Dorothy Payne Whitney Elmhirst (January 23, 1887 – December 14, 1968) was an American-born social activist, philanthropist, publisher 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, approximately $15,000,000 (equivalent to $ in 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 in her father's name.

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)"Peter Cookson, 76, A Writer, Producer And Stage Actor"
''The New York Times'', January 8, 1990
"Peter Cookson Broadway"
playbillvault.com, accessed September 16, 2015
* 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 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.MAJ. W.D. STRAIGHT IS DEAD IN PARIS - Financier and Diplomat Victim of Pneumonia While on War Mission with Col. House. BEGAN LIFE AS A POOR BOY Son of Missionary to Japan and China, He Won International Fame—Tributes Here. Chosen by E.H. Harriman Associated With J.P. Morgan & Co.
- ''The New York Times'' December 2, 1918; accessed Dec 6, 2015
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 worldwide interests. On April 26, 1935, she renounced her United States citizenship. Dorothy Payne Whitney Elmhirst died on December 14, 1968.


Dorothy was known for building the Willard Straight Hall at Cornell University, founding ''The New Republic'', founding New School for Social Research, being the founding president of Association of Junior Leagues International, founding the William C. Whitney Foundation, renovating Dartington Hall and its gardens, founding the Dartington Hall Trust, founding the Dartington Hall School, founding the Dartington College of Arts, and hosting the Dartington International Summer School from 1953.


Further reading

* Anonymous, ''Dartington'', Webber & Bower, 1982 * Young, Michael, ''The Elmhirsts of Dartington, The Creation of a Utopian Community'', Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982 * Elmhirst, Leonard K., ''The Straight and Its Origin'', published by Willard Straight Hall, 1975. {{DEFAULTSORT:Whitney, Dorothy Payne Category:1887 births Category:1968 deaths Category:Philanthropists from New York (state) Category:American women philanthropists Category:Whitney family Category:American people of English descent Category:Former United States citizens Category:American patrons of the arts Category:Patrons of schools Category:Chapin School (Manhattan) alumni Category:People from Washington, D.C. Category:20th-century philanthropists