Ailsa Mellon Bruce

Ailsa Mellon Bruce (June 28, 1901 – August 25, 1969)[1] was a prominent American socialite and philanthropist who established the Avalon Foundation.[1]

Ailsa Mellon Bruce
Alisa Mellon, 5-16-23 LOC npcc.08535 (cropped) (cropped).jpg
Alisa Mellon in 1923
Ailsa Mellon

(1901-06-28)28 June 1901
Died25 August 1969(1969-08-25) (aged 68)
EducationMiss Porter's School
Known forFounder of the Avalon Foundation
(m. 1926; div. 1945)
ChildrenAudrey Sheila Bruce
Parent(s)Andrew W. Mellon
Nora McMullen

Early lifeEdit

Ailsa was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on June 28, 1901. She was the daughter of the banker and diplomat Andrew W. Mellon and Nora Mary (née McMullen) Mellon (1879–1937). Her parents divorced in 1912 and from 1921 to 1932, Ailsa served as her father's official hostess during his tenure as United States Secretary of the Treasury, and again when he was U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom in 1932–1933. Her only sibling was brother Paul Mellon (1907–1999), who was also a philanthropist and was known as a prominent owner/breeder of thoroughbred racehorses.[2]

Ailsa attended Miss Porter's School in Farmington, Connecticut and spent her summers as a teenager in Europe.[1]

Philanthropy and legacyEdit

Bruce established the Avalon Foundation in 1940, which made grants to colleges and universities, medical schools and hospitals, youth programs and community services, churches, environmental projects, and an array of cultural and arts organizations. In 1947, the Avalon Foundation was instrumental in the establishment of the Hampton National Historic Site in Maryland.[3]

In 1957, when Fortune prepared its first list of the wealthiest Americans, it estimated that Ailsa Mellon Bruce, her brother, Paul, and her cousins, Sarah Mellon and Richard King Mellon, were all among the richest eight people in the United States, with fortunes of between 400 and 700 million dollars each. In 1968, Ailsa and Paul donated $20 million to build an annex to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.[1][4]

Ailsa Bruce was a silent partner, with Nona McAdoo Park and Sophie Meldrim Shonnard, founding Chez Ninon in 1928, on Madison Avenue.[5][6]

At her death in 1969, Ailsa Bruce bequeathed 153 paintings, primarily by 19th-century French artists, to the National Gallery of Art, as well as establishing a fund for future acquisitions. Among the many works acquired by the Gallery through the Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund was the portrait of Ginevra de' Benci, the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the United States.[7] In 1969, the assets of Paul Mellon’s Old Dominion Foundation were merged into his sister's Avalon Foundation, which was renamed the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in honor of their father.[8][9]

Personal lifeEdit

Portrait by Philip de László, 1926

She dated Prince Otto Bismarck, the grandson of Otto von Bismarck, the "Iron Chancellor", and was close to marrying him, but decided to marry David Bruce, an American, instead.[1]

On May 23, 1926, she was married to David Kirkpatrick Este Bruce (1898–1977), a scion of a prominent Virginia family including his father William Cabell Bruce, a U.S. Senator from Maryland, and brother James Cabell Bruce, the U.S. Ambassador to Argentina.[10] Their engagement, marriage (which was attended by President and Mrs. Coolidge)[11] and honeymoon were followed closely by the news media.[12][11][13][14] In 1933, after seven years of marriage, Ailsa gave birth to her only child;[15]

  • Audrey Sheila Bruce (1934–1967), who married Stephen Richard Currier (1930–1967),[16] who went missing during a flight in the Caribbean in January 1967 and were never recovered.[17] They were the founders of the Taconic Foundation, a charitable giving organization, which was instrumental in the formation of the Council for United Civil Rights Leadership.[18]

She obtained a divorce from her husband in Palm Beach, Florida in April 1945 on the grounds of "desertion and mental cruelty", receiving sole custody of their 11 year old daughter.[19] Following their divorce, her ex-husband would later become the United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1961 to 1969, the same position her father held.[20]

After her divorce, Mrs. Bruce was in a long rumored relationship with G. Lauder Greenway of the Lauder Greenway Family.[21][22] In addition to their personal links, Greenway was a longtime trustee of Bruce's Avalon Foundation.[23]

She died on August 25, 1969, at Roosevelt Hospital in New York City.[24] She had homes at 960 Fifth Avenue, a beach house in Atlantic Beach, NY,[25] and a 121-acre estate in Syosset, New York on Long Island. Her obituary in The New York Times called her the "Richest Woman in U.S."[1]


When Audrey and her husband, Stephen Currier, died in a presumed plane crash in 1967, leaving three young children – Andrea Currier,[26] Lavinia Currier,[27] and Michael Stephen Currier (1961–1998),[28] she decided to bequeath her collection of 18th-century English furniture and ceramics to the Carnegie Institute of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.[29]


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Mrs. Ailsa Mellon Bruce Dead;. Called Richest Woman in U. S". The New York Times. 26 August 1969. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  2. ^ Russell, John (3 February 1999). "Paul Mellon, Patrician Champion Of Art and National Gallery, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  3. ^ Brown, Nona B. (19 October 1969). "18th-Century Indulgence Becomes a 20th-Century Showplace". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  4. ^ Robertson, Nan (1 September 1969). "National Gallery Honors a Patron". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  5. ^ Cunningham, Bill (25 June 2016). "Bill Cunningham on Bill Cunningham". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 December 2020. While working at Bonwit’s, I met the women who ran Chez Ninon, the custom dress shop. Their names were Nona Parks and Sophie Shonnard. Ailsa Mellon Bruce was the silent partner.
  6. ^ Osterman, Giovanna (28 January 2020). "The History of Chez Ninon, the New York Couture Copycat". CR Fashion Book. Retrieved 8 December 2020. Chez Ninon first opened its doors on Madison Avenue in 1928, with top-tier fashion lovers Nona McAdoo Park and Sophie Meldrim Shonnard at the helm. In lieu of original designs, Chez Ninon paved the way for an up-and-coming sector of the American fashion industry: line-for-line couture copies. Park and Shonnard attended every couture show each season, from Schiaparelli to Chanel, selected their favorite looks, and paid for the rights to produce those designs under license. Upon their return, the seamstresses of Chez Ninon began crafting line-by-line lookalikes with the same fabrics, trims, and buttons as the original designs—often supplied by the original house.
  7. ^ "Founding Benefactors of the National Gallery of Art". Retrieved 2018-03-16.
  8. ^ "Founders | The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation". Retrieved 2018-03-16.
  9. ^ "Foundations Join to Become Mellon". The New York Times. 30 June 1969. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  10. ^ "REPORT AILSA MELLON TO WED DAVID BRUCE; Secretary's Daughter Is Said to Be Engaged to Son of Maryland Senator". The New York Times. 3 May 1926. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  11. ^ a b "PRESIDENT TO ATTEND MELLON BRIDAL TODAY 8,000 Invited to Wedding Reception of Secretary's Daughter and David Bruce". The New York Times. 29 May 1926. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  12. ^ "MISS MELLON TO WED, FATHER ANNOUNCES; Secretary of Treasury's Daughter to Be Bride of D.K.E. Bruce, Senator's Son". The New York Times. 4 May 1926. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  13. ^ "MELLON'S DAUGHTER SAILS AS A BRIDE; The Bruces Depart for Rome, Where He Will Take Up Duties as Vice Consul". The New York Times. 3 June 1926. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  14. ^ "BRUCES ARRIVE IN ENGLAND.; Senator's Son and Bride Leave for Paris on Way to Live in Rome". The New York Times. 11 June 1926. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  15. ^ Cannadine, David. Mellon: An American Life, Vintage Books, 2008.
  16. ^ "STEPHEN CURRIERS MISSING ON FLIGHT; Caribbean Search Is On for New York Philanthropists Stephen Curriers Missing on a Flight". The New York Times. January 19, 1967. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  17. ^ "800 ATTEND RITES FOR THE CURRIERS; 2 Philanthropists Lost on Flight Eulogized Here". The New York Times. 16 February 1967. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  18. ^ "CURRIER FUND DUE TO PICK NEW HEAD; Taconic Unit Will Carry On With $20-Million Bequest". The New York Times. 26 February 1967. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  19. ^ "AILSA BRUCE GETS DECREE; Daughter of Andrew Mellon Wins a Florida Divorce". The New York Times. 21 April 1945. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  20. ^ Pitz, Marylynne (November 15, 2009). "Ailsa Mellon Bruce's artworks part of Carnegie collection". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 2009-12-08. In 1926, the beautiful, reserved and stubborn young woman married David K. E. Bruce, a talented lawyer and the son of Maryland Sen. William C. Bruce. For wedding presents, A. W. Mellon gave his daughter a pearl necklace valued at $100,000 and a 200-acre estate in Syosset, Long Island.
  21. ^ "Top Ranking Yuletide Party". Palm Beach Post. 30 December 1947. Retrieved 28 December 2018.
  22. ^ "Converge on Rome". Philadelphia Enquirer. 17 July 1968. Retrieved 28 December 2018.
  23. ^ "Info" (PDF).
  24. ^ "Died - BRUCE--Ailsa Mellon". The New York Times. 27 August 1969. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  25. ^ "Timeline | Atlantic Beach Historical Society". Atlantic Beach. Retrieved 2020-07-10.
  26. ^ Bruske, Ed (12 January 1981). "The Brad Baker Murder: 'As the World Turns' in Fauquier County". The Washington Post. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  27. ^ Grove, Lloyd (July 8, 1998). "Child of Fortune, Take 2". The Washington Post. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  28. ^ Pace, Eric (22 September 1998). "Michael Currier, 37, Philanthropic Rancher Who Helped Tibetans". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  29. ^ "Mrs. Ailsa Mellon Bruce Left Bulk of Her Estate to Charity". The New York Times. 4 September 1969. Retrieved 16 April 2018.

External linksEdit