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Carrying on a wedding tradition: the Lee Family Veil

Posted on 01/04/2016 by Judy Ross Comments(9)

A Family Heirloom

What is the connection between Biltmore and Jacqueline "Jackie" Kennedy Onassis? Besides the obvious—two famous American families represented by the Vanderbilts and the Kennedys—there is a more romantic link: an heirloom wedding veil.

The story begins in 1903, when Margaret Merritt Lee wore the exquisite rose point lace veil when she married James T. Lee, a prominent New Yorker. Some 50 years later, her granddaughters Jacqueline Lee Bouvier and Mary Lee Ryan continued the tradition at their own weddings.

In 1953, Jacqueline Bouvier married then-Senator John F. Kennedy; her first cousin, Mary Ryan, wore the veil in 1957 when she wed William A.V. Cecil, grandson of George Vanderbilt. The original veil will be on display February 12–July 4, 2016 as part of the Fashionable Romance exhibition at The Biltmore Legacy in Antler Hill Village & Winery.

The future first lady and fashion icon’s wedding gown had a tremendous impact on bridal fashion. InStyle magazine ranked Jacqueline Bouvier 6th on a list of best dressed celebrity brides of all time for her “super-romantic ensemble.” Her intricate ivory silk taffeta gown featured a portrait neckline, fitted bodice, and bouffant skirt embellished with bands of 50 yards of flounces. A tiara of lace and orange blossoms anchored the Lee family veil.

Edith & Cornelia's Shared Veil

William and Mary Cecil wedding photo

There’s also another wedding veil with Vanderbilt family connections. Edith Stuyvesant Dresser wore her mother’s Brussels rose point lace veil at her 1898 wedding to George Vanderbilt; the veil was also worn by her three sisters at their ceremonies. In 1924, the same veil was part of Cornelia Vanderbilt’s bridal attire when she wed the Honorable John Francis Amherst Cecil. You can see a reproduction of Edith and Cornelia’s veil on display in The Biltmore Legacy as part of the Fashionable Romance exhibition.

As for the Lee veil, brides in the extended family continue to keep the tradition by wearing it at their weddings, including Mary Lee Ryan Cecil’s daughter and daughter-in-law.


Main: John and Jacqueline Kennedy, 1953. Photo credit: Toni Frissell. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

Right: Mr. and Mrs. William A.V. Cecil, 1957.

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Related Posts

Posted on 03/12/2017 By John O

Was Mimi Cecil among Jackie Kennedy's bridesmaids?

Though a cousin of Jackie Kennedy, Mimi Cecil was not one of the bridesmaids in her wedding.. – Biltmore Blog Editor

Posted on 03/07/2017 By Wayne A

Can you list all those who have worn the veil?

Hi Wayne, Other than the individuals mentioned in this blog, the list of people who have worn the Lee veil is considered personal information of the family, and as such we respect their privacy and do not share that with guests. - Biltmore Blog Editor

Posted on 08/18/2016 By Konnie R

I would so have loved seeing the Lee family veil worn by Jackie Kennedy, but it was out of the exhibit in August, wondering who wore it?

The veil was briefly taken out of the exhibit for a family wedding, but it is now back on display. - Biltmore Blog Editor

Posted on 05/03/2016 By Lisa B

Wish there were a shuttle from Biltmore house to Antler Park for the exhibit. I'm a walker but 10 miles round trip is too much

Lisa, Thank you for your suggestion. We appreciate feedback from our guests and will pass it on to our leadership team. - Biltmore Blog Editor

Posted on 04/22/2016 By Anne Marie G

A little bit of Camelot at the beautiful Biltmore Estate in Antler Village. We visited in March and loved every moment. The exhibit is done so wonderfully. Coming back in May with my students.

Posted on 03/24/2016 By Patsy S

Looking forward to seeing the veil representing the history of such elegance and grace- that no span of time can change or erase. The gardens of beauty, your dedicated since of duty - to be in sync with time- an era so sublime. To you and yours I to align- and to you I lift a glass- of Biltmore Wine.

Posted on 02/20/2016 By Jacq S

Wonderful exhibit! Thank you for the social history of the Lee family veil-that has never been shared when discussing Jackie Kennedy dress !

Posted on 01/15/2016 By Terri B

Can't to come and see the exhibition. Thank you for sharing

Posted on 01/09/2016 By April S

Wonderful article! I really enjoy reading this blog.

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