Edith Ewing Beale

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Edith Ewing Beale (Bouvier)

Birthdate: (81)
Death: February 5, 1977 (81)
Immediate Family:

Daughter of John Vernou Bouvier, II and Maude Frances Bouvier
Wife of Phelan Beale
Mother of Edith Bouvier Beale; Phelan Beale, Jr. and Bouvier Beale
Sister of John Vernou Bouvier, III; William Sergeant Bouvier; Parker Swindales; Michelle C. Putnam and Maude R. Davis

Managed by: Noah Tutak
Last Updated:

About Edith Ewing Beale


Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale (October 5, 1895 – February 5, 1977) was an American socialite and amateur singer, known for her eccentric lifestyle. She was a sister of John "Black Jack" Bouvier, the father of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. Her life and relationship with her daughter Edith Bouvier Beale were highlighted in the 1975 documentary Grey Gardens.

Born in New Jersey in 1895, Edith Ewing Beale was the aunt of Jackie Kennedy, but her erratic behavior made her unfit for society life. After her divorce, Beale retained her home, the mansion known as Grey Gardens, where she lived with her daughter. The women were the focus of a 1975 film documenting their lives in the decrepit mansion, overrun by cats and raccoons. Their story has since been turned into a Broadway musical and a TV movie. Beale died in New York in 1977.

Early Life

Born Edith Ewing Bouvier on October 5, 1895, in Nutley, New Jersey, Edith Ewing Beale (best known as "Big Edie" or, simply, "Edie") was the aunt of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and one of five children born to "Major" John Vernou Bouvier Jr. and his wife, Maude.

Edie's life was a study in contrasts. While her later years were marked by poverty, her childhood and early adult life had known nothing but affluence. Her paternal great uncle, Michael Charles (M.C.) Bouvier, made a fortune on Wall Street. Edie's father, an attorney and judge, followed in his uncle's footsteps. It didn't hurt that Edie's English-born mother was the daughter of a wealthy pulp merchant and paper producer.

By the age of 10, Edie was already known for her artistic talent and was considered to be somewhat of a singer/pianist prodigy. When her family relocated from Nutley to an expansive 24-room apartment on Park Avenue in Manhattan, Edie began frequenting the social scene. Her father resented the "wasted" time she spent attending to her voice and appearance.

Eccentric Lifestyle

In 1917, Edie married Phelan Beale, an attorney who would later make partner at his father-in-law's firm, and the couple settled into high-society life in Manhattan. Their first child, daughter Edie Bouvier Beal (nicknamed "Little Edie") was born that same year. Two sons, Phelan Jr. (b. 1920) and Bouvier (b. 1922), followed. Not long after the boys were born, Edie and Phelan purchased a spectacular 28-room mansion, now known as Grey Gardens, situated on a dead-end road, not far from the ocean.

Edie's husband, like her father, was not a fan of Edie's musical aspirations. But that hardly deterred her. Edie's preference was to bang away on the grand piano and sing, rather than venture to the cocktail parties her husband enjoyed attending. "Since she was likely to wear a sweater over her evening gown and discuss Christian Science, the family became less and less insistent that Big Edie come along," wrote Gail Sheehy, in an early 1970s profile of Edie and her daughter, for New York Magazine.

Edie's eccentricities also extended into her parenting. Claiming that her daughter had a respiratory illness, she pulled Little Edie out of school at the age 11 and kept the girl at her side for the next two years, bringing her along to movies and the theater on a regular basis.

By the mid-1930s, Phelan Beale had left Edie for a younger woman. The couple's eventual divorce led Edie to acquire Grey Gardens and some compensation for child support, but little else. To keep the household going, Edie leaned on her father for financial assistance and sold family heirlooms.


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Edith Ewing Beale's Timeline

October 5, 1895
November 7, 1917
Age 22
June 16, 1920
Age 24
New York, New York County, New York, United States
February 13, 1922
Age 26
New York, New York County, New York, United States
February 5, 1977
Age 81