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Brooke Astor

On Her Favorite Spot In New York:
I love the Park. I like to walk on the East River too, up at Gracie Square, but Central Park is my favorite part of the city. I walk there in the winter sometimes. I walk there, and I'm the only person walking there because so many people don't walk. People say, "aren't you frightened of being by yourself?" I'm not.

On the "21" Club:
"21" was the place, and you went down and they opened the door. They had a little slit they'd look through, and then you'd murmur the password or whatever it was you had, showed a little ticket, and if they remembered who you were, you went in. The place was filled with your friends, it was like a club. And that was the place.

On Arriving:
When I first came here, it was quite different. I came here when I was just 17 years old. I got married for the first time, so that was in 1919. I was astonished, having come from Peking and Washington, it was rather a change. But still, for instance, Mrs. Vanderbilt's house was perfectly beautiful and it had a wonderful courtyard around it -- and then they tore that down and Bergdorf Goodman built there. The Plaza was always here, but it was quite different. Then, when people gave a dinner party, ladies wore long dresses, to begin with, and they always put out a red carpet onto the pavement. Can you imagine doing that today? There are a whole lot of people who would come and stand and wonder what you were doing. In those days, nobody thought anything of showing they were giving a big dinner.

On Being A Working Woman:
I had a job; I was, during the war, a nurse, a "Gray Lady." We wore a veil and a gray dress. I worked at a hospital all day, and sometimes I'd get home at 3:00 in the morning and I loved it. Up until then, I had done nothing but write poems and things like that -- I've got a whole book of poetry published. Anyway, I was doing all these things but I had never worked. When the war was over, I said to my husband, Buddy Marshall, Charles Marshall, "Buddy, I can't stand it now. I can't just sit around and talk to my friends. I must have a job." And so, Al Kornfeld had been made the head of HOUSE AND GARDEN and so I became Feature Editor and that was a marvelous thing.

Brooke Astor
Photo: Courtesy of the New York Public Library
A socialite, philanthropist, and writer, Astor was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Largely self-educated, she was a magazine journalist and the author of four books. She married three times (once divorced, twice widowed). Her third husband, Vincent Astor, left her with a fortune that allowed her to become a philanthropist of major proportions. She has awarded an average of 100 grants a year ($9 million a year) to civic projects, social projects, and cultural institutions in New York City, the New York Public Library being one of her major beneficiaries.