Elizabeth Wharton Drexel

Elizabeth Wharton Drexel

Drexel in a 1905 portrait by Giovanni Boldini
Born (1868-04-22)April 22, 1868
Died June 13, 1944(1944-06-13) (aged 76)
Spouse(s) John Vinton Dahlgren I (1889–1898)
Henry Symes Lehr (1901-1929)
John Graham Hope de la Poer Beresford, 5th Baron Decies (1936-1944)
Children John Vinton Dahlgren II (1892–1964)
Parent(s) Lucy Wharton (1841–1912)
Joseph William Drexel

Elizabeth Wharton "Bessie" Drexel (April 22, 1868 – June 13, 1944) was an American author and Manhattan socialite.[1]


Elizabeth Wharton Drexel (1868-1944) in 1899

"Bessie" was the daughter of Lucy Wharton (1841–1912) and Joseph William Drexel.[2] Joseph was the son of Francis Martin Drexel, the immigrant ancestor of the Drexel banking family in the United States.

First marriage

John Vinton Dahlgren I, circa 1897.

On June 29, 1889, Elizabeth married John Vinton Dahlgren I (1869–1899), the son of Admiral John Adolph Dahlgren (1809–1870). They had two sons, Joseph Drexel Dahlgren (1890-1891) and John Vinton Dahlgren Jr. (1892–1964). During this marriage, she made generous donations to Roman Catholic charities and to Georgetown University, including funds for the construction of Dahlgren Chapel, named for her first son. The latter asked for her portrait, which was painted in 1899 by the Swiss-born American artist Adolfo Müller-Ury (1862–1947).

Dahlgren died August 11, 1899, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he had gone in hopes of recovering from an illness.[3]

Second marriage

Elizabeth Wharton Drexel and Henry Symes Lehr at their wedding in 1901

Elizabeth married Henry Symes Lehr (1869–1929), aka Harry Lehr in June 1901.[1][4] The marriage was never consummated.[5]

In 1915 the Lehrs were in Paris, and Elizabeth worked for the Red Cross. They remained in Paris after World War I, where they bought in 1923 the Hôtel de Canvoie at 52, rue des Saints-Pères in the 7th arrondissement. Harry Lehr died on January 3, 1929 of a brain malady in Baltimore.[6]

Third marriage

On May 25, 1936 she married John Beresford, 5th Baron Decies. His first wife had been Helen Vivien Gould.[7][8] He died on January 31, 1944.[9]


She died in 1944 at the Hotel Shelton. She was buried in the Dahlgren Chapel at Georgetown University, which she and her first husband had built as a memorial to their son, Joseph Drexel Dahlgren, who died in infancy.[1]

Turn of the World

As with her prior book King Lehr and the Gilded Age (1935), Lady Decies' Turn of the World (1937) is a fascinating semi-autobiographical history of American high society during the Gay Nineties through the first World War. Upon the book's publication, The Pittsburgh Press wrote, "The magnificent spectacle that went on behind the scenes in pre-war days of society's Gilded Age at Saratoga, Newport, New York and Paris is detailed by an insider, Elizabeth, Lady Decies, who was Miss Elizabeth Wharton Drexel interesting, amusing and sometimes revolting, as with evident nostalgia she tells of extravagant parties and fortunes spent for clothes and jewels."



  1. 1 2 3 "Lady Decies, Widow of Irish Peer, Dies; Former Elizabeth Drexel of Philadelphia Was Once the Wife of Harry Lehr.". New York Times. June 14, 1944.
  2. "Mrs. J.W. Drexel Dead. Former Social Leader of Philadelphia and Mother of Mrs. Harry Lehr.". New York Times. January 26, 1912.
  3. "John Vinton Dalhgren Dead", New York Times, August 12, 1899.
  4. 1 2 "Record of the Rich". Time (magazine). August 5, 1935. Retrieved 2007-07-21. In Paris in 1929 Mrs. Elizabeth Drexel Lehr heard that her husband was dead. To the daughter of Philadelphia Banker Joseph William Drexel, that event meant that the "tragic farce" of a 28-year marriage had ended, that she was now free to tell her story. A bitter, disillusioned book, "King Lehr" is memorable for the lurid light it throws on U. S. Society of the Gilded Age, may confidently be opened as one of the most startling and scandalously intimate records of life among the wealthy yet written by one of them.
  5. Vanderbilt II, Arthur T. Fortune's Children. Wm. Morrow and Co., 1989: 235-7. ISBN 0-688-07279-8
  6. "Harry S. Lehr Dies. Once Social Leader. Succumbs To A Brain Malady In Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore. Late Mrs. Astor's Adviser Noted For Daring And Originality Of His Parties. Married Mrs. J. V. Dahlgren, Heiress. Quickly Got Into Limelight. Furor Over "Monkey Dinner" Story. An Excellent Musician.". New York Times. January 4, 1929. Baltimore, January 3, 1929. Harry Symes Lehr, for many years prominent in society of New York, Newport, Baltimore and Paris, died today of a brain disorder at Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he had been a patient for several weeks.
  7. "People". Time (magazine). July 27, 1942. Retrieved 2007-07-21. Heavily engraved invitations sent out by Lady Decies (formerly Elizabeth Drexel of Philadelphia) sent the British Library of Information bustling about over a point of etiquette. Said the invitation: "Lady Elizabeth Decies (the Right Honorable Elizabeth Beresford, Baroness Decies) requests the pleasure of your company," etc. But Lady Decies, pointed out the B.L.I., is merely wife of a privy councillor of the lowest rank of the peerage (John Graham Hope de la Poer Beresford, Baron Decies). is therefore a "Lady," but not a "Right Honorable." Nor can she call herself "Lady Elizabeth," nor "Elizabeth, Lady," titles proper only to the daughter of an earl or better or the widowed mother of a baron or married baronet, or the widow of a knight.
  8. "Decies to Marry Mrs. Harry Lehr; Widow of New York Leader of Society to Become Bride of Irish Peer on May 23. Announcement in Paris. Bride-Elect Member of Drexel Family. Wrote Book, 'King Lehr and Gilded Age.'". New York Times. May 12, 1936. Mrs. Henry Symes Lehr, widow of Harry Lehr, society leader in New York early in the century, will be married here on May 23 to John Graham Beresford, Lord Decies, Irish peer, according to an announcement made today.
  9. "Lord Decies dies in England at 77. Soldier, Sportsman, Friend of Taxpayer. Married Gould Heiress Here in 1911.". New York Times. February 2, 1944.

Further reading

Media related to Elizabeth Wharton Drexel at Wikimedia Commons

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