Whitney, Flora Payne

Flora Payne Whitney (1897-1986) was engaged to marry Quentin Roosevelt before he was killed in World War I.  Flora, called “Fouf” by Quentin, grew up in an extremely wealthy home as the granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt, and the daughter of Gertrude Vanderbilt and Harry Payne Whitney. Flora stood to inherit vast sums from both sides of her family.

She attended two elite schools, Brearley in New York and Foxcroft in Virginia. She made her debut at the Whitney family “cottage” in Newport, Rhode Island, on August 4, 1916. Both Archie and Quentin Roosevelt were present.

War had been raging in Europe since 1914, and once the United States entered the conflict in April 1917, Quentin left his studies at Harvard College and volunteered for the U.S. Army Air Service. Before he sailed for Europe, he and Flora became engaged. Theodore Roosevelt did not approve of Flora’s robber baron grandfather, nor of her parents, their excessive money and leisure time. For their part, the Whitneys hoped their daughter would marry a man of means, and compared to the Whitneys, the Roosevelts were only modestly wealthy. Nevertheless, from 1914 to the end of his life, Theodore Roosevelt wrote for Harry Payne Whitney's Metropolitan Magazine where he penned articles criticizing President Woodrow Wilson's wartime decisions.

After Quentin's enlistment, the couple kept up a lengthy correspondence. They attempted to marry in France, where Quentin was training in the new science of aviation, but were logistically unable to do so. In June 1918, Quentin was made a flight commander in the 95th Aero Squadron. On July 14, his plane was shot down in France, where he was buried.

Flora grew much closer to the Roosevelt family after Quentin’s death as they grieved together. Ted and Eleanor asked her to be godmother to their fourth child, Quentin, in November 1919. Eventually, Flora resumed her life. In 1920 she married Roderick Tower, who, like Quentin, was a pilot. They divorced in 1925. Her second marriage was to George M. Miller III. She was an art patron, and served as director, trustee, and president of the Whitney Museum of Art, founded in New York City in 1931, by her mother, who was a noted sculptor. In 1986, at age 88, Flora Whitney Miller died in Glen Cove, Long Island, survived by her four children.