Dorothy Payne Straight (Whitney)

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Dorothy Payne Straight (Whitney)

Birthdate: (81)
Birthplace: Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States
Death: Died
Immediate Family:

Daughter of William Collins Whitney, U.S Secretary of the Navy and Flora Whitney (Payne)
Ex-wife of Maj. Willard Dickerman Straight
Mother of Air Commodore Whitney Willard Straight, CBE, MC; Beatrice Straight and Michael Whitney Straight (KGB spy)
Sister of Harry Payne Whitney; Pauline Payne Paget and Payne Whitney

Managed by: Gene Daniell
Last Updated:

About Dorothy Payne Straight (Whitney)

Dorothy Payne Whitney was an American-born social activist and philanthropist and a member of the prominent Whitney family.

Life and work Whitney was born in Washington, D.C., the daughter of Flora (née Payne) and William Collins Whitney, the United States Secretary of the Navy during the first Cleveland administration from 1885 through 1889. Flora was the daughter of Senator Henry B. Payne of Ohio and sister of Colonel Oliver Hazard Payne, later treasurer of the Standard Oil Company. She attended the Chapin School. At age 17, she came into a major inheritance, aprroximately $15,000,000 (equivalent to $399,833,333 in 2017 dollars), following the death of her extremely wealthy father.

One of the wealthiest women in America in the early 20th century, Dorothy Whitney Straight was a philanthropist and social activist who supported women's trade unions and educational and charitable organizations such as the Junior League of New York. She became the first president of the Association of Junior Leagues International in 1921. Together with her husband, she founded the weekly magazine The New Republic and the New School for Social Research in New York City.

Records of Dorothy Payne Whitney in New York City reveal the extent of her philanthropic work. She was a benefactor of the arts, feminist, and pacifist causes, as well as social and labour reform. She lent financial support to progressive alternative education plus scholarly research. In 1937, she created the William C. Whitney Foundation.

Personal life First marriage Her first marriage in 1911 was to Willard Dickerman Straight (1880–1918), the son of Henry H. Straight, from Oswego, New York, who went to Cornell University and by the age of 30 was a powerful man amongst the international community trading in Peking, China. Together, they had three children:

Whitney Willard Straight (1912–1979), who married Lady Daphne Margarita Finch-Hatton (1913-2003), the daughter of Guy Finch-Hatton, the 14th Earl of Winchilsea. Beatrice Whitney Straight (1914–2001), who married Louis Dolivet (1908-1989), then later Peter Cookson (1913-1990). Michael Whitney Straight (1916–2004), who first married Belinda Crompton, then later Nina Gore Auchincloss (the daughter of Hugh D. Auchincloss and the step-sister of Jackie Kennedy), and lastly, Katharine Gould.

Willard Straight Hall at Cornell, opened in 1925. Straight died at the age of 38 of influenza during the 1918 pandemic while serving with the United States Army in France during World War I. Straight's will requested his wife to continue his philanthropic work in support of Cornell and in 1925 she built Willard Straight Hall, a student union building dedicated to her late husband's memory.

Second marriage In 1920, she met Leonard Knight Elmhirst (1893–1974), an Englishman from a Yorkshire landowning family, who was then studying agriculture at Cornell University, and was seeking support for Cornell's Cosmopolitan Club which provided amenities for foreign students. They married in April 1925, and embarked on ambitious plans to recreate rural community life at Dartington Hall in Devon. Together, they had two children:

Ruth Elmhirst (1926-1986), who married Maurice Ash (1917–2003) in 1947 William Elmhirst (born 1929) At Dartington she led the artistic developments, founding Dartington College of Arts and Dartington International Summer School — although she and Leonard also continued their world-wide interests. On April 26, 1935, she renounced her United States citizenship.

Dorothy Payne Whitney Elmhirst died on December 14, 1968.

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Dorothy Payne Straight (Whitney)'s Timeline

January 23, 1887
Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States
November 6, 1912
Age 25
New York, New York, United States
August 2, 1914
Age 27
Old Westbury, Nassau County, New York, United States
September 1, 1916
Age 29
New York, New York, United States
December 14, 1968
Age 81