Isabel Anderson, née Isabel Weld Perkins, was a Boston heiress, author, and society hostess who left a legacy to the public that includes a park and two museums.
Born at 284 Marlborough Street in Boston's Back Bay, Isabel Weld Perkins was descended, on her mother Anna Weld Perkins' side, from a wealthy family of Boston merchants who traced their history back to Massachusetts Bay Colony. Isabel's father was Commodore George H. Perkins of Contoocook, New Hampshire, who was the commander of the USS Cayuga during the American Civil War. The commodore's father, Judge Hamilton Eliot Perkins, was a prosperous businessman and attorney who built mills in Contoocook and for a short time ran a shipping firm in Boston that sailed clipper ships between the U.S. and West Africa.
In 1881, when Isabel was only five years old, she inherited approximately $3 million from her grandfather William Fletcher Weld, though this amount later increased to about $5 million after the Weld estate was probated. For more than a century, it was assumed that she had inherited $17 million from her grandfather, though that amount has been proven incorrect. The first erroneous report of the $17 million figure appeared when the Boston Globe ran a front page story on the Isabel's marriage to Larz Anderson in 1897. The historical record, however, shows the $17 million to have actually been the final value of William Fletcher Weld's $20 million estate, after other bequests and estate taxes were deducted, leaving a residual $17 million that was shared equally among Isabel and Grandfather Weld's three other grandchildren, William Fletcher Weld II, Charles Goddard Weld and Mary Bryant Weld.
Isabel Perkins started traveling at a young age. She spent summers as a child at the Weld homes in Newport and winters with her parents in Boston. Spring and fall she spent at the Perkin's estate in New Hampshire. At the age of nineteen, Isabel took a year long trip to Europe with her chaperone Maud Howe Elliot. It was in Rome where Isabel met her future husband Larz Anderson and married after two years.
Larz and Isabel married at the Arlington Street Church in Boston on June 10, 1897. The Andersons then embarked on a life of luxury combined with public service and adventure. They traveled widely, making four trips around the world and throughout Europe and Asia. Anderson held a number of diplomatic posts, including a short stint as United States Ambassador to Japan.
Isabel wrote a number of books; those that concern her family specifically are those of the most interest to historians. She also wrote several travelogues, volumes of poetry, and many children's stories.
Her book Under the Black horse flag: Annals of the Weld family and some of its branches describes the transportation empire begun by her great-grandfather William Gordon Weld and details his descendants up to the time of writing.
She also edited the papers of her American Civil War hero father-in-law and published them as The letters and journals of General Nicholas Longworth Anderson; Harvard, civil war, Washington, 1854–1892.
Among her other works are Circling Africa, On the Move, The Spell of Japan, The Spell of Belgium, The Spell of the Hawaiian Islands and the Philippines, Topsy Turvy and the Gold Star, Yacht in Mediterranean Seas and Zigzagging the South Seas. Most of her own personal papers are now part of the collection kept at Larz Anderson Auto Museum. Others are stored at New England Historic Genealogical Society.
During World War I, Isabel worked for the American Red Cross as a volunteer of the District of Columbia Refreshment Corps. She was a leader of Washington's Red Cross activities and Belgian relief work, then spent eight months in 1917 and 1918 caring for the war's sick and wounded in France and Belgium. Isabel returned to Washington to find Americans suffering from an influenza epidemic and volunteered to assist those in need. Her contributions as a nurse resulted in being awarded the American Red Cross Service Medal, the French Croix de Guerre with bronze star, and the Medal of Elisabeth of Belgium.
In addition to her Weld inheritance from her mother's family, Isabel inherited a stately manor in New Hampshire from her commodore father. Larz and Isabel spent considerable time here and she even opened the doors of this regal mansion to the public for a few summers. This stately manor was called the Larz Anderson estate during this time but has since been divided into eight apartments and is again known as Perkins Manor.
Like her husband, Isabel was active in patriotic and hereditary societies including the Daughters of the American Revolution and The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America.
Isabel died in 1948. Her ashes are interred in the Anderson Tomb in the St. Mary Chapel of the Washington National Cathedral with her husband Larz Anderson.
Books by Isabel Anderson
Isabel Anderson has written a most interesting travelogue of Hawaii and The Philippines. Actually it is more of a history lesson. Anyone with any interest whatsoever in the South Pacific will find this book very interesting indeed, to note all that h...