Cornelia Bryce Pinchot (1881 - 1960)

Cornelia Pinchot standing with pole Cornelia Pinchot

The daughter of wealthy journalist and politician, Lloyd Bryce, Cornelia grew up in Victorian circles similar to those of the Pinchots. Known as "Leila" by family and friends, she was born in Newport, Rhode Island in 1881, educated in private schools and traveled frequently with her parents in Europe. Her great grandfather, Peter Cooper, founded Cooper Union, a free college of science and engineering in New York City. A natural born rebel, Cornelia had spirit, drive and independent means. Her friend Theodore Roosevelt called her political mind one of the keenest he had ever known. She was attractive, dressed in flamboyant clothes and dyed her hair red. Her crusading nature invaded the Progressive ranks in 1912 and later led to a political career of her own. She met Gifford Pinchot during the Bull Moose campaign and married him in 1914. Theodore Roosevelt attended the wedding. A few days later, Gifford's mother, Mary Pinchot, died.

Grey Towers in the 1930s Grey Towers and moat in 1930s

Cornelia's first impression of Grey Towers was of a dreary castle standing naked on a hill. Using much of her own money, she decided to "jazz it up." Her exterior remodeling included additional gardens, an outdoor dining area with a unique water table, a partial moat, an elaborate playhouse for their son and an office for Gifford called the Letterbox. Inside the mansion, she combined rooms, added windows and redecorated extensively. A passionate gardener, Cornelia's visitors often had to grab a rake and head outside if they had any hope for conversation. Her political interests began with woman’s suffrage, a cause she supported vigorously. She spoke out for birth control, women's rights and educational reform and blasted sweat shops and those who abused child labor in the work place. Cornelia encouraged women to take an active part in politics and career, served on the local school board, supported prohibition and was one of the first prominent women to take a ride in an airplane.

Cornelia Pinchot carrying a flag Cornelia Bryce Pinchot carrying American flag in New York City Suffragette Parade, c. 1917

When Gifford Pinchot ran for Governor of Pennsylvania in 1921, Cornelia did more than cast a ballot--a hard won right granted in 1920--she hit the campaign trail. Running. She warned her husband that women wanted more than "hot air and generalities" and contributed significantly to the League of Women Voters supporting him. Starting out with odds against of 100 to 1, the Pinchots campaigned tirelessly for honesty in government and "cleaning up the mess in Harrisburg." When the dust had cleared, Gifford stood victorious. "It was due to Mrs. Pinchot and the women she organized, far more than to any other single factor, that we won."In 1928, promoting trade unionism and labor law reform, Cornelia ran for Congress and lost. Over the next decade she tried twice more for a congressional nomination and once for the governorship, all without success."If you are a woman and marry a Pinchot, or if you elect to buck the dominant political machine (and one follows the other as the night the day), you must expect to lose just so often--possibly half the time. But it is a good game...whether one loses or not."Her influence worked its way into Gifford's view of conservation, adding a human component to the scientific management of natural resources. Years later in a speech he said: The conservation problem is not concerned only with the natural resources of the Earth. Rightly understood, it includes also the relation of these resources and of their scarcity or abundance to the wretchedness or prosperity, the weakness or strength of peoples, their leaning towards war or towards peace, and their numbers and distribution over the Earth.In 1949, Cornelia spoke at a dedication in Washington state renaming the Columbia National Forest to the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in honor of her late husband. By that time, according to her daughter-in-law, some of the spark had gone out of her eyes. But though she missed Gifford dearly, her interest in public affairs did not end with his passing. Continuing to live in both Milford and Washington, D.C., she held several diplomatic positions and served as a delegate to the United Nations Scientific Conference on Conservation and Utilization of Resources in 1949. She also made goodwill visits to several countries of the Mediterranean at the request of the President of the United States. Dame Margot Fonteyne, the famous British ballerina who joined the Royal Ballet in 1934 and began her acclaimed partnership with Rudolf Nureyev in 1962, once visited Cornelia...

"One crisp early autumn day Tito drove me to Milford, in the Pocono Mountains, to the house of Mrs. Pinchot, an imposing and very intelligent lady who was the widow of a Pennsylvania Governor, Gifford Pinchot. She looked like Queen Elizabeth I, with Handsome features and red hair."

Cornelia died in Washington, D.C. in 1960.