Bad Behavior Scandals

The Three Wives of Alfred du Pont: Alicia (Part II)

*If you missed the first part, you can read it here.

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The Second Part

When we first spoke last week of Alfred du Pont he was married to Bessie Gardner and having a terrible time of it. Sometimes it doesn’t pay to steal your brother’s girl. Eventually, unhappy, Alfred went looking for an escape and he found it in his friendship with a distant cousin, Alicia. The only problem was she was also married to someone else. Oh, and she didn’t love him.

There was (sort of) good news for Alfred though, if you really want to squint to see the bright side. Alicia’s marriage was also going terribly. The person she believed to be her great love, Amory Maddox, turned out to be a prolific cheat and quite the lousy husband. Repeatedly she forgave him for his affairs and they had several children (only one of them survived past birth). Then at one point she went temporarily blind from shock after finding out his affairs were continuing and with their house maids and prostitutes no less. Her doctors told her that her husband’s dalliances with random women was putting her health at risk and urged her to leave him. She finally did.

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When she did divorce Amory, Alicia had to ask Alfred to pay him off half a million dollars to allow the divorce to go through. With no money and a child to care for she accepted Alfred’s marriage proposal that came on the heels of her divorce. There was one condition. She told him she loved him only as a friend and she could only ever love him this way. Alfred believed that he could win her love eventually and gave her enough money so that she and her daughter would be financially independent if she ever left him.

In October of 1907 Alicia and Alfred quietly married in New York City at the Plaza Hotel. Their way of notifying their families was a small article which appeared in the society pages of the newspaper. Everyone was outraged. There were only a few family members not ready to condemn Alfred just yet.

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Goodbye Children

Soon after their marriage Alfred’s close relationships with his children ended. Alicia’s daughter from her first marriage, Victorine, became Alfred’s only child. The family was in two minds about this turn of events. Some thought Bessie had poisoned the children away from Alfred and some believed it was Alicia’s doing. In reality, it was all Alfred; probably stemming from his growing hatred of Bessie which was about to reach epic proportions. For the next 15 years he would have no contact with his three youngest children. Only his eldest, Madeline, who detested her mother already would live with Alfred and stay in contact with him.

While Alfred may have cut off contact with his children he hadn’t relinquished custody rights. He sent his son away, against the family’s wishes, to a newly founded boarding school far from home and even paid extra so that Alfred Victor could stay there between the end of the school term and the beginning of summer camp which he also had to attend. It was a transparent ploy to limit his son’s time spent home with Bessie. Alfred Victor was miserable.

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Slightly creepy statues at Nemours!

Alfred’s boorish behavior began to alienate his last standing friends in the family. Pierre, his cousin and business partner, served as trustee and the middle-man between the still warring Alfred and Bessie. Their battles were so bitter that they could not find someone to hire outside the family to act as trustee. All of their previous hires quickly quit.

Alfred now controlled Bessie with money, always threatening to take it away. Next he attempted to use money to exert another kind of control back home. He would try to buy Alicia’s love with it: expensive cars, rare horses, jewelry, gowns, furs and most importantly and famously of all, a new home. It would be named Nemours (which is of course, the one in all these photos ;).

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NEMOURS

Alfred had the house built within a year. It was extravagant, decadent and beautiful. No one is sure how much it cost for Alfred had all the bills and books destroyed. It was certainly costly and unlike anything in the Brandywine Valley at the time; now this area is called “Chateau Country.” For extra privacy Alfred built a nine-foot high wall around the entire property, the top covered with broken glass set in concrete. It was to keep intruders and curiosity seekers out but Alfred joked it was also for the other du Ponts.

The wall may have kept people out but it didn’t stop the family from talking about Alicia. And so Alfred went after the person he believed to be the root of all the gossip: Bessie. Without much planning Alfred gave Bessie and the children sudden notice that they had one week to vacate their old home which had also been Alfred’s beloved childhood home, Swamp Hall. Then he had it razed.

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This latest act of revenge only cemented Bessie’s position as a woman to be pitied in the du Pont family. A few years later to thank Bessie for completing an 11-volume history of the du Pont family at his request, Pierre built her a house. A little French chateau that contrasted with Nemours’ grandiosity in every way. She named it Chevannes, a jab at Alfred. Chevannes was where one of their first du Ponts of this new ambitious and industrious line, Pierre Samuel du Pont, had lived and buried his first wife, the woman known as the “first lady of the du Pont dynasty.”

Alfred’s hatred of Bessie and Alicia’s isolation because of it all only fed the couples’ resentment. Alfred and Alicia began to make each other miserable. What felt like it might save them, a newborn baby girl in 1912, did not when the baby died six days after birth. The family whispered that it was a punishment from God. It drove Alicia deeper into depression and it drove Alfred to take out his anger again on his favorite target, Bessie. Only this time, he really would go too far.

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Alfred Victor Needs a New Name

In early 1913 Alfred submitted a bill to have his son, Alfred Victor’s, name changed to Dorsey. He falsely claimed that the name change was being done with the consent of both parents (Dorsey was a name in Bessie’s family line). It of course, was not. Fortunately, Alfred’s lawyer had sent a copy of the intent to change the name to Bessie who at the last minute was able to put a stop to the bill. Young Alfred Victor wrote a letter for the court about his desire to keep his own name and his confusion over his father’s treatment of him and Bessie raced around securing letters from Alfred Victor’s teachers about his good behavior and character. Few in the family would ever forgive Alfred for this.

Pierre had begun to look for a way to remove Alfred from the DuPont Company when his war against Bessie began. It wasn’t just the personal side, it was business. The government had brought an antitrust suit against the DuPont Company and Alfred pushed them to take a settlement. It was the right move but the two other cousins would punish Alfred themselves. He would be removed from his position in the powder yards, the one place he felt he belonged. His workers presented him with a silver cup in appreciation of their loyal boss.

Alfred told them, “I intend to keep track of the Brandywine people. If I ever hear of one of them being in need and neglected, I’ll hold you responsible. When anyone needs help come and see me.”

Pierre and Coleman had bestowed on Alfred the title of “executive vice-president” but he wasn’t even sure what that meant.

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POWER TRIP

Alfred’s cousin Coleman always had a thirst for power and a handful of years in the presidency of the DuPont Company wasn’t enough to satisfy him. He wanted to go into politics and he wanted to do it in the biggest arena: New York.

Before he made his move to New York complete Coleman offered Pierre a considerable share of his holdings in the DuPont Company. He wanted $3.2 million for them and for Pierre to discuss the transfer with Alfred. Alfred agreed that Coleman should sell his shares. He believed they would be sold so that some new young executives could be brought in. His only reservation was the price, far too high he said.

Coleman was desperate for money though, he was in over his head in New York, so he offered an ever larger share of his holdings to Pierre. Almost all of them actually. With these discreet dealings (even Coleman wasn’t aware that Alfred didn’t know about the deal) Pierre was now in control of the company. Alfred and Pierre’s relationship as it was was over. Alfred would take Pierre to court and win but it was no matter. He may have kept his shares but he had already lost his ties to the company.

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Alfred turned his attention to politics, supporting those he thought could right the corrupt government bodies in Wilmington and Delaware. Within three years he had actively helped elect two US Senators (1 Republican, 1 Democrat), the governor of Delaware and the mayor of Wilmington.

Ironically his turn in politics would reunite him once more, and ever so distantly, with his cousins Coleman and Pierre. All joined the fight for the ratification of the 19th Amendment (women’s suffrage). His rapid success in politics left him feeling as if he had little else to achieve there and Alfred stepped away from the political game.

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THEY KEEP GETTING YOUNGER

Alicia had always considered her real home to be her charming apartment in Paris on the Avenue du Bois de Boulogne. WWI had ruined that for her and so Alfred commissioned yet another house for her as a substitute. This one was built in New York and named “White Eagle.” Then her futile attempts to have another child were remedied when she abruptly adopted a French baby from Paris, an adoption done in such secrecy not even Alfred knew of it nor did anyone ever know the child’s real parents. It was a secret Alicia kept to her death and always skirted around: “a French lieutenant in the army who died in the war, the mother can’t care for her” was the most she ever offered.

The family was now fairly happy and had at last achieved some peace and normalcy. At the beginning of January 1920 Alfred told his wife that he would be taking their adopted daughter, Alicia Jr., on a train ride to the West Coast for she had never been. Alicia was planning on going to a party elsewhere and wouldn’t be joining them. He told Alicia that on the West Coast they would meet up with his old friends the Balls. And while he would, he was mum on how eager he was to see one particular member of that family, Jessie Ball (yes, she’s part three ;).

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After checking in to his hotel Alfred planned on discreetly meeting Jessie Ball at her’s. But he never did. Instead he received an urgent telegram. While on the train to the party Alicia had suddenly died. He took the next train home.

After Alicia’s death Alfred’s attacks against his family driven by Alicia’s calls for retaliation were now over. The woman who had told Alfred she would never love him romantically but still respected him was now gone and he had never won her love. Nemours had been her palace to entertain and impress but they had been ostracized by society, the palace was more isolating than anything else. Very few had seen it. Alfred believed Alicia was his happily ever after but that hadn’t been the case. But you know what they say, third time’s a charm!

Read Part III!

*To see photos of the inside of Nemours check out the Nemours tag here for previous posts.

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Source: “Alfred I. du Pont: The Man and His Family by Joseph Frazier Wall