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Abby Aldrich Rockefeller: The Woman in the Family by Bernice Kert (172,000 words and 40 illustrations)

In 1894, Abby Aldrich, the outgoing, impulsive daughter of Rhode Island’s Senator Nelson Aldrich, met Brown University student John D. Rockefeller, Jr., the shy and reserved heir to the Standard Oil fortune. This unlikely pair fell in love, but only seven years later did John feel confident enough to propose. Once married, Abby used her empathy, willingness to experiment, and defiant optimism to broaden John’s way of thinking and to expand his vision of what the Rockefeller fortune could do, shaping the family into a progressive force in philanthropy, the arts, and politics. Abby cherished and protected her six children — Babs, John III, Nelson, Laurance, Winthrop, and David — and inspired in them a desire to serve society. She helped open the nation’s eyes to modern art and in 1928, initiated the foundation of New York’s Museum of Modern Art. From behind the scenes Abby helped direct the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg and the building of Rockefeller Center.


“Abby Aldrich Rockefeller was a legendary figure, a woman of great wealth and power who used them for great good — in often cunning ways. Astonishingly, no one has written her story before. Now Bernice Kert has done so in a sweeping, meticulous, original biography that illuminates a rare life, an historic family, and modern America.” —
Catharine R. Stimpson, University Professor, Rutgers University

“Bernice Kert can raise biography to a level of insight and surprise that matches the best fiction. Witness this study of a woman we think we know all about.” —
Elizabeth Janeway, author of Man’s World, Woman’s Place

“Bernice Kert’s thoroughly researched biography of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller is a welcome and wonderful read. Everyone interested in art and social history will want to read about this most progressive and interesting Rockefeller.” —
Blanche Wiesen Cook, author of Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume I, 1884-1933

“[Reading] this biography, the life of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, is like reading an exciting mystery story. One can hardly wait to turn the page to find out what this extraordinary and fascinating woman did, not only for herself but for everything and everyone she touched, from her husband, to nature, to the opening of a new view into the art world. The vitality of Abby Rockefeller, as depicted here by Bernice Kert, is a lesson to all women.” —
Brooke Astor

“What might have been a kind of family mausoleum turns out to be a fascinating read, brimming with fresh material from unpublished archives and interviews with eyewitnesses. Bernice Kert’s thorough and engaging portrait brings to life an enormously influential American woman who had an historic impact on both her extraordinary family and the arts — as a pioneering collector and patron, and as the innovating founder of two major museums.” —
J. Carter Brown, Director Emeritus, National Gallery of Art

“Kert, despite all her exhaustive research, happily lets her subject retain all of her formidable vitality and independence... Kert deals not only with the couple’s marriage — which was, in spite of some strains, a lifelong love affair — and the six Rockefeller children, but also with Abby’s generous contributions to art, education, and politics, as well with as her role in creating Rockefeller Center and Colonial Williamsburg. A splendidly intelligent, very readable portrait of a woman who was as wise in the rearing of her family as in the spending of her great wealth.” — Kirkus Reviews

“In this elegantly written, carefully researched and psychologically astute biography, Abby Rockefeller emerges as a loveable and intelligent woman who wielded her great privilege to a variety of socially beneficial ends.” —
Publishers Weekly

“Bernice Kert [has] an eye for offbeat biography... Kert’s penetrating close-up captures not only [Abby’s] remarkable personality but the suffocating nuances of post-Victorian matrimony; women readers in particular will relish Abby’s refusal to be pigeonholed.” — Ted Berkman,
Los Angeles Times

“A picture of a complex and engaging woman, one who was at once very much a part of her time and extraordinarily ahead of it... Although the Modern museum was at the heart of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller’s work... her interests were far ranging. They included the advancement of civil rights, historic preservation and education. The portrait of her in this book is that of a model aristocrat, a wealthy, well-bred woman who understood power and the creative, contemporary uses of the concept of noblesse oblige. Kert shows Abby Rockefeller to have been, in her way, very much a feminist.” — Robert Duffy,
St. Louis Post-Dispatch