The Last Great Lady

Campbell Soup heiress Dorrance “Dodo” Hamilton has enjoyed a life of wealth and glamour: a debutante coming-out splashed in the “New York Times”, summers in Newport, and years as the face (and hat!) of the Main Line. In the waning days of Philly high society, we need “Mrs. H.” more than ever.

But what sets Mrs. H. apart from your average, run-of-the-mill billionairess is how she squeezes far more into every day than she needs to — how much she cares. She kept close watch on the plans for the Samuel M.V. Hamilton building at PAFA; she’s visited interns and nurses training at the new Hamilton building at Jefferson. Mrs. H. helped pay for the Azalea Garden at the Art Museum to be replanted and helped in its design, and while she supports the Flower Show, she also enters her orchids (and they win, in blind competitions). She allows garden tours to come tromping through her properties because she knows more money will be raised for charity if Dorrance Hamilton’s acres are on view. “She’s got that beautiful combination of a passion for the arts and a creative flair with business acumen,” says Anne Ewers, the Kimmel Center head.

When one considers the young heiresses coming up behind her today, it’s hard to fathom them imbibed with the sense of restraint, elegance and manners that defines Dodo Hamilton. Imagine Paris Hilton forging animal research, growing prize-winning flowers, quietly endowing medicine, the arts, education. You can’t. “She’s very involved,” Toby Charrington says of Mrs. H. “She doesn’t just give her money and not pay attention.”

Every October, Mrs. H spends the entire month — “She literally plans her whole year around that,” says Jane ­Pepper — producing, organizing and running her four-day-long, girls-gone-­shopping-mad Community Clothes Charity sale, which benefits a different charity every year. This year, it’s the Overbrook School for the Blind. “Isn’t that sale wild?” Mrs. H. says. “People come from Chicago. We used to have a lady come from Arizona, buy the clothes, pack them up and ship them home, and then take the night flight to Paris.” The event is a must-attend for Main Line socialites (think Prada skirts and Armani sweaters with Neiman Marcus tags still on, 75 percent off!), made even better by the benevolent presence of Mrs. H. herself, wearing her hat.

Being on-site, dressing the part, surveying the results of her munificence at work — Mrs. H. does these things not because she has to, but because it’s the Right Thing To Do. She’s always done the right thing — it’s part of being the oldest grandchild of John T. Dorrance. “I’m not a pawner-offer,” she shrugs.

“NEWPORT, R.I., Dec. 1,” read the notice in the New York Times. “Mr. and Mrs. Nathaniel P. Hill of Bois Doré, this city, and 740 Park Avenue, New York, have announced the engagement of their daughter, Dorrance, to Samuel M.V. Hamilton, of Broadlawn, Rosemont, PA, son of William H. Hamilton and the late Mrs. Hamilton.” It was 1949, three years after her coming-out party at Bois Doré was splashed in the pages of the Times. Dodo Hill was getting married after four years of courtship, because “we had to wait until I was 21, and until Sam had a real job,” she recalls.

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  • Anonymous

    I ENJOYED READING THIS ARTICLE, IT’S SO NICE TO READ ABOUT DOWN TO EARTH WEALTH..I LOVED GOING TO AUNT ETHEL’S HOME WHEN I WAS YOUNG..I STILL CAN PICTURE MOST OF THE ROOMS AND REMEMBER RIDING TOYS ON THE TERRACE !! THIS ARTICLE BROUGHT BACK MANY CHILDHOOD MEMORIES !!

  • w

    HER new hotel BLOCKED MY VIEW of the Water, and All that it had to offer……18 years. I’ve had that view !!!!!!!!!!!!!……….a purely SELFISH ACT !!!!!!!

  • Rita

    My grandmother (English)was a servant on the estate for years. My grandfather was a chauffeur. Their day off was Wednesdays, which was when we saw them. My grandmother “retired” in the 1950s. What a life they both had.

  • Rebecca Stetson

    I was in an awed state of warm rememberence when I came across this article about Dorrance Hamilton. I grew up in Newport, R.I, and attended Carey Elementary School (a hop,skip and a jump from Hamiltons Newport summer abode) in the mid 1980′s. At the time, my mother wa involved in a romantic relationship with her seasonal “care taker”. He lived in the servants quarters of her Newport mansion during off-season and watched over and maintained her home and property until she returned every summer. My mother and I both resided at Wildacre during this time and were lucky enough to experience this beautiful mansion and grounds first hand. It was absolutely amazing and grandoius, and the whole experience lingers in my dreams to this very day!

  • http://None elizabeth ready

    I have been with Campbell’s 32 years and have never lost the prestige, perfection of a lady like way, beautiful by example.. For love of those behind the scenes beautifully done and making a difference for others. Beth Ready 609-217-6996.

  • wildroses

    OK but it IS pretentious and extravagant to raise mink to make fur coats out of them and to say there’s something delicious about goldfish in your pond succumbing to being eaten by the mink you let proliferate once mink coats began to bore you. Money is intoxicating isn’t it? If you’re born into it often times you remain a slave to it, I suppose… and it marks who you ate and how people respond to you rich and poor alike.