch my YouTube Channel or have read pasts blog posts, you’ll know that I’m a Biltmore and Asheville fanatic. Every time I take a tour at Biltmore my heart is often warmed by a new story I learn about Edith Vanderbilt and her big heart for individuals as well as the community. She didn’t hoard her wealth, nor did she loaf around in luxury. She was a hands-on, genuine person that took effective action to improve the lives of all around her.

  1. Christmas at Bilmtore is magical, and has been since the Estate opened on December 24th, 1895. The first story I remember hearing about Edith is how she would make a list of all of the children of their employees and carefully choose a Christmas gift for each one that she thought they would like, specific to each child. She kept careful notes to avoid duplication from year to year, but also so she could get to know the families better and on a more personal basis. Edith personally purchased, labeled and wrapped each gift. Although she would sometimes order items from F.A.O. Schwarz in NYC, she was careful to purchase the majority of gifts from local merchants due to her beliefs in buying and supporting local community business.
  2. Another story that tugs at my heartstrings is about one of their butlers that contracted tuberculosis. The Vanderbilts paid for his medical expenses and room and board at 3 different sanitariums and made plans for him to continue to stay under their employment when he was well enough to return to work. Unfortunately he was unable to recover, but the Vanderbilts made sure that he was cared for and was able to get the best of care until his passing.

Education held a special place in Edith’s heart. She recognized its transformative power and believed in providing opportunities for learning to all. She actively supported education by establishing the Biltmore School of Domestic Science which trained women with socio economic challenges to become gainfully employed. *photos from Biltmore.com

She also founded the Biltmore Dairy Moonlight School to teach illiterate estate workers how to read and write. She brought in interns and graduates of Columbia University to teach the classes who, at the time, were receiving the best teacher training in the nation. Edith personally selected text books and even taught from time to time. Edith’s commitment to education helped shape the future of countless individuals, ensuring they had access to knowledge and a chance for success.

Edith Vanderbilt understood the importance of preserving history and culture for future generations. She played a crucial role in safeguarding the legacy of the Biltmore Estate, which stands today as a testament to the Gilded Age and America’s architectural grandeur. By sharing the estate’s beauty and history with the public, Edith allowed people from all walks of life to appreciate and learn from the past. She became the fist woman president of the State of Agricultural Society and preserved the land that is now the Pisgah National Forest, the first national forest east of the Mississippi River.

Edith Vanderbilt, with her boundless generosity, commitment to education, and passion for preserving history, has left an indelible mark on society. She contributed to the building of hospitals, worked with the Red Cross, yet also personally made and delivered maternity baskets to women who just gave birth to make sure they had everything they needed. Her legacy continues to inspire countless individuals, encouraging them to use their resources and influence for the greater good. Edith’s unwavering dedication to philanthropy, coupled with her grace and elegance, make her my favorite historical figure. Her life serves as a shining example of how one person can positively impact the world, leaving a lasting legacy that transcends time. I admire her generosity and actions to help others in a personal way. Money wasn’t a barrier that divided her from others, but rather she used it to lift others up. I think it’s time for Edith to be lifted up and more prominently recognized as a positive figure in American History.

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Published by Christy Evers

I am a mom of three, a Travel Professional and certified meditation teacher. I have a passion for travel and want to help others see the world and enjoy their lives to the fullest while I do the same.

6 thoughts on “Edith Vanderbilt

  1. I believe a person could spend a lifetime studying the family and estate but have scarcely scratched the surface of this intriguing family and estate. I appreciate what you’ve shared and will continue to explore. Thank you.

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