Encyclopedia Titanica


New York Times

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Widow of Aide to Victoria Was Noted as a Beauty-- Mother of Vincent Astor

Lady Ribblesdale, first wife of the late Col. John Jacob Astor and mother of Vincent Astor, died Monday night in her home at 720 Park Avenue. She would have been 90 years old on Sept. 15.

For more than half a century Lady Ribblesdale was one of the almost legendary personalities of New York and London society.

The former Miss Ava Lowle Willing, she was a member of a prominent Philadelphia family. At her marriage to Colonel Astor she became heiress apparent to her mother-in-law's position as the leader of New York society. Her wedding to the young Harvard graduate and principal heir of Mr. and Mrs. William Astor took place in Philadelphia when she was 22 years old.

The young Mrs. Astor, who entertained extensively here and later when she took up residence abroad, was celebrated for her beauty and her ability as a sportswoman, but she never claimed social leadership. The family lived at 840 Fifth Avenue, maintained a 2,000-acre estate at Rhinebeck, N.Y., and assumed its place in the Newport society of the time.

By 1896, Mrs. Astor had become a social favorite in London, where she spent a good deal of time. She maintained a country home near the British capital and at her town house in Mayfair, entertained many members of the British nobility, including King Edward VII.


Shortly after her return from England in 1909, Mrs. Astor filed suit for divorce and the final decree was granted the next year. Various reports placed Colonel Astor's settlement on his former wife at figures ranging from $50,000 yearly to a lump sum of $10,000,000.

After the colonel's death in the sinking of the liner Titanic on April 15, 1912, Mrs. Astor returned to New York to be with her son, Vincent, who had been in his father's custody. She spent several subsequent seasons entertaining in Newport and living in London during the winters. Just after the outbreak of World War I Mrs. Astor made a famous appearance at a London ball attired as the Statue of Liberty.

During the war she took part in civilian relief work and was vice president of the American Women's War Hospital at Paignton, South Devon, England.

Her next appearance in this country came in 1929 when she returned as Lady Ribblesdale, widow of the former Lord-in-Waiting to Queen Victoria. Their wedding in St. Mary's Church, Bryanston Square, London, in June 1919, took London society by surprise. Lord Ribblesdale died in 1925.

It was reported that by her marriage to the British peer the former Mrs. Astor had forfeited the large income settled on her by Colonel Astor.

In June, 1940, Lady Ribblesdale returned to the United States on the liner Roosevelt as a war refugee. A few weeks later she appeared at the Naturalization Bureau here and regained her American citizenship, which she had lost in 1919 upon her marriage to Lord Ribblesdale. At the same time she also renounced her title.

As Mrs. Ava Willing Ribblesdale, she took up residence here. She continued to be listed in the Manhattan telephone directory as Lady Ribblesdale.

She did a great deal of charitable work, of which she had always wished that no mention ever be made.

Besides Mr. Astor, Lady Ribblesdale leaves also four grandchildren, Ivan Obolensky, Mrs. Sylvia Guirey, Mrs. Romana McEwen, and Miss Emily Harding, and three great-grandchildren. Her daughter, Mrs. Alice Pleydell-Bouverie, died in 1956.

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Encyclopedia Titanica (2003) LADY RIBBLESDALE DEAD AT 89; FIRST WIFE OF JOHN JACOB ASTOR (New York Times, Wednesday 11th June 1958, ref: #1246, published 1 August 2003, generated 27th September 2022 05:31:11 PM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/item-1246.html