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.

Even now, at 80, Mrs. H. is possessed of a rather remarkable energy and spontaneity. Last year, she decided to help design a Rose Bowl float — and attend the parade in Pasadena. “Our crew here said the Rose Bowl parade would be a fun thing to do,” says Barbara King, the flower-shop manager. “Before I knew it, she had a trip planned with all of us, 15 designers, and we all spent a week out there. The first night we got there, she said, ‘Let’s go to Malibu!’”

FORTY 1˚ NORTH, Mrs. H.’s other Newport project, turns out to be as different from the nostalgic-looking Swiss Village as Mrs. H. is from what passes for ­modern-day socialites. Though the wharf is in a historic part of Newport’s waterfront, her restaurant is sleek, with metal tables, Philippe Starck-style chairs, lush plants, trendy outdoor lounge furniture, and appropriately nouvelle food. Mrs. H., though, always orders the same thing. “I made them put the reuben on the menu,” she says, waving away a waiter offering said menu and taking a seat overlooking the water.

Some have compared her to the late Brooke Astor, who died last year at age 105. The two shared a love of philanthropy (and both knew the power of a pretty hat). Astor, like Mrs. H., followed the money after she gave it, making sure it was doing exactly what she hoped it would. And she realized the importance of playing her role well. “If I go to Harlem or down to Sixth Street, and I’m not dressed up or I’m not wearing my jewelry, then people feel I’m talking down to them,” Astor once told the New York Times. “People expect to see Mrs. Astor, not some dowdy old lady.”

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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.