William Henry Vanderbilt III

William Henry Vanderbilt III

William Henry Vanderbilt III
59th Governor of Rhode Island
In office
January 3, 1939 – January 7, 1941
Lieutenant James O. McManus
Preceded by Robert E. Quinn
Succeeded by J. Howard McGrath
Personal details
Born (1901-11-24)November 24, 1901
Died April 14, 1981(1981-04-14) (aged 79)
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Emily O'Neill Davies
Parents Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt
Ellen "Elsie" French
Alma mater Princeton University

William Henry Vanderbilt III (November 24, 1901 – April 14, 1981) was Governor of Rhode Island and a member of the wealthy and socially prominent Vanderbilt family.


  • Biography 1
    • First World War 1.1
    • Education 1.2
    • Inheritance 1.3
    • Marriages 1.4
  • The Short Line 2
  • Political career 3
  • Navy service during World War II 4
  • Retirement and death 5
  • Awards 6
  • References 7


Born in New York City, he was the son of LusitaniaRMS . In 1934, his cousin on his mother's side, Ellen Tuck French, married John Jacob Astor VI, bringing together two of America's most famous and wealthy families.

First World War

Shortly before the United States declared war on Germany during the First World War, Vanderbilt dropped out of

Political offices
Preceded by
Robert E. Quinn
Governor of Rhode Island
Succeeded by
J. Howard McGrath
  1. ^ United States Navy Register, 1918. pg. 349.
  2. ^ St. George's School in the War, pg. 151.
  3. ^ "Wm. H. Vanderbilts Have a Daughter".  
  4. ^ "Emily Vanderbilt Marries S. Thayer".  
  5. ^ Rhode Island Historical Society
  6. ^ New York Times. June 7, 1941.
  7. ^ Naval Reserve Register. 1944.
  8. ^ New York Times. May 28, 1944.
  9. ^ New York Times, May 6, 1941. ; U.S. Navy Reserve Register, 1943
  10. ^ http://www.preservation.ri.gov/pdfs_zips_downloads/survey_pdfs/portsmouth.pdf
  11. ^ Blair, William G. (April 16, 1981). "William H. Vanderbilt, 79, Dead.".  
  12. ^ "Died".  
  13. ^ http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=vanderbilt&GSfn=william&GSbyrel=all&GSdyrel=all&GSob=n&GRid=40573555&df=all&


For his service in the Navy, Vanderbilt was entitled to the following medals -


Vanderbilt died of cancer on April 14, 1981 at the age of 79.[11][12] He was buried in the Southlawn Cemetery in Williamstown, Massachusetts.[13]

After his discharge from the Navy at the end of the war, Vanderbilt left Rhode Island and retired to a farm in South Williamstown, Massachusetts. Oakland Farm and its 150 acres in Portsmouth, Rhode Island was sold and divided into housing lots by the end of the 1940s. [10]

Retirement and death

In May 1941 Vanderbilt, an officer in the Naval Reserve, was called to active duty in June 1941 with the rank of lieutenant commander and initially assigned to the Panama Canal Zone. [6] He was promoted to commander on August 15, 1942.[7] In 1942 Vanderbilt was assigned as executive officer of the Special Operations Branch of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) under General William J. Donovan. In May 1944 he was assigned to the staff of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet, in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.[8] He was promoted to the rank of captain prior to the end of the war.[9]

Navy service during World War II

Vanderbilt was a member of the Republican Party. In 1928 he was a delegate to the Republican National Convention from Rhode Island and that year was elected to the Rhode Island State Senate. Vanderbilt served in the State Senate for six years (1929–1935) and then took time off to be with his ailing wife, Anne Gordon Colby. On her recovery, he re-entered political life and successfully ran for Governor of Rhode Island in 1938. He served one two year term from January 1939 to January 1941. His refusal to dole out patronage to fellow Republicans, however, weakened his power base and a scandal over wire-tapping by a private detective firm he had hired to investigate election fraud, cost him re-election in 1940.

Political career

As a state senator and successful business leader, Vanderbilt was also a champion of the Mount Hope Bridge which connects Aquidneck Island with the mainland on the road north to Providence, Rhode Island from Newport. He was named the Chairman of the Mount Hope Bridge Commission and gave the opening address at the bridge's dedication on October 24, 1929.[5]

In 1925 Vanderbilt started a Bonanza Bus Lines. Bonanza eventually merged with the Coach USA bus line in 1998 and was sold to Peter Pan Bus Lines in 2003. The Short Line's original terminal building in Newport still stands and is located near the intersection of Spring and Touro streets.

The Short Line

Vanderbilt secondly married Anne Gordon Colby of West Orange, New Jersey on December 27, 1929. They had three children: Anne Vanderbilt Hartwell of Williamstown, Elsie Vanderbilt Aidinoff of New York City, and William H. Vanderbilt Jr., of Ketchum, Idaho

Vanderbilt married Emily O'Neill Davies, granddaughter of Daniel O'Neill, owner of the Pittsburgh Dispatch newspaper, and daughter of Frederick Martin Davies on November 1, 1923 at Grace Church, New York. Emily was the grandniece of Frederick Townsend Martin, a prominent writer of the 1920s. The couple gave birth to a daughter, Emily "Paddy" Vanderbilt on May 12, 1925 in New York.[3] The couple's marriage was troubled and Emily sued for divorce in Paris in the summer of 1926, but reconciled. She again sued for divorce in Newport, Rhode Island which was granted in June 1928.[4]


When he turned 21, the then legal age of majority, in 1922, Vanderbilt inherited a $5 million trust fund plus the 450 acre (1.8 km²) Oakland Farm in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, one of his father's estates that included a number of thoroughbred horses. He made the farm his permanent home until the end of the Second World War.


Educated at Middletown, Rhode Island (Class of 1919) and the Evans School in Mesa, Arizona, he attended Princeton University but dropped out during his first year. In 1940, Vanderbilt received an honorary LL.D. from Bates College.


During his service in the Navy, Vanderbilt served on the torpedo test ship USS Vesuvius from April 17 to May 31, 1917, the Naval Torpedo Station in Newport from June 1, 1917 to March 7, 1918, aide for information Second Naval District from March 7 to July 15, 1918, in Norfolk, Virginia from July 23 to September 16, 1918, New London, Connecticut from September 19 to November 14, 1918 and as a plank owner of the newly commissioned destroyer USS Evans from November 11, 1918 to August 30, 1919. [2] While assigned to the Evans Vanderbilt was served aboard her on a cruise to Europe from June to August 1919. He was discharged from the Navy shortly after the cruise.

As he was only 15 at the time, he was one of the youngest Americans to have served in the war. (It is unclear how he was able to join the service at such a young age but, probably, his family connections were a factor. Another curiosity is that he was the only person to hold the rank of midshipman in the Naval Reserve.) [1]