If you think you have a pushy mother, you should read about Alva Smith Vanderbilt Belmont. Born in 1853 to a gentile Southern family in economic decline, Alva married a son of Cornelius Vanderbilt in the 1870s. With Vanderbilt money and her enormous energy, she worked her way up the New York social hierarchy. In her biggest social coup, she married off her reluctant daughter Consuela to an English duke, henceforth referring to herself as the mother of a duchess. Shortly thereafter, she divorced her husband and married her long-time paramour, Oliver Belmont, from another wealthy family. In a final twist to this amazing story, she became a supporter of the suffragist movement in the Britain and America in her later years.
No great beauty, Alva Belmont was a fashion icon because of her enormous wealth. In the 1900s, when she was in her fifties, she was a topic on society pages throughout the United States. Writers across the county speculated on what colors she would choose for her Easter dresses. Unfortunately, she did not use her position to further the American fashion industry. Instead, she bought her clothes from the finest Parisian designers.