By 1970, the year of her death, Jessie Ball duPont had given away $100,000,000 and had helped build a financial empire that dominated the economy of Florida and beyond. Although marriage to Alfred I. duPont catapulted her from the modest life of aMoreBy 1970, the year of her death, Jessie Ball duPont had given away $100,000,000 and had helped build a financial empire that dominated the economy of Florida and beyond.
Although marriage to Alfred I. duPont catapulted her from the modest life of a schoolteacher on the California frontier into the luxurious world where philanthropy was possible, Jessie Balls strong sense of her own identity was firmly established in 1921, the year of her wedding to the wealthy Delaware maverick. Born to a conservative Tidewater Virginia family in 1884, Jessie Dew Ball broke from the tradition that imposed domesticity on women of her class.
Her appreciation for education endured throughout her life: along with hundreds of individual scholarships that she personally monitored, some of her major donations were to educational institutions, particularly womens colleges. Early, I realized that love and knowledge were the only things of value, she wrote.
One being (I thought) forever denied me, I concentrated all my forces and efforts on the other. But what had been denied--the secret passion that she hid for twenty years for Alfred I. duPont, a family acquaintance--was alive in her fantasies. In 1919, while duPont was still married to his second wife, their infrequent--and proper--correspondence changed into romance.
Overnight, she was describing to him the moonlight, a sight that convinced her more than ever that such a night was never meant for sleep. Their fourteen years of marriage centered around the duPont estates in Delaware and Florida where Jessie, Alfred, and her brother Ed Ball invested in timberland, real estate, banks, and commercial property. After Alfreds death in 1935, Jessie and Edsettled into the loyal, but ambivalent, relationship that prevailed throughout their lives: Ed made money and she found ways to give it away.
Her charities included hospitals, community centers, churches, historic preservation projects, and of course colleges and universities. No issue caused her more anxiety than the federal governments efforts to impose racial integration in public schools and colleges. How she addressed the civil rights issue is a major theme in this intimate portrait of a genteel southern woman.