Women’s History Month…one of a series.
By Allan Jamail
March 7, 2023 – Women’s History Month, March 1st thru March 31st in the United States, actually began as Women’s History Day.
Marjorie Merriweather Post was born on March 15, 1887, in Springfield, Illinois. She was the only child of businessman C.W. Post and his wife, Ella Merriweather. Theirs was a middle-class family initially. In 1894, C.W. Post came up with ‘Postum,’ an alternative drink to coffee, made of wheatberries, molasses, and bran.
As a child, Marjorie often helped her father sell ‘Postum’ to stores, but they were initially not too successful. C.W. Post then launched an advertising campaign to popularize ‘Postum,’ and by the time Marjorie stepped into her teenage years, her family became wealthy.
Marjorie’s father often trained her in business and also made her attend company meetings and visit factories. Marjorie attended finishing school at ‘Mount Vernon Seminary’ in Washington, D.C. because her father wished her to be groomed for society.
Marjorie got married soon. Her father later left her mother and married his secretary, Leilah Young. He left half his stock to Leilah. In 1914, her father committed suicide. Following this, Marjorie took over the family business and also proved that her father had promised all his stock to her. She paid Leilah $6 million.
At 16, Marjorie met Edward Bennet Close, a lawyer based in Connecticut. Two years later, in 1905, they got married. They had two daughters, Adelaide and Eleanor. However, in 1919, they divorced.
When the U.S. joined World War I, Marjorie sent her husband, Edward Bennett Close, off to war and made huge donations to the biggest U.S. field hospital in France. She sent supplies worth $75,000 to Europe. Unfortunately, the ship carrying the supplies sank, but Marjorie sent the same amount of supplies again.
While Edward Close, her husband was away at war, Marjorie devoted herself to the New York art scene and joined art history classes. She became a well-known socialite soon and later, she divorced Close, they had two daughters, Adelaide and Eleanor.
The following year, she got married to stock broking tycoon E.F. Hutton. The couple owned lavish properties, which included a 54-room apartment in New York, the ‘Topridge Camp’ in New York, and the ‘Hillwood Estate’ on Long Island.
By the early 1920s, Marjorie had made up her mind to build a seaside retreat in Palm Beach. She had a mansion named ‘Hogarcito’ in the same area but wished to create another place for parties and other entertainment. She selected 17 acres between Lake Worth and the Atlantic Ocean. The location inspired the name of the property, ‘Mar-a-Lago,’ which means “sea to lake” in Spanish.
Her husband Hutton gave her around $1 million to build their new home. Architect Marion Sims Wyeth was initially asked to look into the plans. However, Architect Joseph Urban was finally chosen by them to design the retreat. Joseph was famous for creating theater and opera sets, such as that of the ‘Metropolitan Opera.’ ‘Mar-A-Lago’ took 2 years to be built and involved 600 laborers. It was completed in January 1927. The resulting estate had a total of 115 rooms, including 58 bedrooms and 33 bathrooms, and cost Marjorie around $2.5 million.
Marjorie later hosted the Duke and Duchess of Windsor there. Several weddings, mainly those of the children of her staff, were also held there. The estate was built with Spanish tiles from Genoa, Italy. It had a 75-foot tower with astounding views. The bathrooms had gold fixtures. It also had a dining room that was modeled on Rome’s ‘Palazzo Chigi.’ The living room had a gold ceiling similar to the one at the ‘Accademia’s ‘Thousand Wing Ceiling’ in Venice.
In 1923, Hutton became the chairman of the board of ‘Postum Cereal Company.’ Marjorie and Hutton expanded ‘Postum Cereals’ significantly. Hutton acquired many American food companies, such as ‘Hellman’s Mayonnaise,’ ‘Baker’s Chocolate,’ and ‘Jell-O.’ By 1926, ‘Postum Cereal Company’ became ‘General Foods.’ The company’s value tripled. However, with the company’s growth, Marjorie’s relationship with Hutton soured.
Marjorie became the owner of ‘Postum Cereal Company’ at 27. Later she became the second-richest woman in the U.S., after she regained full ownership of her companies.
During the Great Depression of 1929 Marjorie started a soup kitchen in an indoor dining room in New York, exclusively for women and children. She thus served countless people through her mobile kitchens.
In 1929, Marjorie acquired ‘Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus’ and added it to ‘Mar-a- Lago,’ to arrange a show featuring trapeze artists, clowns, and the world’s smallest mule.
She entertained some of her high-society friends and also raised funds for charity through the circus. She also invited underprivileged children to enjoy the circus. She later added a place to host square dances and movie screenings.
Once, while tasting a goose while holidaying on her yacht, Marjorie was amazed at how well the goose had been frozen. She came to know it had been bought from Clarence Birdseye, who had invented a new way of food preservation. Hutton agreed to buy Birdseye’s company. However, there was some disagreement with Hutton over this acquisition, and that created issues in Marjorie’s second marriage.
In 1932, she attended her first ‘Democratic National Convention’ in Chicago. She supported President Roosevelt’s campaign. Conservative Hutton did not like this. The rifts between them widened. She divorced Hutton in 1935, after a 15-year marriage citing infidelity; they had a daughter, Nedenia, who later became known as famous actor Dina Merrill.
She then married lawyer Joseph E. Davies and supported President Roosevelt’s re-election campaign. After Roosevelt’s re-election in 1936, he made Joseph the U.S. Ambassador to Russia. Marjorie and Joseph went to St. Petersburg.
In Russia, Marjorie invested in Russian art, especially those acquired from Russian aristocrats and found in Stalin’s storehouses. After the World War II began, they went back to the U.S. Her Russian art collection is still the largest outside Russia.
In April 1944, she opened ‘Mar-a-Lago’s grounds to provide occupational therapy to recovering soldiers of World War II. Soldiers were trained in carpentry, printing, and sculpting. Returning veterans were provided counseling.
In 1958, she married Herbert A. May, a Pittsburgh- based businessman. However, in 1964, she found out he was gay and divorced him.
Marjorie initially offered ‘Mar-a-Lago’ to the state of Florida, which rejected her offer due to the costs involved. She then offered it to the federal government to be used as a “Winter White House.” The U.S. government accepted the offer in 1972. Marjorie died after a prolonged illness, on September 12, 1973, at her Hillwood home. She left most her estate and property to her three daughters.
After Marjorie’s death the maintenance costs soared. In 1981, the government returned the estate to the ‘Post Foundation.’ In 1985, then-businessman Donald Trump bought ‘Mar-a- Lago’ for $8 million. He later turned part of it into a golf club and as the president of the United States, visited the site often and still does.
Leave a Comment: