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Two ceremonies in two days: the weddings of George and Edith Vanderbilt
In June 1898, George W. Vanderbilt and Edith Stuyvesant Dresser were married in Paris on June 1 and June 2. Why two ceremonies? The first was a civil service and the second was a religious ceremony, in accordance with French law dating from the French Revolution.
Popular opinion had assumed the wedding would be a grand affair, possibly at George Vanderbilt’s home church of Grace Episcopal Church in New York City. Despite the speculation, the couple decided to be wed in Paris with as little fanfare as possible—as possible for a Vanderbilt, that is.
George and Edith were first married in a 15-minute civil ceremony at 3 p.m. on June 1, 1898 by the mayor of Paris at the Town Hall of the Eighth District in the Rue Anjou. According to one newspaper article, the couple had to comply with all the requirements of French law; the civil ceremony was complete with family witnesses, baptism certificates, the marriage certificate for George’s parents, and proof of American citizenship. The couple signed a contract of marriage.
One newspaper described Edith’s dress at the civil ceremony; unfortunately, no photos are known to exist: “The dress worn by the bride to-day was a creation of Laferrière (a noted Parisian fashion designer). It was of café-au-lait crepon, over a lining of yellow silk. The skirt was cut out in a deep Vandyke edged with a fringe of white silk, which fell to the hem. Underneath the fringe, one caught occasional glimpses of yellow lining. The bodice had a rounded collar of mauve taffeta covered with guipure (a type of lace). The bride wore a white straw hat trimmed with pink roses.”
At the end of the civil ceremony, George and Edith left the hall separately, as it would have been scandalous for them to be seen together before the church ceremony the following day.
After the ceremony, the wedding party, family and friends attended a breakfast at Edith’s apartment on Rue Vernet. Natalie Brown, Edith’s sister, provided two bottles of special champagne which their maternal grandfather had set aside at Edith’s birth, to be served on her wedding day. From there, the newlyweds left for Geneva by train to embark on a four-month European honeymoon.
Photos: Archival newspapers reporting on George and Edith Vanderbilt's wedding.